PEN America Suing President Trump for Freedom of Speech
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PEN America Suing President Trump for Freedom of Speech


PEN America, a coalition of writers and journalists – the “enemy of people” united together – filed a federal lawsuit in New York on Tuesday seeking “to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes.” This time, the “fake-news-makers” are determined to see it through, arguing that “the First Amendment does not protect all speech.”

“Although the president can launch verbal tirades against the press, he cannot use the powers of his office to suppress or punish speech he doesn’t like,” wrote Suzanne Nossel, PEN America CEO, in Politico Tuesday. “When President Trump proposes government retribution against news outlets and reporters, his statements cross the line.”

In the lawsuit, the group distinguishes between Trump’s general statements, such as calling the journalists “the enemy of the American people” and his specific ones, in which he calls out individual journalists, publishers and owners, and media outlets. It noted that these attacks, “while troubling and anti-democratic, are not the basis upon which Plaintiff PEN America seeks relief.”

“He has threatened to engage, and has engaged, in conduct intended to retaliate against specific news organizations and journalists whose content and viewpoints displease him,” the lawsuit reads. “Through his actions, Defendant Trump has intentionally conveyed to all writers and journalists that if he objects to their coverage, they may be subject to retaliation by the federal government.”

The suit, written with the help of “leading First Amendment scholars and practitioners in private practice and academia,” outlines four specific examples in which “the president’s credible threats and actual acts of retaliation violate the First Amendment’s protection of a free press and lend credence to concerns that his intimidation goes beyond just rhetoric”:

  • Initiating a government review to raise postal rates. The U.S. Postal Service announced proposed rate increases that will affect Amazon (owned by Jeff Bezos) after Trump criticized the Washington Post, which is also owned by Jeff Bezos.
  • Directing Department of Justice enforcement actions. The Department of Justice moved against the merger of CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, with AT&T following Trump’s threats to take action against CNN for its coverage of his administration.
  • Threatening to revoke broadcast licenses. The president has threatened to challenge broadcast licenses for television stations owned by or carrying NBC and other networks.
  • Interfering with White House press access. Trump regularly threatens to withdraw White House press credentials of individual reporters (a White House correspondent was barred from a press event).

As backing for its suit, PEN American cites a judicial opinion from 2015 where Judge Richard Posner wrote, “A public official who tries to shut down an avenue of expression of ideas and opinions through actual or threatened imposition of government power or sanction is violating the First Amendment.”

In an open letter explaining the suit, novelist and current PEN president Jennifer Egan and CEO Suzanne Nossel write that the Trump administration’s actions, including calls for individual journalists to be fired, and labeling the media “the enemy of the American people,” has created “an environment of hostility toward the media wherein journalists have been subject to death threats, needed bodyguards to cover political rallies, and have faced attacks in their newsrooms. The president has also threatened book publishers and authors who have published critical volumes. While many media outlets are unrelenting in their robust coverage, individual writers may think twice before publishing pieces or commentary that could put them in the White House’s crosshairs.”

As a consequence, “individual writers may think twice before publishing pieces or commentary that could put them in the White House’s crosshairs,” warn Egan and Nossel.

“Our country’s broad protections for free speech allow the president to denigrate the press and even go after individual journalists by name. However, when President Trump crosses the line and threatens to use his authority to punish the media, or actually does so, it is vital for the courts to step in and affirm that such threats and reprisals are unconstitutional. We have worked closely with leading First Amendment scholars and practitioners in private practice and academia in order to hone a request to the court to do just that.”

Meanwhile, the whole story is not as unequivocal as it may seem. Actually, Trump does not shut down anyone’s free speech, if only because he’s not stopping any media outlet from producing their content.

The coalition also neglected to mention that the media’s hyperbolic and oftentimes false rhetoric has caused members of the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to likewise be inundated with death threats, harassment, and sometimes even assault.

Appearances can be deceiving, can they not?

Trump has yet to respond to the suit.

Author: USA Really