WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and as President Donald Trump continues to employ unprecedented rhetoric and actions to attack the American news media, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today introduced a strongly worded resolution calling for the Senate to stand up for freedom of the press in America and around the world.
Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined on the resolution by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The Senators’ resolution comes as Turkey has now called for an international investigation into Khashoggi’s death, and as the U.S. Treasury Department today began implementing Global Magnitsky Sanctions that were triggered by action from Merkley and other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The resolution also comes as President Trump continues to escalate his attacks on U.S. reporters, most recently by revoking the White House credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta in retaliation for Acosta’s questions about possible indictments coming out of the Mueller investigation. In October, Trump praised Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for having used physical violence against a reporter, who asked questions about how Gianforte would vote on a key health care bill during Gianforte’s first election campaign last year.
“In recent years, we’ve seen incredibly disturbing attacks on journalists around the globe—from Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, to the imprisonment of Reuters reporters who were simply doing their jobs trying to report on atrocities against the Rohingya in Burma,” said Merkley. “We cannot let these vicious attacks on a free press be normalized on our own shores. Our founders saw journalism as so critical to a functioning democracy that they enshrined the right to a free press in the very First Amendment to our Constitution. Donald Trump may admire the anti-free press tactics of strongmen, but the Senate should push back and stand up for the founding values of our nation.”
“A free press is a vital bulwark against authoritarianism and tyranny,” said Blumenthal. “The essential work of journalists – uncovering and reporting facts, exposing wrongdoing, and holding public officials accountable – has never been more critical, both here at home and around the world. This resolution reaffirms our commitment to the basic principle that accountability is the foundation of peace and stability – and that without a free and open press, that foundation may crumble.”
“If the United States stands for freedom of the press here at home, then we must stand for it everywhere,” said Markey. “We must be the kind of country that steadfastly opposes the illegal detention and killing of journalists, no matter the country. As Americans, we believe in a free press, not in the freedom to attack the press. I call on my Senate colleagues to support this resolution and to never forget the foundations of our democracy.”
“As the son of a journalist, I am particularly troubled by Trump’s attacks on the press here at home and his willingness to cozy up to autocrats who do the same all over the world,” said Wyden. “The Senate must take action and make clear to the world that it will defend free and open societies even if the White House will not.”
The Senators’ resolution calls on the Senate to reaffirm the central role that independent and professional journalism plays in strengthening democratic governance, upholding the rule of law, mitigating conflict, and informing public opinion in the United States of America and around the world. It also condemns President Trump’s consistent use of rhetoric meant to celebrate and publicize acts of violence and aggression against the press, and expresses solidarity with CNN’s statement that the withdrawal of Mr. Acosta’s credentials is “a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better.”
In addition, the resolution calls for an independent and impartial investigation by the United Nations Secretary General into the death of Mr. Khashoggi with the full cooperation of the United States Government, and expresses support for and solidarity with independent journalists around the globe working to expose uncomfortable truths, shine a light on systematic corruption, and provide accountability in societies yearning for democracy and development.
The full text of the resolution is available here and follows below.
Reaffirming the centrality of Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression to American democracy and international peace and stability
Whereas, the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America enshrines press freedom as a foundational element of American democracy when it declares, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…;”
Whereas, Thomas Jefferson famously and wisely wrote in 1787, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” underscoring the enduring importance of independent and professional journalism as a check on government authority in every society;
Whereas, Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted December 10, 1948 by the UN General Assembly, enshrines press freedom as a vital aspect of universal human rights;
Whereas, President Donald J. Trump’s use of threatening rhetoric—including false declarations that the media are “the enemy of the American people”—and his repeated disparagements of specific journalists and outlets have undermined public trust in fact-based journalism;
Whereas, on November 7, in his first post-election press conference President Donald J. Trump accused PBS Newshour’s Yamiche Alcindor of asking a ‘racist question’ about the president’s support from white nationalists;
Whereas, the White House has withdrawn the press credentials of CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta in clear retaliation for Acosta’s questioning of the President;
Whereas, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders falsely claimed and distributed a doctored video purporting to show that Mr. Acosta placed “his hands on a young woman” and as the basis of the withdrawal of Mr. Acosta’s credentials;
Whereas, on November 9 President Trump threatened to revoke other journalists’ White House credentials as well;
Whereas, on October 18, President Trump praised Congressman Greg Gianforte for the misdemeanor assault charges to which the Congressman pled guilty for physically assaulting a reporter on the eve of a special election last year;
Whereas, independent survey research has recently found that the American public’s trust in the professional media outlets remains strong, despite the President’s repeated attacks;
Whereas, the respected non-profit organization Committee to Protect Journalism reports that, as of October 10, 2018, 44 journalists have been killed around the globe so far this year while doing their jobs;
Whereas, Myanmar journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, while working for Reuters, a highly reputable worldwide news gathering organization, were unjustly convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment, in relation to their reporting on the August 2017 Burmese security forces’ campaign to assault, kill, rape, burn villages and force Rohingya to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh; which led approximately 700,000 Rohingya people to flee their homeland;
Whereas, more and more leaders in other countries are emulating President Trump’s attacks on professional journalism and investigative journalism into corruption and repression;
Whereas, credible reports indicate Saudi Arabia targeted Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi because of his critiques of the Saudi regime and his push for a free press in the Middle East;
Whereas, credible reports indicate Saudi agents brutally tortured and killed Mr. Khashoggi within the Saudi consulate in Istanbul when he came to pick up a legal document necessary for his planned marriage;
Whereas, the Saudi government has engaged in a series of brazen lies and attempted cover-ups of Mr. Khashoggi’s murder;
Whereas, President Trump’s public statements have led many to conclude that he does not intend to hold senior Saudi officials accountable or demand an independent and impartial investigation into the brutal death of Mr. Khashoggi;
Resolved, that the United States Senate—
(1) Reaffirms the central role that independent and professional journalism plays in strengthening democratic governance, upholding the rule of law, mitigating conflict, and informing public opinion in the United States of America and around the world;
(2) Condemns President Trump’s consistent use of rhetoric meant to celebrate and publicize acts of violence and aggression against the press;
(3) Concurs with CNN’s statement that the withdrawal of Mr. Acosta’s credentials is “a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better”;
(4) Supports an independent and impartial investigation by the United Nations Secretary General into the death of Mr. Khashoggi, with the full cooperation of the United States Government.
(5) Expresses support for and solidarity with independent journalists around the globe working to expose uncomfortable truths, shine a light on systematic corruption, and provide accountability in societies yearning for democracy and development.