Trump vs The 1st Amendment

Since the U.S. Senate handed Donald Trump the keys to the castle and told him to “have fun” and promised that “we’ve got your back” no matter what he does, he has been on quite a spree.  Last week, it was the firing of qualified career people within the administration and their replacement with highly unqualified people.  Then came the news that any non-loyalists, any not willing to basically swear an oath of fealty to Trump, would be fired and replaced with those loyal to the king Trump.

All last week, I waited for the other shoe to fall.  What ‘other shoe’ you ask?  The press, my friends.  Ever since the day he threw his hat in the proverbial ring in mid-2015, Trump has been denigrating the press, referring to them as “the enemy of the people”, attempting to revoke press passes of those like Jim Acosta who had the unmitigated gall to ask him the uncomfortable questions he didn’t want to answer.  And remember how, during his first year in office, he often threatened to change federal libel laws to make it more difficult for the free press to report the truth?

Yesterday morning it was announced that the Trump re-election campaign is filing a libel suit against the New York Times in the New York state court.  Their claim is that the Times had intentionally published a false opinion article that suggested Russia and the campaign had an overarching deal in the 2016 U.S. election.  The suit accuses the times of “extreme bias against and animosity toward the campaign,” and cited what it called the Times’ “exuberance to improperly influence the presidential election in November 2020.”

The New York Times responded with a statement:

“The Trump Campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable. Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”

Interestingly, the Times had not yet, at that point, been served official notice of the case, but rather had learned of it through media reports.

The case relates to a March 27, 2019, opinion article written by Max Frankel, a former executive editor of the Times who left the paper in 1994.

You may remember that the New York Times was involved in a landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling that has served as a safeguard for media reporting on public figures. In the case New York Times v. Sullivan, the court decided that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection for freedom of the press allows even statements that are false to be published as long as the publication was not done with “actual malice.”  Thus, the suit, according to the draft copy released by the campaign, accused the newspaper of a “malicious motive” and “reckless disregard for the truth.”

Now, note that this OpEd was written just under a year ago, and two years after Trump took office, and just under three weeks before the redacted version of the Mueller report was released.  The Mueller report documented Moscow’s campaign of hacking and social media propaganda to boost Trump’s 2016 candidacy and harm his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. It also documented numerous contacts between people associated with Trump’s campaign and Russians.  What it did not do, as Trump claimed, was ‘exonerate’ him.

A portion of Frankel’s piece stated …

“Collusion – or a lack of it – turns out to have been the rhetorical trap that ensnared President Trump’s pursuers.  There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration’s burdensome economic sanctions. The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo.”

All of which is, in this writer’s opinion, proven true.  And, although it took him two years, Trump did lift the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia in January 2019.

A spokesperson for Trump’s campaign said yesterday …

“The statements were and are 100 percent false and defamatory. The complaint alleges The Times was aware of the falsity at the time it published them but did so for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process.”

Well … seems to me the statements were true, but either way, it was an opinion piece written by somebody who was not on the Times’ staff.  Thing is, Trump has just been itching for an excuse to shred the “freedom of press” portion of the 1st Amendment since even before taking office.  Now that he is feeling newly emboldened, feeling invincible and that he can do anything he pleases, this is but his first step in the process of attempting to rein in the media.

Stuart Karle, an adjunct professor of media law at Columbia Journalism School, told Forbes the lawsuit is “an abuse of the court system and completely inappropriate.”  Karle said he didn’t think Trump’s campaign expects to win the case, and believes it was filed for political reasons: “It’s using the courts to argue with their critics.”

I don’t see how he could possibly win this case, but … it feels very much like a portent of things to come.  It feels very much as if this is designed to send a message to the media as a whole.  I don’t like it … not one bit.  At the very least, he is wasting taxpayer dollars, tying up the courts.  At the very most, he will gain the attention of his faithful followers who will, of course, be more convinced than ever in the months leading up to the election, that the press is against Trump and that they should not believe a word that is said about him unless it comes from his chosen Fox “News”.

Keep your eye on this ball, friends …

9 thoughts on “Trump vs The 1st Amendment

    • Unfortunately, what you say about the media moguls is true … as evidenced by the outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch, a friend of Donald Trump’s. I do remember the press conference where Dominic Cummings kept out some reporters … I was hoping that was an isolated incident. Trump has tried the same, though he’s largely not gotten by with it. I hope the courts are too, but I’ve got my doubts. Sigh.

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  1. Jill, without freedom of the press, democracies do not flourish. We need to hold people in leadership poisitions accountable, especially when it goes againt their nature like the president’s. He takes credit when it is not due and blames others when it is his doing. That is the antithesis of leadership. Keith

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  2. What I love most about our country is our freedoms, including freedom of the press. I doubt there is any country in the world that is freer than ours. I enjoy the free-for-all that our freedoms allow. Trump is trying to change that, and of course I hope he fails. I’m willing to put up with FOX News, as long as he and his ilk are willing to put up with the New York Times. Not sure if the Times could countersue Trump for filing a frivolous lawsuit, but if they can I hope they do.

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  3. We all knew it was coming. when the cheeto “won” his little impeachment drama it simply gave him permission to begin the destruction of all our amendments..freedom of the press is one of the first things to be destroyed before his complete takeover as king.

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