James Comey Quoted A Former President In A Tweet Defending Press Freedom

It included a choice photo.

In his goodbye letter to those he had previously worked with at the FBI, former FBI director James Comey described the organization's purpose as "protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution." And though he no longer has the strength of the bureau behind him or the mission statement of a 100-year-old institution to guide him, he still does have a voice in our democracy: one used, occasionally, in the form of tweets.

Concerns about "fake news" have rocked the United States and the reporters working within it since the 2016 election, when social media's omnipresence and algorithms led to the publishing and widespread distribution of evidently fake claims masked as "journalism" by people who knew they were publishing lies. These concerns were quickly seized upon by those looking to discredit apparently accurate (if negative) reporting by legitimate journalists and reputable news organizations (CNN in particular), and some critics argue they have morphed into threats to press freedom, including threats to cancel broadcast licenses and curtail a high-profile merger between AT&T and Time Warner. Time Warner owns CNN.

It is in this complex milieu that James Comey sends out his 140-character missives, and his most recent is a short quote defending American democratic norms from a president that long predated the advent of social media.


The Thomas Jefferson quote Comey tweeted reads, "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." According to the Washington Post, the quote, which dates back to 1786, originated in a letter Jefferson wrote from Paris to a doctor who treated his daughter, Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson.

Comey's mysterious tweet, which you can see below, also included a photo of the Capitol.

Though it's easy to speculate about if Comey was subtweeting (and if so, at whom), it's also worth examining more closely what Comey was trying to achieve in sharing such a message with the world.

According to the Thomas Jefferson quote he shared, our nation's freedom depends on the press' own, and the leeway the press has cannot be curtailed without damaging the nation as a whole. As the media's role in American society (and its right to operate freely within it) comes into question, his words may be more important now than ever.

Cover image via REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo.

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