Let's Fix This Country
election 2016

Why Trump Is Dangerous: #1 First Amendment? Let’s Sue the Press

He fundamentally does not believe in freedom of the press

Donald Trump would hardly be the first president to be irked by the prodding and poking of the press. An adversarial relationship is its job in order to pry open the secrets of government. But not yet in government, Trump already harbors a corrosive animus toward the fourth estate. "I gotta tell you, the media is [sic] among the most dishonest groups of people I've ever met", Trump has said. "They're terrible". He has said that most reporters are “absolute dishonest, absolute scum”.

But that was in February. Has he change that view? He said this less than a week before the election:

"These people are among the most dishonest people I've ever met. There's never been anywhere near the media dishonesty like we've seen in this election."

He would be within reason to say "biased" for a press that is appalled by the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president, but dishonest is not the right word. The media has dug into Trump's business dealings, his tax evasion, his insults of all ethnic groups other than his own, his disrespect of women — the media's work has been unceasing, but what they have reported is the life and sayings of Donald Trump. That's not dishonesty.

Throughout that life, Trump has voiced contempt for the press.

He once mailed a columnist a copy of a negative article she'd written about him with her picture circled and the words "The face of a dog" written in the margin. McKay Coppins, writing for Buzzfeed, made the faux pas of calling the Trump Organization's palatial estate, Mar-a-Lago, a "nice, if slightly dated, hotel". Trump sent him enraged tweets as much as several times a day calling him a "dishonest slob" and his work "true garbage with no credibility" in a fusillade that cropped up repeatedly for over two years.

He mocked a reporter by imitating his physical disability for his having questioned Trump's thoroughly debunked claim to have seen "thousands" in Jersey City celebrating the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The mayor said it never happened.

He uses the legal system to intimidate, regularly suing those who cannot afford to defend. In 2006 he sued the author of a book who claimed Trump greatly exaggerated his wealth. Trump said in an interview that he knew he wouldn’t win but pursued the suit for five years anyway to make a point. “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

For Trump, blame is always elsewhere. The system is rigged. The media is biased. That same media that gave him what was valued at about $2 billion — some say $3 billion — in free access by the time of the Republican convention. That same media that, as for no one before him, welcomed the New York chutzpah of his phone calls into live television programs, patched in by the control room in the hope that Trump would make news with yet another headline grabbing howler.

Only too willing to make that Faustian bargain for ratings, the press finally turned contrary over the question of where had the $6 million gone that Mr. Trump claimed he had raised for veterans in a telethon this past January. Weeks of questioning prompted Trump to rage against the "dishonest" press coverage of his campaign and to call a press conference in late May where he read a list of charities to which the money had been distributed. Only then, as reporters discovered, did the exposure cause him to cut a check for the $1 million he had personally pledged over four months earlier. For catching him out, he called the press "disgusting", one reporter "a sleaze", and another "a real beauty". The media "make me look very bad", he complained. "For Trump the only honest reporter is one who reports the news exactly as Trump wants at that exact moment", was the appraisal of Michael Cohen of the Boston Globe.

After the press conference, which had been contentious, Trump was asked if he will continue to berate and insult journalists. "Yes, it is going to be like this", he answered. "You think I’m gonna change? I’m not going to change. I am going to continue to attack the press. I find the press to be extremely dishonest. I find the political press to be unbelievably dishonest”.

He revoked the press credentials of The Washington Post, thereby banning its reporters from attending campaign events. The Post had run the headline, “Donald Trump Suggests President Obama Was Involved With Orlando Shooting” after Trump had said on Fox News that Obama doesn’t understand Islamic terrorism, or “he gets it better than anybody understands. Look guys, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart or has something else in mind”.

Post editor Marty Baron said, “Donald Trump’s decision to revoke [our] credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished”. Trump had already barred from his events Politico, BuzzFeed News and The Huffington Post.

Post owner, multi-billionaire Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, is in Trump's gun sights for that indiscretion. ”The fact is, the Washington Post is being used by the owners of Amazon as their political lobbyist so that they don’t have to pay taxes and don’t get sued for monopolistic tendencies that have led to the destruction of department stores and the retail industry,” read a statement from the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump said in February:

“He wants political influence so Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems. One of the things I'm going to do if I win…is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post…writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected. You see, with me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people, but I’m not taking money, I’m not taking their money. We’re gonna open up those libel laws, folks, and we’re gonna have people sue you like you never got sued before.”

That has become a principal concern with Trump: a vengeful president who use the powers of the federal departments and agencies — the FBI, the Justice Department, the IRS — to bring low his enemies and in particular to snuff a free press. At the very moment that the media face an existential economic threat from the digital world, along comes a conceivable president who has little to no belief in the First Amendment, who admires and envies despots Putin and Erdogan for having the power to have shut down newspapers and jailed journalists in their countries. With Trump would we see an attempt to make seditious libel — the act of criticizing him or the government — a crime?

National Press Club President, Thomas Burr, said Trump “misunderstands — or, more likely, simply opposes — the role a free press plays in a democratic society. Any American political candidate who attacks the press for doing its job is campaigning in the wrong country”.

Shut down the press and we become Turkey. How will you like having no idea what’s going on in government from a press too weakened and intimidated to dig for the truth?

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