News Guild President Lunzer urges members to push Congress on free press issue
In this Oct. 4, 2018 file photo, a Trump supporter holds up a T-shirt reading "You Are Fake News" and taunts reporters before a rally by President Donald Trump in Rochester, Minn. Local members of the media says they’ve noticed more hostility from the public since Trump began his attacks on ‘fake news.’ Trade groups are spreading safety tips because of the incidents. | Jim Mone / AP

WASHINGTON—News Guild President Bernie Lunzer, upset by increasing attacks on press freedom in general and reporters in particular, is asking his members, and unionists nationwide, to pressure their lawmakers to stand up for freedom of the press.

His decision was spurred, he told Press Associates Union News Service just after Election Day, by President Donald Trump’s arbitrary eviction of CNN White House Bureau Chief Jim Acosta from a press conference and revocation of Acosta’s credentials. The former real-estate mogul hates Acosta’s aggressive questions. CNN has filed a federal lawsuit against the administration in an attempt to reverse the revocation.

Lunzer said then his request was also spurred by the fact that nothing has been done to bring to book the Saudi higher-ups who ordered the murder more than a month ago of independent outspoken journalist Adnan Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a frequent contributor to the Guild-represented Washington Post.

But it’s far more than that, Lunzer wrote in a union-wide e-mail.

“At least 40 journalists in the United States have been physically attacked while on the job. Four more were killed in their own newsroom, where another newspaper employee also died,” he said to TNG-CWA’s members and their allies. The five were murdered by a gunman at the Annapolis (Md.) Capital-Gazette on June 28.

Khashoggi was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and Acosta had his press pass yanked, was ejected from the White House grounds, and was then subject to a White House-doctored video. Meanwhile, “the leader of the free world blames the media,” Lunzer says of Trump.

So Lunzer is telling his members to step out of their traditional reluctance to act on specific issues and turn to Congress to protect the First Amendment, its freedom of the press, and the right to report.

Trump loves sycophantic Fox News and rabid right-wing talk radio and its conspiracy theories. But his animosity towards a free, questioning and independent press predates his ascension to the Oval Office.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump penned in journalists in restricted areas, surrounded by threatening, howling mobs of Trumpites. Several news organizations had to hire security guards for their reporters due to the danger.

Trump also insulted and berated journalists during the campaign, and T-shirts with the legend “Tree. Noose. Journalist. Some assembly required” sold like hotcakes at his rallies.

And while Lunzer did not say so, this year on the campaign trail, Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., for slugging and beating a Guardian reporter the year before. The reporter asked Gianforte to explain his stand on repealing the Affordable Care Act, the day before the special election which Gianforte won.

With all this as background, Lunzer knows reporters—print, broadcast, and digital—will get no protection or aid from the Oval Office. So he wants his members and their allies to turn to the incoming Congress for help.

“Tell your member of Congress to stand for a free press!” Lunzer’s email repeatedly urges.

They may get it in the Democratic-run House next year, as Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., introduced a pro-press freedom measure early this year. It went nowhere in the GOP-run Congress.

Bernie Lunzer | News Guild

“When journalists are killed or threatened, we mourn their deaths and pray for their safety. Such attacks also diminish the free press that is protected in this country’s constitution. And when politicians wrongfully accuse journalists of misdeeds, we stand with our colleagues,” Lunzer said.

“We demand that our nation’s leaders end the rhetoric that encourages evil people to act out their evil with impunity,” he adds.

“Journalists typically don’t involve themselves in issues in the public realm. In this case, however, we are the ones being attacked. If we don’t stand up for ourselves and our profession, then who will? And if journalists are no longer able to spread the truth, then only lies will remain.”

“The situation has only become direr as more journalists die” and attacks increase, he warns.

But there’s another way reporters and other media members can protect themselves against assaults by Trump, Trumpites and their supporters, Lunzer declares: Unionize. “Only by standing with one another can we not only defend but improve the profession we love,” he declares.

“Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your colleagues. Stand up for your profession. Defend the First Amendment. Do it while we still have one.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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