“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press [emphasis added]; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Like most people, I frequently criticize the press. I blame the press for over-reacting to some things, such as terrorist attacks, creating high levels of fear, and I blame them for creating what we now know as the Trump-monster. Mainstream media are well-known for their biases, as well as for the way they sensationalize certain events while downplaying others. However, when I think of the alternative, I conclude that we are far better off with than without them. I am also a critic of social media, or at least the way in which some people use it, but again, it is an avenue for people to express themselves freely and that is essential to a democracy.
More than a third of the world’s people live in countries where there is no press freedom. In 2011–2012, the countries where press was the freest were Finland, Norway and Germany, followed by Estonia, Netherlands, Austria, Iceland, and Luxembourg. The country with the least degree of press freedom was Eritrea, followed by North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria, Iran, and China.
Egypt arrested people for their Facebook comments. Now it’s trying to block Facebook itself. The Egyptian government has arrested or jailed several people for posting comments on Facebook that it considered inflammatory. Journalists critical of Putin have been killed in Russia. There have been a number of cases over the years. The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Russia as “one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists,” with 36 journalists killed since 1992. Syria and France have been named the deadliest countries where journalists were found murdered with confirmed motives in 2015, according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Donald Trump wants to be able to take legal action against those he thinks are unkind in their reporting. Trump revealed his utter disdain for the First Amendment’s freedom of the press, proclaiming that he’s “gonna 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. I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met. They’re terrible. With me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people…We’re gonna open up those libel laws, folks, and we’re gonna have people sue you like you never get [sic] sued before.” Actually, the United States Constitution says you are exactly like other people, because under the Constitution, we are all equal before the law. There is no Donald Trump Exception clause anywhere to be found. Even the Founding Fathers had to take their lumps from their critics. “I feel very strongly about our constitution. I’m proud of it. I love it.” He loves it enough to say it doesn’t apply to him. No president can simply pick and choose the parts of the Constitution he wants to honour and discard the rest. Can you imagine if President Obama had ever uttered such a statement?
Pulitzer Prize-winning George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post, with whom I rarely agree, yet I have more respect for him than for most any other columnist today. Will is politically conservative, while I am moderate-liberal, but he is respectful, intellectual and above all fair. He is an “equal opportunity” pundit who criticizes whichever side deserves it. And this campaign season, he has taken issue with none other than Trumpty=Dumpty! I knew I liked George! According to Will, Trump’s rhetoric about limiting freedom of the press will be comparable to a re-enactment of the Sedition Act of 1798. The act made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish, or cause it to be done, or assist in it, any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or the President, with intent to defame, or bring either into contempt or disrepute, or to excite against either the hatred of the people.”
Are we actually willing to give up our right to “read all about it” in our morning newspaper, or to see the online news sources reigned in such that they cannot report on the actions of the Trump administration? And what about us? Those of us who write blogs, who write op-ed pieces for newspapers would also be silenced. The reality, of course, is that even if Trump were to somehow win the election and become president, he could not change the 1st amendment easily, I suspect not at all. But the very fact that he wants to, that he is willing to trash what is arguably the most important right we are granted by the Bill of Rights, is troublesome, to say the very least.
I am an optimist and still do not believe that Donald ‘Trumpty-Dumpty’ Trump will ever become president of the United States. That said, if he does, I hope that I am able to share a cell with George Will. I think we could have fun talking about issues and I would surely learn a lot from him! See you soon, George!