In a crowded auditorium on Thursday evening, White House correspondent April Ryan told the audience that in her role as a journalist in President Donald J. Trump’s administration, she is “under fire.”
“This is not about policy. This is not about politics. This is about the truth,” she said.
During her speech commemorating the 2018-19 Daniel W. Kops Freedom of the Press Lecture, Ryan emphasized the difficulties of reporting under the current administration.
“My freedom is being challenged,” she said. “They’re trying to silence me, but they’re not going to silence me … I’m going to ask my question. Because it’s not about me. It’s about you.”
Ryan reported on four presidential administrations as the White House bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, the only African American broadcasting network in the White House, according to the event page. She is also the author of three books, including her most recent Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House published just this month.
In 2017, she became a political analyst for CNN, and the National Association of Black Journalists elected Ryan as “Journalist of the Year” in May 2017, according to the event page.
Ryan argued that while the American Founding Fathers did not foresee what the present day would look like, they knew that freedom of the press, a part of the First Amendment, was important.
Ryan said that America’s freedom of the press differentiates the country from China or Russia, and in paraphrasing the words of the late Senator John McCain, “when you suppress the press, it begins a dictatorship.”
Right now, according to Ryan, the U.S. in the midst of crisis in national security and freedom of the press.
Ryan said she poses questions to Trump to ensure the government transparency she believes is crucial to fulfill the people’s right to information.
In one instance, Ryan said she asked, “Mr. President, are you racist?” Ryan explained that she had never before asked a president this question.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People defines racism as the intersection or the meeting of prejudice and power, said Ryan. When Ryan asked Trump if he was a racist, he “did not answer” her, she noted.
“It is a sad day when the president will not answer this question,” she said.
Race and division played a major role in the last election, Ryan said. During the presidential campaign, she thought Trump might become president because she felt the nation had “diverted back to something that we thought we were finished with.”
Ryan said she was taught that it is “patriotic” and an “innate part of democracy” when people “challenge the system.” According to Ryan, the greatest movement in this country was the Civil Rights Movement, whose “blueprint” has been picked up by movements of the LGBTQ, women’s rights and immigrant communities.
The press is ultimately about protecting the people, but “at a time, such as this, you call us fake, and we get death threats,” even though “I love my country, and so do my fellow journalists,” Ryan said.
“Freedom of the press is important, and I ask you all to stand with us … If you don’t like it, don’t threaten me … I work for you,” Ryan concluded. “It’s about ‘We the People.’”