Last November, each of the presidential campaigns received a questionnaire about an issue seldom discussed on the campaign trail, but one crucial to our democracy freedom of the press. To date, only Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergDemocrats at debate criticize the candidate who isn't there: Mike Bloomberg Bundlers see fundraising problems for Biden Five things to watch in New Hampshire primary debate MORE has replied.
Where are the rest?
This is a trying time for journalism. Its a moment begging for new ideas to build trust, for a new tone to our discourse, for transparency over obscurity. A good place to start is with those who seek to occupy the White House.
Thats why we at the National Press Club Journalism Institute, together with the National Press Club, the Society for Professional Journalists and other industry partners,asked presidential candidatesfrom both parties to describe what a free press means to them, to define their obligations to the free flow of information, and to articulate their commitments to transparency. Bloomberg deserves credit for giving the questions serious consideration.
The Bloomberg campaign said the former three-term New York mayor wants the next president to be afirm and outspoken champion of the news media, has misgivings about the need for a federal media shield law and would restore regular press briefings to the White House.
Bloomberg, of course, is not a disinterested party. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which includes Bloomberg News. Bloomberg Philanthropies is a donor to the National Press Club and the NPCJI. Widely respected, the news organization has nonetheless drawn flack for apolicy of not investigating Bloombergas a candidate and for applying that policy to the other Democratic presidential candidates.
The Institute submitted the same questionnaire to President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways: Fear of Trump hangs over Democratic debate Klobuchar raises million since start of debate Buttigieg, Sanders aim to build momentum from New Hampshire debate MOREs campaign as well, though his track record answers some of the questions, and his contempt for journalists and news organizations is a recurrent theme in his Twitter feed.
But over the course of the presidential campaign most other candidates have given only passing reference to issues of press freedoms.
At theDec. 19 Democratic presidential debate, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegFive takeaways: Fear of Trump hangs over Democratic debate Klobuchar raises million since start of debate Buttigieg after debate: I would be 'most progressive' nominee in party's history MORE took note of the presidents disdain. When the American president refers to unfavorable press coverage as the product of the enemy of the people, democracy around the world gets weaker, he said.
At the same debate, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharFive takeaways: Fear of Trump hangs over Democratic debate Klobuchar raises million since start of debate Buttigieg, Sanders aim to build momentum from New Hampshire debate MORE (D-Minn.) noted that in separate Senate Judiciary Committee hearings she asked Trump attorneys general Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBloomberg has thoughts on press freedom; the other candidates should give us theirs, too Doug Jones says he will vote to convict Trump Senate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge MORE and William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrRepublican senators call on Twitter to suspend Iran's Khamenei, Zarif The Hill's Morning Report Trump basks in acquittal; Dems eye recanvass in Iowa Trump 'apoplectic' in phone call with UK's Johnson about Huawei decision: report MORE whether they would imprison journalists for doing their jobs and neither gave her an unequivocal answer. My dad was a newspaperman, Klobuchar said. So this is not just talking points to me.
Meanwhile, Andrew YangAndrew YangYang hits candidates for acting like Trump is 'the cause of all our problems' Overnight Defense: Impeachment witness Vindman escorted from White House | Esper says Pentagon protects service members from retribution | Trump ousts EU envoy Sondland Watch live: Final Democratic debate before New Hampshire MORE hasproposed invigorating journalismand sowing news deserts with a $1 billion fund administered by the Federal Communications Commission to make grants to for-profit, non-profit, and local government entities to help support local news operations.
Good for them for addressing the issue.
It deserves more.
Its time to hear from the rest of the pack. Its time for voters to demand a commitment to press freedom. Its time to ask: Do you believe the president has a role in restoring faith in a free press and the checks it places on our institutions?
Record numbers of journalistsare being imprisoned abroad. Killings, miraculously down, still continue. In many cases, as in the coldblooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the responsible parties are state actors who make a mockery of justice.So we have asked the candidates how they would use diplomatic tools to promote a free press across the globe.
Wouldcandidates grant asylum to journalists such asEmilio Gutierrez Soto, who fled Mexico amid death threats from the military?Gutierrez' asylum claimshave twice been rejected by an immigration judge; deportation would mean returning tothe deadliest country for journalists.
At home, the last two administrationshave targeted journalistic sourcesas if they were spies. Forty-nine states have statutes or case law that protect reporters from revealing sources to government officials. Yet, the federal government offers no such protection.
Journalists working in the United States havebeen detained, their equipment confiscated, their homes searched. Federal agencies and the Supreme Court have limited information available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act. And journalists are routinelydenied access to government experts, no matter the subject.
Journalism is the key to an informed public. And in the end, only an informed public can govern itself. We need to know where the candidates stand. Its time.
Jim Kuhnhenn is a veteran Washington correspondent for the Associated Press and Knight Ridder who is now the Press Freedom Fellow for the National Press Club Journalism Institute. He is a former member of the congressional Standing Committee of Correspondents and a former president of the Washington Press Club Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @jkuhnhenn
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