Trump’s libel law rhetoric violates First Amendment and puts bloggers at risk
posted at 8:30 pm on February 27, 2016 by Taylor Millard
Donald Trump is declaring war on the press (which has been giving him the most free ad time). He told a rally in North Texas how he wants to make it easier for him to sue a news entity if they write something which doesn’t go with his own narrative (emphasis mine)
I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met. They’re terrible…But one of the things I’m going to do, if I win, and I hope I do, and we’re certainly leading…is I’m going to open up our libel laws, so when they write purposefully 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 that when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when Washington Post, which is there for other reason, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win lots of 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. So we’re going to open up those libel laws, folks. And we’re going to have people sue you, like you’ve never been sued before.
AP wrote yesterday how most people probably won’t care about Trump’s threat because they loathe the media, like most cats do water. There are plenty of people who would love the chance to go after the mainstream media because of their agenda. But this declaration has an even bigger effect because it could also cause problems for online publications like American Spectator, Breitbart, The Federalist, Hot Air, Rare, Reason, and Town Hall. Think about it. If someone were to write Politician A was a grandstanding hypocrite because they said one thing, while voting another way, the writer could be sued under the loosened libel law. If someone were to write a piece criticizing Republican leadership for not being actual conservative, they could be sued. This is a threat to the foundation of America in freedom of the press. It’s threatening a crackdown on dissent, even if the media is giving Trump free coverage to bring his message to the masses.
But let’s be honest, the press has ALWAYS had an agenda. Dr. Frank W. Scott from University of Illinois points out it’s how Federalists and anti-Federalists fought over the Constitution.
Partisan bitterness increased during the last decade of the century. New England papers were generally Federalist; in Pennsylvania there was a balance; in the West and South the anti-Federalist press predominated. Though the Federalists were vigorously supported by such able papers as Russell’s Columbian Centinel in Boston, Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy, The Connecticut Courant, and, after 1793, Noah Webster’s daily Minerva (soon renamed Commercial Advertiser) in New York, The Gazette of the United States, which in 1790 followed Congress and the capital to Philadelphia, was at the centre of conflict, “a paper of pure Toryism,” as Thomas Jefferson said, “disseminating the doctrines of monarchy, aristocracy, and the exclusion of the people.” To offset the influence of this, Jefferson and Madison induced Philip Freneau, who had been editing The Daily Advertiser in New York, to set up a “half weekly,” to “go through the states and furnish a Whig vehicle of intelligence.” Freneau’s National Gazette, which first appeared 31 October, 1791, soon became the most outspoken critic of the administration of Adams, Hamilton, and Washington, and an ardent advocate of the French Revolution. Fenno and Freneau, in The Gazette of the United States and The National Gazette, at once came to grips, and the campaign of personal and party abuse in partisan news reports, in virulent editorials, in poems and skits of every kind, was echoed from one end of the country to the other.
William Safire wrote the book Scandelmonger on how James T. Callender used his pamphlets and newspaper business to go after John Adams, then Thomas Jefferson, because he didn’t like either of them. So individual newspapers have always had some type of bias, and Trump’s call to open up libel laws so he can sue is just pure dictatorial chutzpah. It’s a step further than the press crack down President Barack Obama has taken, including getting rid of its FOIA regulations for the Office of Administration, grabbing the phone records of the Associated Press, and spying on Fox News correspondent James Rosen. It’s also a step further than California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s attempt to claim journalists are only people who are paid to be a writer for a news entity. It’s another attack on the First Amendment by people who don’t care at all about the necessity of free speech and press freedom, and just want puff pieces which make sure their agenda is put forward. The best way to fight against “lies” of the mainstream media is to tell the truth, whether it’s via news conference or just talking to people. Trump’s desire to loosen libel laws would put everyone at risk from newspapers to TV outlets to online websites. It must be rejected.