The Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic is helping to represent PEN America in a lawsuit against the president in which they allege that he is illegally attempting to muzzle the media.
Their complaint is threefold: They say he charged Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos extra postage to get revenge, ordered an anti-trust review of CNN’s merger with Time-Warner and wouldn’t let a reporter into the White House to cover an event because administration officials found her obnoxious.
Here’s the Bezos complaint: “For example, Defendant Trump has repeatedly called for action to punish the online retailer Amazon because Jeff Bezos, its chief shareholder and CEO, owns the Washington Post, whose accurate coverage of his Administration the President finds objectionable.“ Accuracy in Media has actually been questioning the accuracy of The Washington Post for years.
The PEN/Yale complaint goes on to claim that “The President’s threats of government action, alone, caused a pronounced dip in Amazon’s stock value in July 2018. The President then followed through on his threats and issued an executive order directing the U.S. Postal Service (“Postal Service”) to review its financial practices, including the shipping rates it offers companies like Amazon. On information and belief, he then personally directed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon and other firms to ship packages. On October 11, 2018, the Postal Service announced proposed rate increases, including a proposed 12-percent increase for the Parcel Select service used by Amazon.”
And now, this, in the PEN/Yale complaint, is CNN: “When Defendant Trump first learned during the 2016 campaign that CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, planned to merge with AT&T, he publicly threatened to use the Justice Department’s antitrust merger-review process to retaliate against CNN for its news coverage. Following Defendant Trump’s election, the Justice Department sued to block the merger, despite a long track record of not opposing vertical mergers like the one proposed between Time Warner and AT&T.”
And, according to the PEN/Yale complaint, the president will not only not forgive the media their press passes, he won’t even give them out: “Defendant Trump’s use and threatened use of official authority to punish critical reporting takes other forms as well. For example, he has threatened to take away White House press credentials of reporters whose coverage displeases him and has threatened to challenge NBC’s and other television stations’ broadcast licenses in retaliation for coverage he disliked. In July 2018, the White House banned CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from a Rose Garden press conference for asking questions the White House deemed ‘inappropriate.’”
PEN is a venerable old association of writers, journalists and novelists—thousands of them around the world. Project Democracy, which assisted the Yalies in filing the suit, prides itself on its bipartisanship and features former McCain staffer Soren Dayton on its staff and claims conservative columnist Mona Charen among its advisers.
Nevertheless, taking their complaints down in order, first, do media conglomerates get an exemption from postal rates? Second, isn’t it part of the Department of Justice’s mission to enforce anti-trust suits, without a media carveout?
Finally, as one who has both received and been denied press passes, I can tell you that the issuance of them is up to the issuer, not the recipient. Well do I remember the annoyance of the White House press pool when the last Bush White House gave conservative weekly newspaper Human Events a slot in it.
Nonetheless, the filing of the lawsuit should provide valuable legal training to the Yalies, particularly if the judge throws the suit out.