One thing most Americans can agree on is President Trump likes to talk, a lot. His signature style of tweeting has earned him the admiration of his followers and the ire of his opponents. While it is a spectacle to have a president who tweets gifs of him wrestling CNN, serious problems have arisen as a result of the president’s commentary on private news enterprises.
The president has long been known to feud with the press, calling many organizations “fake news.” The conflict reached new levels last week when NBC News released a report suggesting Trump, during a national security meeting, was in favor of dramatically increasing the U.S.’s nuclear stockpile, much to the surprise and concern of his advisers. Trump quickly responded to the allegation by hitting NBC with his favorite label of “fake news” and tweeting out a warning regarding NBC’s broadcast license.
“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” Trump said in a tweet.
Attacks on Trump
The notion that a president can force the removal of a news organization’s broadcast license simply based of what they report is completely counter to the ideals of a free press outlined in the First Amendment. Yes, libel laws do exist that allow for individuals to seek recourse if they have been the victim of false reporting, but those laws only apply if the individual can prove the media knowingly misrepresented the facts and acted with malice. Trump simply calling NBC “fake news” doesn’t come close to that standard. Even if the media is biased and covers him negatively most of the time, the president cannot shut it down.
In light of events such as these, many of Trump’s opponents have already been quick to say Trump is the one of the biggest threats to free press we have ever seen. However, those making this claim show their bias and hypocrisy by implicating Trump alone. Yes, Trump’s tweets and attacks on “fake news” are bad and he deserves the criticism he’s getting for his most recent comment. But to opponents of Trump who now wear the banner of defending free press, one question needs to be asked. Where were they during the Obama administration?
Threats to the press from the right and left
Back in 2013, the Obama administration was involved in a scandal regarding its own infringement on the free press in which the Obama administration’s Department of Justice seized the phone records of more than 20 employees at the Associated Press. Journalists weren’t given a reason as to why their phone records were taken; and the action came at a time when the Obama administration was having trouble with information leaks regarding CIA operations in Yemen.
Furthermore, even more controversy was raised shortly afterward when it was revealed Obama’s Department of Justice had engaged in extensive surveillance of Fox News reporter James Rosen in connection to intelligence leaks. The justice department labeled Rosen as a “co-conspirator” in the leaks and suggested the Department of Justice could take legal action against him. The Obama administration was also notorious for its repeated attacks on Fox News, with White House Communications Director Anita Dunn saying the administration was going to treat Fox News as a political opponent rather than a news organization.
All this prompted blowback from journalists who argued their ability to engage in whistleblowing was threatened by this action. Gary Pruitt, president of the Associated Press, called it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how reporters got their sources.
If Trump’s tweets and statements attacking the media are considered a threat to the free press, how much more so were the Obama administration’s actual monitoring and spying a threat?
Hypocrisy all around
This whole event shows a troubling double-standard on both sides of the political spectrum. Those to the right who were outraged (rightly so) at the Obama administration’s intimidation of reporters are now surprisingly quiet when Trump openly antagonizes and threatens the press. Those on the left who are outraged (rightly so) at Trumps verbal attacks are surprisingly quiet when it comes to the espionage the Obama administration engaged in against journalists.
Freedom of the press is a crucial cornerstone in keeping the government from abusing its power. It’s what allows citizens to stay informed about topics, no matter how an administration wants to spin things. It’s listed as one of the most important rights we have as Americans, and it isn’t something that should be beholden to just one political party.