PEN America has filed a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump, saying he has used the federal government “to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes,” the organization representing writers said Tuesday. The group singled out executive branch efforts to “punish and stifle” the Washington Post and Amazon (both owned by Jeff Bezos), CNN and Time Warner, and NBC.
The suit (read it here), filed in the U.S District Court’s Southern District of New York, claims Trump is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and the press, and the First Amendment right to receive information. It seeks to enjoin Trump from “directing or ordering any officer, employee, agency, or other agent or instrumentality of the United States government to take any action against any person or entity with intent to retaliate against, intimidate, or otherwise constrain speech critical of him or his Administration.”
The suit was filed on behalf of PEN American Center Inc by the nonprofit Protect Democracy and Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.
“Through retaliatory directives to officials in his Administration and credible public threats to use his government powers against news organizations and journalists who have reported on his statements, actions, and policies in ways he does not welcome, the President has violated the First Amendment and his oath to uphold the Constitution,” the filing reads. “President Trump has First Amendment rights and is free to criticize the press vehemently, but he is not free to use the power and authority of the United States government to punish and stifle it.”
Trump has long been critical of media outlets that he has deemed unfavorable to him and his administration, adopting the phrase “fake news” to describe organizations that publish stories of which he doesn’t approve. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling of the 2016 presidential election and accusations of past sexual misconduct against Trump have fallen under the blanket term used by both Trump and the White House.
“The White House has called for individual journalists to be fired, and the president has referred to the media as ‘the enemy of the American people,’ ” PEN president Jennifer Egan and CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a post announcing the suit. “This has created an environment of hostility toward the media wherein journalists have been subject to death threats, needed bodyguards to cover political rallies, and have faced attacks in their newsrooms. The president has also threatened book publishers and authors who have published critical volumes. While many media outlets are unrelenting in their robust coverage, individual writers may think twice before publishing pieces or commentary that could put them in the White House’s crosshairs.”
Read the suit: “Through his actions, Defendant Trump has intentionally conveyed to all writers and journalists that if he objects to their their coverage, they may be subject to retaliation by the federal government. That conduct violates the Constitution.”
Deadline has reached out to the White House for comment on the lawsuit.