Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand the Need for the Free Press
President Donald Trump holds very few patriotic or American beliefs – unless ignorance and obtuseness now define the American character. His principles don’t originate from natural rights or a devotion to liberty. They stem from a malicious character hooded in hate, versed in vengeance, and shrouded in stupidity.
For a man whose oath of office calls for him to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Trump deviates from the words and rights enshrined by our founding document at every twist and turn of his volatile presidency, a continuation of his assaults on the Constitution and democratic norms that so defined his campaign (and, embarrassingly, appeal).
Of all constitutional protections, Donald J. Trump has most assailed a First Amendment right integral to the creation of our country and its preservation: The free press. We cannot understate the vital importance the free press plays in maintaining a healthy Republic. Voters unversed in issues and unaware of candidate beliefs and character cannot be expected to make informed decisions. Transparency, a fundamental democratic tenet, withers without a hounding press that demands information from officials, elected and otherwise, and holds administrations to account.
Perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best.
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
Trump’s disdain for the free press knows no bounds. He frequently dismisses valued news organizations as “fake news” simply because they publish articles critical of him and his presidency. However, for all of his verbal attacks, and angry early-morning or late-night tweet tirades, Trump cannot point to specific instances of actual “fake news.” The president, on whom the burden of proof falls, fails the first step of constructing a persuasive argument – supporting his assertion.
Most recently, Trump’s pointed to a retracted CNN article as evidence that network spews nonsense designed solely to degrade him. But that obviously misses the mark. CNN retracted its story and issued a humbling apology which the story’s subject accepted.
Three employees then resigned, a clear sign of journalistic integrity and accountability that demonstrates CNN commitment to providing its readers and viewers with the truth. Its admission of error actually boosts its credibility: Rather than wrongly standing by its story and acting defiant in the face of evidence, it took actions to resolve a wrong and correct the record. That’s integrity and the exact opposite of how a “fake news” network would react when confronted with its mistake.
Trump doesn’t realize that (or he does, but his frustrations with critical coverage still provoke him into fits of uncontrollable rage in which he lashes out with little regard for the deleterious effects he has on public discourse and the institutions that make democracy possible).
Instead, he retreats into the dens of Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, or Breitbart. The former recently denigrated himself into the pits of hell by peddling the nonsensical and wholly debunked conspiracy relating to DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder, alleging – without proof and in the face of official police statements and findings – that the Clintons had him murdered. Fox, for its part, has done little to ensure its viewers and online readers understand that Hannity’s delusions, as with all delusions, fly in the face of all evidence.
Alex Jones, on whose show Donald Trump has spoken and who Trump called shortly after winning the presidency, lambasts 9/11 as an “inside job,” believes the government carried out the Sandy Hook shooting, and fervently promotes every other lunatic conspiracy imaginable. His outlet has no integrity, no accountability, and no regard for the truth. If anything should be classified as “fake news,” it’s InfoWars. That doesn’t stop Trump from enjoying its content.
And, lastly, Breitbart News markets itself to white nationalists in an effort to corner the news market for avowed racists. Its content either fabricates information or distorts in such a sensational way that context fades to oblivion and instead bestial and tribal mental processes control the brain and bring bigotry to its forefront. Breitbart operates with racial motive and cares little for nuance or truth, especially truth that in any way undermines its nationalistic and borderline segregationist outlook. Trump frequently tweets and praises the outlet.
Clearly, Trump doesn’t actually take issue with fake news (though he does enjoy hanging fake Time magazine covers in his golf resorts). He takes issue with critical coverage. Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Breitbart all wax poetic about the president and so Donald Trump ignores their journalistic malpractices and endorses their products. But the likes of CNN, the New York Times, and Washington Post bother with the press’s actual purpose – guarding our liberty to ensure our Republic (to paraphrase Jefferson).
We must treat his actions seriously. Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric – rhetoric echoed by his staff, favorable media outlets, and, most shamefully, some members of Congress – causes millions to, at best, doubt the press and, at worst, fall into the same derisions while simply ignoring information needed to understand the country and world. This Trumpian assault hurts the country by undermining its bedrock – the free press. It promotes ignorance and willing stupidity. It’s an effort to subvert democracy to the statements of a deranged demagogue.