PEN America’s new report Trump the Truth: Free Expression in the President’s First 100 Days clocks more than seventy separate instances where President Trump or senior Administration officials have taken potshots at the press, including Presidential tweets decrying “fake news,” restrictions on media access, intimations that the press has “their reasons” for not reporting terror attacks, and branding press outlets as “the enemy of the American people.” These instances amount to near-daily efforts by the Trump Administration to undermine the press during the President’s first 100 days. Such efforts not only chip away at public trust for the media and its indispensable role in keeping the public informed, but also signal to regimes abroad that the United States will not stand up for press freedom.
“President Trump has aimed more barbs at the press than he has served working days in office,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s Executive Director. “Trump has set a tone whereby government officials are not obligated to answer tough questions, be transparent to the American people, or demonstrate basic civility toward those who report on their policies. The Trump Administration’s posture towards the press has severe ramifications for America’s democracy and for governments abroad that are looking to legitimize abuses of press freedom. His snide, sneering approach to media he considers unfriendly is unbefitting a President of the nation that has prided itself on being a global standard-bearer for free expression.”
The thirty-three-page report—launched to evaluate Trump’s first 100 days from the perspective of free expression and press freedom—also details President Trump’s attacks on the truth, as well as his administration’s efforts to delegitimize dissent, draw the curtains on government transparency and reduce privacy rights at the border.
Trump the Truth is the newest installment in PEN America’s efforts to safeguard press freedoms and free expression rights under the Trump Administration. On January 15, PEN America held the flagship “Writers Resist” event on the steps of the New York Public Library before submitting a petition asking President Trump to commit to upholding the First Amendment and to refrain from his attacks on the press. The petition, which collected over 100,000 signatures, included the names of every previous living Poet Laureate. In March, PEN America submitted another petition, again with over 100,000 signatures, to Rep. Louise Slaughter, co-chair of the House Arts Caucus, to protest the proposed defunding of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities under the Trump Administration. More recently, on April 25, PEN America awarded the Women’s March its 2017 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, for its “clarion call that Americans would not sit back in the face of threats to values and freedoms.”
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
This feature and the photograph is courtesy of PEN America. The photograph is under CC BY-SA 4.0 license; world map showing Press Freedom Index classification by country based upon the report Press Freedom Index 2014 from Reporters Without Borders.
FREE SPEECH AND UNFREE NEWS, The Paradox of Press Freedom in America by Sam Lebovic, Assistant Professor of U.S. History: 20th century culture and politics; U.S. and the world; media history; democracy; civil liberties; cultural globalization.
Some of us are old enough to remember when freedom of the press went beyond the misconception that the right to free speech also meant a free press, times when cities had multiple newspapers and when journalists – and citizens – had fairly unrestrained access to news and information.
With the current decline of daily newspapers and of corporate consolidation of media and national security that is ever more secretive, Lebovic shows that the right of free speech is insufficient. It does not insure a free press. Lebovic’s exploratiom of the history of mid-20th Century press freedom obliges us to remember, explore – and perhaps begin to expect again – the citizen’s right to unfettered news and information.
- The Surprisingly Short History of American Secrecy, Sam Lebovic, The American Historical Society
- The Forgotten 1957 Trial That Explains Our Country’s Bizarrre Whistleblower Laws, Sam Leboviv, Politico
- The Source: Does The U.S. Really Have a Free Press?, recorded interview of Sam Lebovic by Texas Public Radio
- Free Speech and Unfree News: The Paradox of Press Freedom in America, Lecture by Sam Lebovic in the U.S. National Archives