Leahy Blasts Trump’s Increasing Attempts to Demean and Intimidate the Free Press

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) defended press freedom and expressed grave concern over the threats facing journalists not just around the world, but also here in the U.S.

Sen. Leahy said on the Senate floor:

(I)n the 44 years I have served in the United States Senate I have never been more concerned about the state of press freedom around the world – including, I deeply regret to say, in our own country.” Leahy cited both the pre-meditated murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi authorities and Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, who was raped, beaten, and strangled.

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Leahy cited a Committee to Protect Journalist report showing that at least 43 journalists have been killed for their work so far in 2018, with 66 in total killed with confirmed and unconfirmed motives.

According to data compiled by Freedom House, the muzzling of journalists and independent news media is at its worst point in 13 years. Similarly, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of reporters jailed for their work is at a level not seen since the 1990s. Strongmen around the world are cracking down with impunity. Perhaps we should not be surprised.

Leahy pointed out that here in the U.S., Trump “regularly demonizes the news media as the ‘enemy of the people,’ hoping that his acidic outbursts and threats will dissuade journalists from accurately reporting on his administration.

With the eyes of the world upon him, he makes a mockery of the entire notion of an independent press, branding all who challenge him as liars or worse, while holding hands with those willing to sing his praises. He even went so far as to rescind the credentials of one reporter who persisted in asking questions the President didn’t like – something I don’t recall ever witnessing before.

A few days ago he publicly denigrated the decorated, retired U.S. admiral who led the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and who had criticized the President’s attacks against the press as a grave threat to our democracy, which it is.”

As Americans who cherish the First Amendment, and who rely on a free press for sustaining our democratic form of government, we should be appalled. The words of a President matter. They always have. This President’s rhetoric gives comfort to autocrats the world over who are emboldened to clamp down on dissent, confident that they have a powerful defender in the White House.

We have seen despots quote our President about this. We have seen countries pass laws outlawing so-called “fake news,” which their leaders use to justify dismissing and castigating reporting with which they disagree, and to persecute political opponents.

We should fear the day when a free press is seen as unimportant, or a luxury – as something no longer synonymous with this country and our values. We must, all of us, recommit ourselves to defending press freedom and elevating and celebrating our free press as one of the cornerstones of our democracy.

We often speak out about the abuses of repressive governments around the world. We must also speak out against the increasing attempts to demean and intimidate the press here at home. The lives of these four brave individuals should remind us of what is at stake, of the slippery slope we are on, and to stand up for what is right even when our President will not.

Sen. Leahy was correct. The free press is an important democratic institution. When confronted with an attack on press freedom from the highest office in the land, it is up to the American people to stand for democracy. If Trump destroys the free press democracy,  as Americans, we can never allow this to happen.