In general, shouting matches are reserved for fights between moody teenagers and their parents, or between contestants on reality shows. They should not be between the leader of the free world and the press tasked with reporting on him. Unfortunately, we elected a reality star into the highest office of the land and he’s bringing some of his ratings-boosting tactics with him.
At his Jan. 11 press conference, then-President-elect Donald Trump got into a shouting match with Jim Acosta, a senior White House correspondent for CNN. President Trump called CNN “fake news” and refused to take Acosta’s question.
Let’s first recognize the unbelievable irony of this. The man who fueled the birther movement, and fixated on alleged wrongdoing in “crooked” Hillary Clinton’s emails, called a world-renowned news agency “fake news.”
Done chuckling? Today, President-elect became President. It’s not a joke anymore, or a “what-if” scenario floated around by political pundits.
It’s time to examine the scary reality President Trump’s actions could mean for the future of the First Amendment. The fact of the matter is one cannot outright silence a reporter just because they do not like the question that is being asked. The First Amendment protects the freedom of the press, and thus their commitment to carrying out their job.
Even student journalists here at the Daily Bruin work to make it a watchdog to higher authorities. Every year, we publish reviews of our very own USAC elected officials and the events they put on. We often act as a watchdog for USAC slates. The Daily Bruin also serves as a forum in which we can criticize and make suggestions for our campus administration.
The fact that Daily Bruin gave me the green light to write a whole series on free speech shows that our commitment to the First Amendment is steadfast. If college students can uphold and protect the First Amendment, shouldn’t the leader of our country have the capacity to do the same?
The media has also played an important role as a watchdog for Congress and the President. If you have no idea what I am talking about, I have a single word for you: Watergate.
Unfortunately, his past actions lead me to believe he is either incapable or unwilling to respect the amendment that journalists and other elected officials have upheld for centuries. Jan. 11′s fiasco hardly marked the first time the President has sparred with the media or otherwise indicated a desire to upheave tradition. As I have mentioned in earlier columns, President Trump has expressed his desire to “open up libel laws,” which, in theory, would make it easier for him to sue reporters for publishing articles that portray him in a negative light: however, as President, he has no power to do that.
Furthermore, the Trump administration indicated Sunday that they may be looking to move the press corps outside of the West Wing, a move that sent shockwaves through D.C.’s journalist community and raised questions about the administration’s transparency and accessibility. Journalists currently have offices in the West Wing and have direct access to the offices of press aides and the press secretary. It’s unclear whether or not President Trump will give these reporters the boot as well, but moving the press corps away from the White House signals a physical move away from transparency and accountability.
American media and the West Wing go together like, well, America and apple pie. So important did the Founding Fathers find the freedom of the press that they included it in the very first amendment in our Constitution. Woodrow Wilson started the tradition of regular presidential press conferences with the media in 1913. While solo press conferences are less frequent, today press briefings with the White House press secretary happen most weekdays. When President Obama was President-elect, he formally fielded questions from the press 18 times. President George W. Bush held 11 during his time as President-elect. President Trump only fielded questions once. The fact that we hear from him more on Twitter, where he often berates and belittles his opponents, than in a formal press conference setting shows he is not concerned with answering the media’s questions.
Today, President Trump swore to uphold all of the fine print of the Constitution, even and especially the parts of the First Amendment that he may find allow the public and press to attack his character. He must uphold free speech with the same voracity he is required to uphold the due-process clause and the emoluments clause with. I fear, based on his actions so far, that he will not hold good on this oath.
Many opponents of President Trump fear what will happen if his presidential powers run unchecked by Congress and if his rhetoric is normalized by the public. The media and their right to freedom of speech are a powerful tool to combat these very fears. If our President continues to alter the relationship between the West Wing and the press, or otherwise manipulate the press’s free speech protection under the First Amendment, I fear that our country will be walking a thin line between democracy and fascism .
How will President Trump’s bullying presence, the same one he unleashed upon Jim Acosta, alter the ways in which reporters cover facts? On a larger scale, how will his distaste for press conferences affect the way the American public receives news? Could we be moving towards a “1984” or North Korean-esque state, in which censorship runs rampant and allows dictators to advance their agendas? It is too soon to say for sure. However, it is of the utmost importance that journalists, students and civilians remain vigilant in protecting the First Amendment.
Great Cheeto Overlord, if you are reading this, I implore you: Respect and protect the First Amendment in all forms. Even if it means having to hear you have small hands from reporters you don’t like.