A New Report from PEN America Warns: Epidemic of “Fake News” Poses Looming Threat to Free Expression


The spread of “fake news” is reaching a crisis point, PEN America warns in its new report,  Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth. The comprehensive, 100+-page report evaluates the array of strategies that Facebook, Google, Twitter, newsrooms, and civil society are undertaking to address the problem, stressing solutions that empower news consumers while vigilantly avoiding new infringements on free speech.

Coming from the leading US free expression organization, the PEN America report argues that even though most “fake news” is protected by the First Amendment, its proliferation creates a flood of disinformation that imperils open expression writ large and demands a concerted response.

“Fake news is mendacious publication gone viral in the digital age,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, citing the organization’s 1948 Charter which commits PEN to “oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.”

“That most fraudulent news may be protected by the First Amendment doesn’t mean it isn’t corroding our discourse and, ultimately, our democracy,” said Nossel. “When the public loses its bearings in terms of what’s true or false, it shakes the foundations that make freedom of speech valuable.”

Faking News rates the range of fact-checking, algorithmic, educational and standards-based approaches being taken to counter the proliferation of fake news.  The report identifies sound methods that merit investment, and sounds a warning bell for tactics that risk suppressing controversial speech, such as giving government new powers to regulate or calling on social media companies to block specific content entirely.

The report comes out as tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter are being called to Capitol Hill to testify about how their companies’ platforms and technologies were used by Russian actors in an effort to sway the 2016 presidential election. Arguing that these companies—which are many Americans’ primary channels for news consumption—must play a critical and transparent role in curbing the spread of false news, the report spells out a series of specific strategies that center on empowering news consumers with access to fact-checking initiatives and news literacy programs.

In Faking News, PEN America also sets out a News Consumers Bill of Rights and Responsibilities outlining what consumers should expect from the outlets and social media platforms that convey news and how they can protect themselves and others.

In addition to the report, PEN America will host a public panel discussion about “fake news” on October 13 at the Newseum in Washington, featuring Nossel, NPR Editorial Director Michael Oreskes, executive director of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center Lata Nott, media critic Rem Rieder, and George Stanley, award-winning editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Newseum’s Gene Policinski.

The report is available here.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. The organization champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible

PEN America’s new report…Trump the Truth: Free Expression in the President’s First 100 Days

PEN America Executive Director, Suzanne Nossel

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.


2014 Press Freedom Index: dark pink, very serious situation; medium pink, difficult situation; yellow, noticeable problems;, light green, satisfactory situation; dark green, good situation;  gray, not classified / no data

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.


RELATED: 

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.

Antidotes to Tyranny and Concentration Camps of the Mind from Spaulding (UK) polymath, Colin Blundell

Colin Blundell

I love the way the obscene word ‘TRUMP’ doesn’t appear once in Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Lessons from the 20th Century (Bodley Head 2017 ISBN 9781847924889 – UK) [Tim Duggins Books ISBN-13: 978-0804190114 – US],  which is clearly directed that way. The ‘fascism’ that’s sweeping the whole world is entirely represented by the five letters of the American president’s name and by anybody who associates with them – Mayhem in the UK, for instance.

“Fascism?” says the simplistic Tory MP, “Where are the Concentration Camps?” My answer is, “You don’t need them – you do things far more subtly these days. You have learned a lesson from the past – not to be quite so callous…” In the thirties, the Camps were a physical symbol of depriving individuals of their humanity, starving them, murdering them… Now there’s a Concentration Camp of the Mind. You do it by depriving the ‘plebs’ of aid & sustenance & meaningful jobs, and you force them to work till they’re too old to stand upright so they don’t have time or energy for protest. You peddle lies like the need for ‘Austerity’. Or you plug them into e-devices and they just die that way quietly at home or on the streets, sometimes by their own hand.

Here are the TWENTY LESSONS outlined by Timothy Snyder. The headings are his, the descriptors are mine. He brilliantly details the way in which the history of the 20th Century offers ‘lessons’ – the antidote to TYRANNY.

1. DO NOT OBEY IN ADVANCE When you signify approval by voting for them or falling in with their machinations against any better judgement you might have had you make them think they’re winning
2. DEFEND INSTITUTIONS The United Nations, The European Project, all regulatory organisations – institutions of this kind protect us from their greed & exploitation
3. BEWARE THE ONE PARTY STATE Resist all indications that they’re the only way, that there’s no alternative – listen out for the words…
4. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE FACE OF THE WORLD Remove all their hate signs
5. REMEMBER PROFESSIONAL ETHICS Expose corruption in high places, share signs of their chicanery at all levels, support honesty
6. BE WARY OF PARAMILITARIES Resist their uniforms & insignia of power
7. IF YOU MUST BE ARMED, BE REFLECTIVE Verify everything for yourself. Be prepared to say NO to them! Thus far no further…
8. STAND OUT Say something different, speak the alternative words, don’t repeat their mantras like a parrot – many do!
9. BE KIND TO OUR LANGUAGE Study what they say carefully; read books; say your own thing; notice all abstractions – they beguile us into agreement
10. BELIEVE IN TRUTH Don’t accept all this post-truth/fake news stuff
11. INVESTIGATE Verify, verify… Don’t go for sound-bites & headlines; be prepared to read lengthily
12. MAKE EYE CONTACT & SMALL TALK Stay in touch with real people
13. PRACTISE CORPOREAL POLITICS March! – don’t let them tell you it’s pointless. They’d have you glued to the telly. Feel the truth of things deep in your somatic sensibility. Don’t go along with their emotional bluster
14. ESTABLISH A PRIVATE LIFE Resist all attempts to have them spy on you
15. CONTRIBUTE TO GOOD CAUSES Support AVAAZ, 38 Degrees, War on Want, Greenpeace – whatever grabs you. Start small
16. LEARN FROM PEERS IN OTHER COUNTRIES Relate to as many other like-minded people as you can across the world so you know you’re not alone
17. LISTEN FOR DANGEROUS WORDS Be angry about the way words snake into your being – ‘extremism’, ‘terrorism’ for example
18. BE CALM WHEN THE UNTHINKABLE ARRIVES Notice how an event (23rd March 2017) like the carnage caused by the nutter who drove into people on Westminster Bridge (Earth has not anything to show more fair/Dull would he be of soul who could pass by/A sight so touching in its majesty…) is exploited by them to keep us in a state of terror. ‘Act of terrorism’, ‘an attack on Democracy…’ [abstraction] – ‘must be willing to give up certain liberties’ [abstraction] in order to maintain security [abstraction]. Focus on the enemy without so we forget the enemy within. Hitlerian trick
19. BE A PATRIOT rather than a nationalist. It’s so nice to wake up on a spring morning in the place where you live
20. BE AS COURAGEOUS AS YOU CAN Resist all tyranny, whatever form it takes. Be content in your self

© Colin Blundell


Blogging “I hate the word! Like I hate most things in the e-world. I will not join the Twits twittering… Things that are worth saying are worth saying at length…” Colin Blundell

I Colin Blundell’s work. It never fails that I learn something or think about something differently when I visit Colin’s “Globbing” as he calls it. While I was busy encouraging folks to read Prof. Snyder’s book, Colin was already using it as a jumping-off point for the delivery of his own observations.  / J.D.

Colin says of himself:

“I work with people to help them gain a deeper insight for themselves into who they are and what they might do.

“Having escaped wage slavery in 1991, I began to suit myself when I worked, never really thinking of it as ‘working’ but more like the opportunity to sample various hotels and training venues round the country and as a way of paying for the renovation of an ancient decaying heap that I could call ‘home’.

“Since 1991, I’ve taught NLP, Accelerated Learning, Covey’s Seven Habits, Change Management, Problem-solving and Time Management. Currently, when I feel like it or when networkers ask to pick my brain, I teach the art & practice of the Enneagram and a robust coaching model deriving therefrom.

“The ‘Enneagram Apprentice’ series is for friends who have attended my Enneagram course. It follows up and develops the ideas created by them there.

“I write poems, novels, philosophical tomes, music and make watercolours and Magic Cities.

“I hand-make paperback books.

“I do long distance motorbike treks.

“‘The best is still to come…’ Stephen Covey (when he was 70)

“If you’re expecting short blogs from me you’ll be severely disappointed! Sound Bite Exhortations are enticing or immediately attractive but say very little in the end… The knack is how to get on the inside of a seemingly snappy apophthegm. I teach how to make ideas come to life.”

– Colin Blundell


I encourage you to read On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder, to  listen to the videos of Snyder’s lectures and – Yes! — to visit my friend Colin Blundell for wise, interesting and honest reading. A good complementary read for On Tyranny is Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, / J.D.



Prof. Timothy Snyder (This photograph and biography are from Dr. Snyder’s Amazon page.

Timothy Snyder is the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. Before joining the faculty at Yale in 2001, he held fellowships in Paris, Vienna, and Warsaw, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard.

Professor Snyder spent some ten years in Europe, and speaks five and reads ten European languages. Among his publications are several award-winning books, all of which have been translated: Nationalism, Marxism, and Modern Central Europe: A Biography of Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz (1998, revised edition 2016); The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (2003); Sketches from a Secret War: A Polish Artist’s Mission to Liberate Soviet Ukraine (2005); The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (2008); and Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010). Bloodlands won twelve awards including the Emerson Prize in the Humanities, a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Leipzig Award for European Understanding, and the Hannah Arendt Prize in Political Thought. It has been translated into more than thirty languages, was named to twelve book-of-the-year lists, and was a bestseller in six countries. His book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, was published by Crown Books in September 2015 and in twenty-one foreign editions thereafter.

Snyder is also the co-editor of Wall Around the West: State Borders and Immigration Controls in Europe and North America (2001) and Stalin and Europe: Terror, War, Domination (2013). He helped Tony Judt compose a thematic history of political ideas and intellectuals in politics, Thinking the Twentieth Century (2012).

Some of Snyder’s essays on the Ukrainian revolution were published in in Russian and Ukrainian as Ukrainian History, Russian Politics, European Futures (2014). Other essays will be published in Czech as The Politics of Life and Death (2015). Snyder sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Modern European History and East European Politics and Societies. His scholarly articles have appeared in Past and Present, the Journal of Cold War Studies, and other journals; he has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, and The New Republic as well as for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers. Snyder was the recipient of an inaugural Andrew Carnegie Fellowship in 2015.

Timothy Snyder is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and sits on the advisory councils of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research and other organizations.

Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump … “Wall Street Journal” Foreign Affairs Columnist, Bret Stephens, Speaks Out

A few days ago, February 18, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Bret Stephens gave the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles. Time magazine reported on it and you can read the entire text HERE. I urge you to do so.

In his talk Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump Stephens, a conservative, warns us not to “dismiss President Trump’s attacks on the media as mere stupidity.” He writes that open-mined and diligent reporting is important and that “truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.”

I admit to being beyond irritated with news-as-entertainment that caters to the sensational and salacious, that betrays us by serving up too much free on-air time to people with questionable intentions and morally deficient characters. This is unfortunate, but thankfully it is not descriptive of the whole of the American press.

Let’s give kudos were kudos are deserved: to those hard-working truth-seekers, our occupational cousins: professional journalists who put the truth first and work hard to bring it to us. They don’t deserve to be denigrated by a Republican administration that has lost its backbone participating in attempts to suppress what is crtical to the maintenance of a functioning democracy – an independent press working with impunity.

Our journalists – as with any other professional group – don’t deserve to be painted with one broad brush by us – their readers (customers). Let’s not confuse earnest journalists with celebrity journalists who often deliver nothing more substantive than political gossip.

Among Bret Stephen’s points:

“Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

“We are not a nation of logicians.

“I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.” MORE

Photo by Вени Марковски | Veni Markovski under CC BY-SA 3.o license