In an effort to quantify the damage done against America’s constitutional belief in free expression, PEN America released a thorough survey of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office.
The organization, a nationwide community of novelists, journalists, editors, poets, playwrights and more, chronicled the president’s various statements that undermine the validity of news outlets, his lack of transparency and his choice to defund groups that support artistic expression. The report, titled “Trump the Truth,” explores a total of approximately 60 incidents in which the White House has undermined the press.
The 30-page memo focuses chiefly on how Trump’s administration treats journalists, citing some positive developments ― the administration offers “Skype seats” in its media briefing room for reporters outside of Washington, for example ― but mostly taking the opportunity to home in on the president’s false indictments of “fake news.”
In the document’s introduction, the organization writes:
[...] what this Administration is doing ― the relentless lies, the constant efforts to chip away at public support for the press and trust in their reporting, the dismissal of peaceful public demonstrations as illegitimate ― is not normal.
PEN America concedes that, of course, all politicians “stretch the truth,” but emphasizes that several of Trump’s lies are in service of more malicious aims. Trump’s repeated assertion that voter fraud is widespread, for example, is unfounded, but could result in greater voting restrictions at the state level.
Similarly, the Trump administration’s unsupported claim that protest participants are paid “professionals” serves to “delegitimize the constitutionally-protected expression of dissenting viewpoints,” PEN writes, “and may feed into efforts by states to roll back protections on the right to peaceful assembly.”
The organization also calls special attention to Trump’s threats to loosen libel laws and the limited access he gives press to the State Department, disallowing cameras at press briefings. Moreover, it points out that his proposal to require travelers entering the U.S. surrender their personal devices ― including passwords and social media accounts ― “could have a widespread chilling effect on speech and would violate travelers’ human rights to privacy and free expression.”
When false and contradictory claims, and attempts to obfuscate the truth, are so constantly present, the effect can begin to feel diffuse. This document enumerates the actions the administration has taken to chip away at trust in the media and others whose role it is to hold the government accountable, bringing each of them back into clear focus.