Remarks as delivered on the Senate floor tonight:
“I rise today to commend Time Magazine for their selection of their ‘Person of the Year’ as ‘The Guardians and the War on Truth.’ I say it is related because Jamal Khashoggi is one of the figures on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the Guardians.
“In making their selection, Time Magazine wrote: ‘For taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and for speaking out, the Guardians’ are the Person of the Year. Time Magazine wrote: ‘As we looked at the choices, it became clear that the manipulation and abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories…this ought to be a time when democracy leaps forward, an informed citizenry being essential to self-government. Instead, it’s in retreat. And the story of this assault on truth is, somewhat paradoxically, one of the hardest to tell.’
“Time Magazine wrote in this week’s issue: ‘In Annapolis, Md., staff of the Capital, a newspaper published by Capital Gazette Communications, which traces its history of telling readers about the events in Maryland to before the American Revolution, press on without the five colleagues gunned down in their newsroom on June 28. Still intact, indeed strengthened after the mass shooting, are the bonds of trust and community that for national news outlets have been eroded on strikingly partisan lines, never more than this year.
“‘I can tell you this,’ declared Chase Cook, a reporter for the Capital Gazette on that fateful day. ‘We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.’ Cook’s promise came just a few hours after five of his colleagues were killed. The man charged with their murders had been obsessed with the paper since it wrote about his harassment of a high school classmate—part of its routine coverage of local legal proceedings. He made the office a crime scene. To put the damn paper out, staffers set up laptops in the bed of a pickup in a parking garage across the street.
“When the next edition arrived—on schedule—the opinion page was blank but for the names of the dead. Gerald Fischman. Rob Hiaasen. John McNamara. Rebecca Smith. Wendi Winters. Beneath their names was a coda that might have been written with a goose quill: “Tomorrow this page will return to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens.”
“I must tell you that I am very proud of what the Capital Gazette has done. They continue through very difficult times with quality reporting and opinion pages that they have been known for for a long time. It is a real treasured institution in our state capital.
“One of the four Time Magazine covers include the journalists at the Capital Gazette, the Annapolis, Maryland newspaper where five employees were murdered by a gunman last June. I spoke about this shooting on the Senate floor last June, and the Senate unanimously adopted S. Res. 575, which I authored and which was co-sponsored by all members of the Senate. This Senate resolution commemorates the lives, careers, and service of the five victims of the Capital Gazette shooting in Annapolis, Maryland; honors the survivors of the attack and the families of the victims and pledges continued support for their recovery; thanks law enforcement officers and other emergency first responders for their heroic actions; and reaffirms the commitment of the Senate to defending the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
“Wendi Winters was among the five Capital Gazette employees killed in the June 28 shooting. According to eyewitness accounts from survivors, Wendi armed herself with the closest weapons at hand – her trash and recycling bins – and charged the shooter, shouting for him to stop. It is believed that Wendi’s actions distracted the shooter enough to enable several of her coworkers to escape.
“We think of violence against reporters as something that happens in other countries, in war zones and the like, but not here, not in the United States of America. All around the world, reporters work to gather facts, ask questions, and report the news in the spirit of the free, open, and transparent societies and governments that all people deserve. Too often, reporters are harassed, jailed, and even killed simply because of the nature of their work, which often exposes cronyism and corruption.
“Jason Renzaian, a reporter for the Washington Post who was falsely imprisoned in Iran for doing his job as a journalist, had this to say earlier this year. He talks about that attack I referenced earlier in Annapolis.
“‘Mostly I’ve covered attacks on the media taking place on the other side of the world, usually in countries where the flow of information is restricted, or conditions are such that a sense of desperation or political or tribal affiliation can compel individuals to take heinous action … Writing about a deadly attack that happened less than 30 miles away, in an idyllic town that I recently visited with relatives from overseas, is a new experience for me. And I have to say that I don’t relish the task.’
“We Americans have certain rights and responsibilities granted to us through the Constitution, which established the rule of law in this country. Freedom of the press is one of those most basic rights and it is central to the First Amendment to the Constitution: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.’ This precious freedom has often been under attack, figuratively speaking, since our Nation’s founding.
“Today, attacks on the American media have become more frequent and more literal, spurred on by dangerous rhetoric that has created an ‘open season’ on harassing the media for doing its job – asking questions that need to be asked, investigating the stories that need to be uncovered, and bringing needed transparency to the halls of power whether they are in Annapolis; Washington, DC; or elsewhere.
“Then-candidate and now President Donald Trump’s rhetoric – calling the media ‘a stain on America’ and ‘the enemy of the American people’ – certainly has caused damage. At the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the President said to the audience ‘They’re not to believe what you see and hear.’ “The President of United States told a crowd of veterans: ‘Stick with us don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not happening.’ That is the President of the United States saying those comments; again, demeaning the press and the importance of our free press.
“Why is the president doing this? Earlier this year, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, an icon in the news business, shared comments from Donald Trump from an interview she did with him soon after his 2016 election win. Stahl recalled that she said to Donald Trump about his attacks on the media, ‘Why are you doing this? You’re doing it over and over. It’s boring and it’s time to end this.’ The Candidate’s response was straight forward and shocking: He said, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.’
“Let that sink in for a moment. A man who was about to assume the position of President of the United States explicitly acknowledging he was purposely working to diminish the integrity of the free press.
“After the Capital Gazette shooting, Donald Trump said that ‘journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.’ But how do we interpret his sincerity when, more frequently, he is calling the media ‘fake news’ or ‘totally unhinged’ and telling the American people – and the world – that reporters are ‘truly bad people’? Donald Trump’s constant dismissals needs to end. He needs to accept that one of the press’ most important roles is to speak truth to power – including to the President of the United States.
“Here at home, we’re left to wonder whether Donald Trump is more inclined to agree with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s view of the press – where journalists are routinely jailed and physically attacked – than Thomas Jefferson, who famously said: ‘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.’
“Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job – both figuratively and literally. The right of journalists to report the news is nothing less than the right of all of us to know. Media freedom and media pluralism are essential for the expression of, or ensuring respect for, other fundamental freedoms and safeguarding democracy, the rule of law, and a system of checks and balances.
“Every one of us in this body – Democrats and Republicans – has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. As leaders of this great Nation, we have a responsibility to defend the rights of our citizens, including the freedom of the press.
“Time Magazine features three over covers, in addition to the Capital Gazette. One is Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributor who was killed at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October. I would note that this is the first time that a Time Person of the Year is a deceased person.
“The United States of America is supposed to stand up for justice and human rights at home and abroad. I agree that Saudi Arabia is a strong ally in a variety of important areas, but that should only strengthen their understanding of America’s commitment to the rule of law and that we, as a nation, cannot sanction extrajudicial killings. America’s national security is harmed, not helped, when dictators and strongmen believe they can get away with such heinous actions as the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Congress must act to send the right signal to the world that despite our current president, America will continue to be a beacon of justice and defender of human rights.
“Another cover features two Reuters journalists who were arrested one year ago in Myanmar while they were working on stories about the killings of Rohingya Muslims. These journalists remain behind bars, but their wives were photographed for the cover. From this floor, I’ve stood in solidarity with these Reuters reporters who were detained in Burma for shining a light on the horrific abuses that occurred in the Royhingan state.
“I have stood in solidarity with Ethiopian journalists and bloggers who are routinely arrested for criticizing the Ethiopian government and exposing human rights abuses in that country. I have talked frequently about China, a country that engages in routine censorship and online blocking; harassment, reprisals, and detention of journalists; and visa delays and denials for journalists.
“Another Time Magazine cover shows Maria Ressa, the chief executive of the Philippine news website Rappler, who was indicted on tax evasion charges by President Duterte’s administration as part of a crackdown on free speech and dissent.
“According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, more than 600 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last 10 years while doing their job.
“Of the member States of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Russia remains the deadliest country for journalists. Turkey is the largest jailer of journalists in the world, and scores of media outlets have been closed since the attempted coup there. The heavy-handed measures used against media freedom in Turkey, both before and during the recent elections, illustrates the lengths to which the government went to control the information available to voters. It also serves as a reminder of the essential role of a pluralistic media for free and fair elections.
“I have also worked in many other countries that have infringed on the freedom of press, in my role on Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as the ranking Democrat on the Helsinki Commission. I could give you examples of what we have done in Malta, what we have done in Slovakia, what we have done in Belarus, and the list goes on and on and on.
“I therefore ask the Trump Administration and my colleagues in the Senate to redouble their efforts to protect the freedom of the press both at home at abroad. We must lead by example, as the very foundation and legitimacy of our democratic republic is at stake.
“America’s leadership is essential to protect the freedom of press, an essential institution for a democratic state. We must lead by first setting an example by our commitment to the freedom of press here at home. We must demand that freedom of the press be a priority in our global affairs, recognizing it’s important to our national security. Time Magazine got it right by naming the guardians and the war on truth as Persons of the Year.”