‘Enemy of the People’ or Defenders of Democracy?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

“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

Related Incidents

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? 


Discussion Questions

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?

Tracker Entries