‘Enemy of the People’ or Defenders of Democracy?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Watch this confrontation between U.S. President Donald Trump and CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
In November 2018, after this contentious encounter, the White House suspended Acosta’s press pass. CNN sued and won a temporary restoration of Acosta’s credentials before getting them back permanently. Read the full tracker entry here to familiarize yourself with the incident:
White House suspends CNN reporter’s press pass, leading to lawsuit — December 2018
The revocation of Acosta’s press pass echoes other nationwide tensions over the potential consequences for journalists trying to do their job. Browse through the related tracker entries below. Is there a pattern or are these isolated incidents?
- Student newspaper in Connecticut faces threats of defunding by student government — September 2015
- Pennsylvania radio host resigns after being ordered not to criticize Trump — June 2017
- Trump administration reconsiders legal protections for journalists — August 2017
- DHS seeks to compile, and subsequently to monitor, a list of journalists, bloggers, and media influencers — April 2018
- Denver student journalists reporting on teacher strike silenced by school officials — February 2019
- A warning to ‘A Warning’: Trump directs US Dept. of Justice to send threat letter to author — November 2019
The stories below illustrate increasing hostility and violence toward journalists. The pattern indicates an increasing danger to those who speak truth to power.
- Montana Republican pleads guilty to misdemeanor assault, wins special election — May 2017
- Two Pittsburgh journalists fired over editorial disagreement — May 2018
- Five dead in ‘targeted attack’ at Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis — June 2018
- Denver police arrest reporter for recording — July 2018
- Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist, murdered in Saudi consulate in Istanbul — October 2018
- San Francisco police raid journalist’s home, looking for information on his sources, later apologize — May 2019
- Amid nationwide protests against police brutality, police crack down on the press — May 2020
The State of Press Freedom
- A free press is necessary for a strong democracy, American Bar Association Journal
- When the Newsroom Becomes a War Zone, Free Speech Today
- 5 takeaways from the Reporters Committee’s analysis of press freedom threats in 2018, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- The U.S. Now Ranks As A ‘Problematic’ Place For Journalists, NPR
- Bannon called the media the ‘opposition.’ He’s right, and it’s a good thing, The Washington Post
- Judge protects Chicago reporter from revealing his sources, Free Speech Project
Points of View
Choose an example from the options below and use it to analyze the issue. Do these points of view change yours? Complicate it?
- It’s Time for the Press to Stop Complaining—And to Start Fighting Back, The Atlantic
- The president’s phantom threats, Columbia Journalism Review
- The Biggest Threat To Press Freedom Is The Media Itself, The Federalist
- The Real Threat to Press Freedom, The Jacobin
- The Times’ Lawyer on the Deepest Threats to Press Freedom Under Trump, The New Yorker
- A free press is one of the five freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What makes a free press so uniquely important to U.S. democracy? How is the press in a democratic society different from that in an authoritarian one?
- Based on your answer to the first question, what do you see as the role of a well-functioning press? What do you think various media outlets are doing well, and what should they do better to fulfill this role?
- In today’s digital age, anyone can be a self-published journalist. Should there be an official definition of who is protected by the First Amendment guarantee of a free press? Do long-standing newspapers of record, like The New York Times, deserve a higher standing than upstart media that do not respect traditional notions of objectivity? What are the pros and cons of instituting an accrediting organization? What should the requirements be?
- Consider the article above, “It’s Time for the Press to Stop Complaining—And to Start Fighting Back,” from The Atlantic. Is Chuck Todd right? Does the press need to “start fighting back” and how? What risks would that pose to the media’s ability to do their job?
- Are there ever good reasons for censorship of the media, such as national security?
Click on these themes below: Press, Legal Action
Discuss: What patterns emerge? What does this confluence of stories with these filters tell us about Free Speech and free press issues in the United States? What does it tell us about contemporary threats to press freedom?