Literary and human rights organization PEN American Center blasted President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE for his praise Thursday night of Rep. Greg GianforteGregory Richard GianforteOvernight Health Care — Presented by EMAA — Biden unravels Trump rule banning clinics from abortion referrals COVID-19 long-haulers plead for government action Lawsuit challenges Montana ban on employer vaccine mandates MORE's (R-Mont.) assault of a reporter the night before his special election in 2017.
“President Trump’s explicit praise for Rep. Greg Gianforte’s criminal assault on a reporter marks a startling new low in terms of the White House’s open hostility toward the press,” the group said in a release on Friday.
“During a week when the world is riveted in horror at the brutal murder of a journalist by the Saudi government, Trump’s remarks are a chilling reminder that US global leadership on press freedom has collapsed utterly under the President’s watch,” the statement continued.
“In its place is an attitude of contempt, excusing and now even applauding violence toward the press,” the group added, before noting its lawsuit filed against Trump.
The lawsuit, filed by the center on Tuesday, challenges Trump’s “threats and retaliatory actions” against the media “to affirm the role of First Amendment and demand that our government treat journalists and the media with the protections they deserve, and that our democracy depends upon.”
The rebuke of Trump's comments arrives in response to remarks made at a rally on Thursday night, during which the president joked that Gianforte’s assaulting of a reporter for The Guardian in 2017 helped him win his special election for the House.
“Never wrestle him. Never. Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of ... he’s my guy,” he said in Missoula, Mont.
The incident, in which Gianforte body-slammed a reporter for The Guardian, happened the night before the election after a significant number of votes had already been cast during early voting and via absentee ballots.
The Guardian’s editor, John Mulholland, condemned Trump’s remarks in a statement obtained by The Washington Post and said he hopes “decent people will denounce these remarks and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”
The PEN American Center has long criticized Trump as a user of hate speech throughout his presidency. It has also organized petitions and established a Press Freedom Incentive Fund since Trump was elected to mobilize communities around press freedom.