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A collective of American authors - led by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan - sue Trump

A collective of American authors - led by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan - sue Trump

A collective of writers and authors are suing the President of the United States for allegedly threatening free speech and thereby violating the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

PEN America, a literary and human rights organisation made up of hundreds of journalists and authors, filed the lawsuit in federal court in New York on Tuesday. The move is led by PEN president Jennifer Egan, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for her novel A Visit from the Good Squad.

In an open letter, Egan and PEN CEO Suzanne Nossel wrote that their lawsuit, ‘seeks to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes.’

Trump has stoked hostility towards the media during his 2016 campaign and during his time in office. He widely disseminated the term ‘fake news’, regularly attacks established media outlets such as CNN and The New York Times, and smears authors who have published books about his time in office, like Bob Woodward and his recently released Fear.

As a result of Trump’s volatile rhetoric towards the media, journalists have copped death threats, been targeted by violence, and some have had to hire bodyguards to cover political rallies.

Although Trump’s attacks on the media are protected by the First Amendment, PEN has identified examples of when the President used his position to intervene in media organisations and block specific journalists from covering White House events. 

Some of these alleged violations include Trump’s threat to revoke the broadcast licenses of networks who aired critical coverage of his administration, and his use of the Department of Justice to interrupt a merger of Time Warner, the media company that owns CNN, with AT&T.

Trump also ordered the US Postal Service to consider raising shipping costs for Amazon in retaliation for the political coverage of The Washington Post, a newspaper owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

PEN has a long history of advocating for free speech and have filed lawsuits opposing censorship in the past. 

They said, ‘John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all did things that were dangerous to our free press. However, the open and systemic assault we are seeing from President Trump, especially within the current global context in which autocrats around the world - many of whom President Trump openly admires - are undermining a free press in similar ways, poses a level of danger that we believe is unique in recent history.’

‘Given our mission to defend free expression and support those who pay a price for its exercise, we are determined to rise in defense of the press freedom protections that are so fundamental to our society and democracy.’ 

PEN says it does not seek to undermine the President’s own free speech by silencing his criticism of the media, but rather ‘asks for the court to enter an injunction to stop the president from directing government agencies to retaliate against journalists for their speech.’