Living Large In Carson City: Oh, The First Amendment Says What? Edition

Image result for felix frankfurter official supreme court photo

Freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of achieving a free society.

Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter

Donald Trump and his minions are at it again. It’s not enough to cozy up to one of the world’s most notorious dictators in the person of Vlad Putin. Or continuously spout lie after lie after lie. Or alienate some of America’s most loyal allies as he did at the G7 then later at the NATO summit. Or allow himself to be used like a sock puppet by that spunky little guy with a funny haircut in North Korea. Or belittle Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as a witch hunt, the FBI, the CIA . . . hell the entire intelligence gathering community. Now, he and his staff have ratcheted up the pressure on the media.

Of course, in the near past since Trump first began running for office and the last two years of his despotic reign, Trump has been anything but cozy with the Fourth Estate. From the very beginning, the corporate media (anyone who disagrees with his line of thinking except for Fox News) was dubbed by Trump as “Fake News” singling out CNN, MSNBC and others. In a natural progression (of sorts), the media in Trump’s Orwellian world has become “The Enemy of the American People”, “Our Country’s Biggest Enemy, or simply “the enemy”. He frequently calls media professionals “scum”, “disgusting” and other names meant to denigrate the professional qualifications of journalists.

Trump for his part is a master propagandist. He knows that repetition is a powerful tool when used to further his agenda. His use of the above pejoratives were never meant to be a one off comment, but a pattern that he beats like a tired horse every time he addresses his base. One might wonder if the are a particularly dense lot, which on some levels they have to be, and his repetitive media bashing is simply meant to ensure all of the wrong people get his message loud and clear. There are, however, disturbing outcomes of his negative attacks on journalists and the outlets they work for in real time.

Joel Simon is executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was quoted in the Colombia Journalism Review stating,

“When [Trump] belittles, attacks, and undermines journalists, that creates a new norm that has global repercussions as well as local ones. His rhetoric normalizes press freedom abuses at the state and local levels.”

Political commentator, author, and professor, Robert Reich, served under three presidents including Gearld Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. An article on his website, robertreich.org, titled Trump’s Attack on the Freedom of the Press spells out how Trump undermines the media to his own despotic ends. Below is Reich’s abbreviated list of the “tools” despots use to sway public opinion.

Historically, tyrants have tried to control the press using 4 techniques that, worryingly, Donald Trump is already using.

1. Berate the media and turn the public against it.

2. Limit media access.

3. Threaten the media.

4. Bypass the media and communicate with the public directly.

The word “media” comes from “intermediate” between the powerful and the public. The media hold the powerful accountable by correcting their misstatements, asking them hard questions, and reporting on what they do. Apparently Trump wants to eliminate such intermediaries. robertreich.org

On one hand it would be easy to simply write off Trump’s disparaging of the media as a crass act of a petty, little bully man who cannot stand criticism and strikes out like a spoiled brat to save face when threatened. However, Trump’s rants have consequences in the real world. Late last month,  Jarrod W. Ramos entered the Capital Gazette in Annapolis with a shotgun and gunned down five journalists as they sat at their desks. We may never know if Ramos felt emboldened to take drastic steps to assuage his caustic feelings about numerous run-ins he had with the newspaper, but the climate of hate spewed out by Trump would not have helped.

This week, Trump staffers, Bill Shine, White House communications director, and press secretary, Sarah Sanders, climbed on the bandwagon and called CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, on the carpet for questions she tried to ask Trump at an earlier meeting on the Hill. Tagging her questions as “inappropriate”, she was banned from a later press conference in the White House Rose Garden as retribution for her doing her job. To their credit, all of the major news outlets, including Fox News, condemned the act as a grave misstep that could not be condoned. CNN tweeted,

Statement regarding CNN press access at today’s White House event. We demand better.

Maybe Trump has lived in his rarefied  little world so long that he is out of touch with the foundation this country was built upon. When one lives in a gilded mansion, it can skew one’s view of the real world. Or he may simply not understand the importance of the press for a free and robust national discourse. Fortunately, our Founding Fathers had the insight to know that jackasses will rear their ugly little heads regardless of the fact that they can be easily proven to be jackasses. Here is their thoughts on the topic:

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prevents Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or to petition for a governmental …

Whether Trump “gets it” is on a matter that time will tell.

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