Update: Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN the committee will not investigate U.S. news organizations.
The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force is calling on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to ignore a tweet from President Trump seeking an investigation into what he called “Fake News Networks.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee is one of several entities investigating allegations of collusion between Russia and some members of the Trump campaign and inner circle.
While at first the tweet appears to be just another escalation of the president’s ongoing rhetorical war against news stories with which he disagrees or that he just doesn’t like, the task force believes it must be taken seriously.
“This White House has said that Mr. Trump’s tweets constitute official communications from the president of the United States. So what we have here is the highest elected official in the land seeking a congressional investigation into the content of news reports,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director. “Such an investigation would be a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
As Politico and other news outlets have reported, and as the task force previously noted, the president’s use of the term “fake news” has increased following recent news stories about the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The president’s tweets this week also contain harsh criticism of a news report which said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Mr. Trump a “moron” and nearly resigned during the summer.
The “fake news” tweets have come in such high frequency this week that Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of “Reliable Sources” wrote, “In Trumpworld, when the going gets tough, the news gets ‘fake.’”
The task force believes there’s a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the president’s verbal and Twitter venom against responsible journalism and the increasing amount of obstruction, harassment, threats, arrests and assaults targeting reporters and photojournalists this year. According the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which RTDNA is founding partner, at least 27 journalists have been arrested around the country so far in 2017 just for doing their jobs. At least 25 journalists have been physically assaulted.
“Words have consequences. Unfortunately, the president’s words attacking the news media, and now seeking a congressional investigation of news organizations, could make seeking and reporting the truth even more perilous than it already is,” Shelley added. “I urge journalists not to be intimidated. As I and others have often said, the only antidote to attacks on journalism is more and better journalism.”
RTDNA formed the Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to bridge the divide between responsible journalists and those who don’t like, or don’t understand, the news media. People wishing to support RTDNA’s efforts may reach out to the task force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.