More than 200 journalists and members of journalistic organizations signed a letter on Thursday condemning President Trump for condoning violence and pushing back against their stories.
The letter, which appeared to have been organized by someone at ABC News, pointed to two recent incidents – the death of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at Saudia Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and President Trump’s remarks at a recent rally in Montana.
“On the heels of a recent brutal murder of a [sic] The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump chose to celebrate the assault of The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by an American congressman – an attack that occurred while the journalist was simply doing his job, posing questions to a politician,” the letter began.
“Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte body-slammed Jacobs, knocking him to the ground and beating him severely enough to send him to the hospital. Although Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault and was fined, the President of the United States praised this violent behavior at a Trump rally in Missoula, Montana, on October 18.
The letter goes on to call “Trump’s condoning of political violence” to be part of a “sustained pattern of attack on a free press – which includes labeling any reportage he doesn’t like as ‘fake news’ and barring reporters and news organizations whom he wishes to punish from press briefings and events.”
It then reminded the president that “a vibrant free press” is “one of the pillars of a free and open democracy,” and said the president promised at his inauguration to protect the Constitution, “including the First Amendment.”
Trump “is utterly failing to do so and actively working not simply to undermine the press, but to incite violence against it as well.”
It goes on to say it supports a lawsuit filed by PEN America, which sued Trump claiming he is not honoring the First Amendment.
PEN America “stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide,” its website states.
Recent headlines on the site include: “Trump’s Threats Against the Media Abrogate Duty To Protect Press Freedom” and “DARE: Trump Decries ‘Political Violence’ after Years of Stoking It.”
Sam Donaldson, a former White House correspondent for ABC News, was the first signee of the letter. In all, 12 of the first 13 signatories and 17 of the first 20 have ties to ABC. But NBC, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, CBS, NPR, Bloomberg, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Mutual Broadcasting Network, the Canadian Broadcast Network, Al Jazeera and the George Washington University Project for Media and National Security also signed on.
Almost half appeared to be retired and about six affiliated with colleges in various ways.
In addition to Donaldson, top names include Dan Cordtz, economics correspondent for ABC News, Anne Garrels of ABC and NPR, George Strait, ABC’s chief science and medical correspondent and Charles Glass, ABC’s chief Mideast correspondent.
Meredith Wheeler, a former producer for ABC News, said she organized the effort and continues to gather signatures.
She told the Washington Post the president’s comments about Gianforte body-slamming a reporter set her off.
“To hear him praise the Montana congressman in the wake of Khashoggi’s killing was just too much, too awful, too soon,” she told the Post. “I thought we have to, as a group of journalists, stand up and protest this. Of course, the trouble is working journalists can’t sign a document like this. That’s why it’s mainly people who are retired or teaching in journalism.”