New York, October 13, 2016–The chairman of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Sandra Mims Rowe, issued the following statement on behalf of the organization:
Guaranteeing the free flow of information to citizens through a robust, independent press is essential to American democracy. For more than 200 years this founding principle has protected journalists in the United States and inspired those around the world, including brave journalists facing violence, censorship, and government repression.
Donald Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values. On October 6, CPJ’s board of directors passed a resolution declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ’s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.
Since the beginning of his candidacy, Trump has insulted and vilified the press and has made his opposition to the media a centerpiece of his campaign. Trump has routinely labeled the press as “dishonest” and “scum” and singled out individual news organizations and journalists.
He has mocked a disabled New York Times journalist and called an ABC News reporter a “sleaze” in a press conference. He expelled Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a campaign press conference because he asked an “impertinent” question, and has publicly demeaned other journalists.
Trump has refused to condemn attacks on journalists by his supporters. His campaign has also systematically denied press credentials to outlets that have covered him critically, including The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Politico, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Univision, and The Des Moines Register.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has routinely made vague proposals to limit basic elements of press and internet freedom. At a rally in February, Trump declared that if elected president he would “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” In September, Trump tweeted, “My lawyers want to sue the failing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.”
While some have suggested that these statements are rhetorical, we take Trump at his word. His intent and his disregard for the constitutional free press principle are clear.
A Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom in the United States, but the consequences for the rights of journalists around the world could be far more serious. Any failure of the United States to uphold its own standards emboldens dictators and despots to restrict the media in their own countries. This appears to be of no concern to Trump, who indicated that he has no inclination to challenge governments on press freedom and the treatment of journalists.
When MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked him in December if his admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin was at all tempered by the country’s history of critical journalists being murdered, his response was: “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country… Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too.”
Through his words and actions, Trump has consistently demonstrated a contempt for the role of the press beyond offering publicity to him and advancing his interests.
For this reason CPJ is taking the unprecedented step of speaking out now. This is not about picking sides in an election. This is recognizing that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.
We call on Trump to ensure that journalists are able to cover his campaign and his rallies without interference or impediment; to condemn threats against journalists made by his supporters; and to ensure that his statements and actions in the balance of this campaign are consistent with America’s First Amendment tradition.
CPJ is a nonpartisan advocacy organization that does not take a position on this or any election. At the same time, we cannot be silent when we believe the conduct of the campaign does damage to America’s standing on free press issues around the world, and to CPJ’s ability to protect global press freedom.
We hold all candidates and political leaders to the same standard. In 2013, CPJ published a critical report on President Obama’s press freedom record. No matter who is elected president, CPJ will hold the administration accountable for the highest standards at home and for strong advocacy for the rights of journalists around the world.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This statement has been updated to add the final three paragraphs.]