AuthorLueders, Bill

Many people in the United States consider President Donald Trumps attacks on the press to be appalling. The press freedom group PEN America goes further; it considers them actionable. "The President has violated the First Amendment, and his oath to uphold the Constitution, through directives to administration officials to take retaliatory actions and credible public threats to use his government powers against those who report the news in ways he does not welcome," the group declares in a lawsuit filed last October and amended in February. "Although the President is free to criticize the press, he cannot use the power and authority of the United States government to punish and stifle it."

PEN America is one of about 100 affiliates of PEN International. The group was founded in 1921, and its original members included Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells.

The lawsuit mentions Trump's verbal attacks on the press, including his use of the terms "enemy of the people," "fake news," and "frankly disgusting." The President, it states, "shows open contempt for freedom of the press and the right to dissent, and reveals his illegitimate censorial motives almost daily."

But the basis for the lawsuit is Trump's actions, not his words. PEN's complaint lists actual retaliatory acts, including revoking and threatening to revoke the security clearances of former government officials for saying things he didn't like to the press and threatening to go after the broadcast licenses of NBC and others in retaliation for their coverage. The White House also barred CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from a Rose Garden press event for asking questions the White House considered "inappropriate," and revoked the press credentials of CNN's Jim Acosta for asking questions the President did not like, restoring these only after a lawsuit was filed.

"Using governmental authority to retaliate against the exercise of free speech or press is never legitimate," the lawsuit states. Adds PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel, "Journalists in the United States should not have to operate under the threat of possible harm to themselves or...

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