On Wednesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced a resolution condemning the White House for restricting media access and affirming the need for and importance of an unfettered free press. The resolution comes after the Trump administration barred CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from attending a press event on July 25.
“Punishing reporters for simply doing their job is a strongman tactic that cannot be tolerated in a free democracy,” Blumenthal said in a press release. “President Trump may not like tough questions, but that’s simply too bad. Retaliating and banning reporters from public briefings on public property violates a public trust and perhaps the law. At this extraordinary moment, the press’s role in our democracy is more critical than ever – uncovering and reporting information, exposing wrongdoing, and holding public officials accountable. This resolution reaffirms our commitment to the First Amendment and calls on the president to respect our free press rather than demean and diminish it.”
The resolution comes at a time when threats to press freedom are on the rise. As a candidate and then as president, Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the press as the “enemy of the people” and “fake news.” Journalists have been heckled while covering campaign rallies and events and have been arrested when reporting on protests. In January, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker released numbers from its first year documenting press freedom violations, including 34 arrests and 45 physical attacks. Just last month, a gunman opened fire in a newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five people.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press strongly supports the resolution and encourages Congress to take action to protect and preserve press freedoms.
RCFP Policy Director Rick Blum was asked about the escalating threats against reporters and the effects of the rhetoric last week during a hearing on a separate, bipartisan bill to protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources. He noted that beyond just the physical safety of journalists, “one of the biggest concerns we have is the public is going to have a much harder time knowing what’s accurate and what’s not” about what is happening in their communities. This is a problem, he added “that rises above partisanship.”
“It’s a journalist’s duty to inform the public, and calling journalists the ‘enemy of the people’ runs counter to the values of our democracy. Retaliating against reporters who ask hard questions is not only unacceptable, but is disrespectful to the American people, who rely on a free press to make their own decisions and hold those in power to account,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown. “We thank Senator Blumenthal for recognizing the seriousness of this issue and urge the Senate to both adopt this resolution and continue to speak out in support of press freedom.”