Our current president has a long, rocky relationship with the press, to say the least.
In 2017, President Donald Trump was outraged about the book, “Fear: Trump in the White House” by Bob Woodward. Trump said the book was libelous and he took to Twitter––as per usual––to show his emotions.
“Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost?” Trump said on Twitter. “Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws.”
However, Trump’s war on the media began long before his presidency. While on the campaign trail, Trump was openly transparent about his thoughts on current libel laws. The primary targets of Trump’s libel accusations include sources such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, to name a few.
“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,” Trump said at a rally in 2016. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So, when the New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace…we can sue them and win money.”
For a public figure to claim libel, they must prove something false was said about them, that it harmed their reputation and the person involved acted with “actual malice,” which means the person in question knew the statement was false.
Unfortunately for Trump, the majority of statements said against him are not libelous, he just does not like them. When a public figure is in the limelight, they must understand everything about them will be shared with the public: the good, the bad and the ugly. He is certainly not the only president to have negative statements from the media, but he is perhaps the most irrationally outspoken against our free press.
Part of me wonders if Trump has even studied past Supreme Court cases about libel law and our protections under the First Amendment. In 1964, the Supreme Court placed constitutional limits on how states can define libel in The New York Times v. Sullivan. Justice William Jr. wrote protection was needed to indicate a “profound national commitment to the principles that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open.”
Trump calls journalists “the enemy of the people,” “very dangerous and sick” and “fake news.” As most of us surely know by now, this “fake news” is once again just anything he does not like.
Yet, Trump’s blatant hatred for any media with the courage to disagree with him has caused an opposite reaction within the journalism sphere. The number of students enrolling in journalism majors since the beginning of Trump’s presidency is skyrocketing.
Not too long ago, former President Richard Nixon was brought down by two young reporters from The Washington Post. In 1970, the number of journalism majors was approximately 33,000 in the entire country. After this event, the number jumped to 71,000.
It deeply troubles me our current president has such disregard for the rights given to citizens under our First Amendment. Our country is the free land it is because of the great rights protected by our Constitution, perhaps most notably, by our First Amendment.
We love the First Amendment when it protects what we want to do, but suddenly when someone else uses their First Amendment rights in a way we do not like, we try to strip it away from them. We must recognize we will not always agree with how others choose to use their First Amendment rights. And by “we,” I also mean President Trump.
After all, what does it convey to the citizens of our nation and to the world when our own president spits on these rights?