April 16, 2020
President Donald Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Trump,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, is writing to express our concerns regarding a pattern of actions by you and your administration that threatens news media and impedes the free flow of information on issues of great public interest. We cite specifically regular statements that delegitimize the role of the press; retaliation against journalists for critical coverage; prosecutions that equate leaking classified documents to the press with espionage; the harassment of journalists at U.S. borders; and limitations on access to information.
Because of those concerns, we commissioned another comprehensive report on U.S. press freedoms. Our first report, “The Obama Administration and the Press,” was published in 2013 and authored by Leonard Downie Jr., a professor of journalism at Arizona State University and former executive editor of The Washington Post, where he supervised the coverage of five administrations. Our new report, “The Trump Administration and the Media,” is also authored by Downie, who carefully details the practices and policies that we find so troubling.
Based on the report, the Committee to Protect Journalists makes the following recommendations to your administration:
- Publicly recognize and affirm the role of a free press in a democracy and refrain from delegitimizing or discrediting the media or journalists performing their vital function — not least during a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Refrain from vilifying individual journalists and media outlets, including on Twitter.
- Resume daily press briefings and ensure that reporters independently credentialed by the White House Correspondents Association are granted access. Ensure journalists and their associations have equal and fair access to the White House and State Department and are not punished for unfavorable coverage.
- Speak to reporters on the record and avoid over-reliance on confidential briefings. Avoid the perception of political favoritism by granting presidential interviews to a range of news outlets, not just those that produce favorable coverage.
- Do not retaliate against media outlets by interfering or threatening to interfere in the financial independence of their owners. Refrain from threats to rescind the broadcasting licenses of television and radio stations regarded as critical of the administration or its supporters.
- Instruct all government departments to ensure timely compliance with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests without regard to the media organizations or reporters filing those requests.
- Implement, at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the recommendations laid out in CPJ’s 2018 report “Nothing to Declare,” including requiring a warrant for device searches and releasing transparency reports about such searches.
- Prohibit DHS and CBP agents from asking journalists about their beats, opinions, contacts, or coverage. Provide the information related to CBP as requested in the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by CPJ and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) without further delay.
- End the practice of bringing espionage charges against news sources who leak classified information to journalists, as it creates a chilling effect and restricts the free flow of information on matters of public interest. Drop the espionage charges against Julian Assange and cease efforts to extradite him to the U.S.
- Order the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the requirement, under the National Defense Authorization Act, to provide an unclassified report to Congress listing individuals determined to be involved in any way in the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Impose sanctions on those deemed to be responsible, including Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
We recognize that you have made yourself personally accessible to the media in a way no president has before. However, many of the actions taken by you and your administration have deepened distrust of the media, chilled national security reporting, and made it more difficult for the general public to access timely and accurate information from their government.
We respectfully request a meeting with you or someone you designate to discuss our concerns and our recommendations for improving the press freedom environment in the United States. We are happy to conduct this meeting virtually, or when current social distancing guidelines are relaxed. Thank you for your attention and we look forward to your response.
Kayleigh McEnany, White House Press Secretary
William Barr, Attorney General of the United States
Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
Richard Grenell, Acting Director of National Intelligence
Kerri Kupec, Director of the Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice