A recent poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, a non-partisan survey-based research firm, found that 43 percent of Republicans believe that President Trump should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in “bad behavior,” whatever “bad behavior” means.
It might surprise those Republicans to know that this action would require an amendment to the United States Constitution. Yes, the First Amendment to the Constitution states, in part, that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”
Two reassuring statistics in the same poll state that 85 percent of Americans agree that “Freedom of the press is essential for American democracy” and only 13 percent of Americans agree that “President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times.”
Even so, it is incumbent on us as a nation to improve our civics curriculum in school systems across this country. We cannot remain ignorant about the foundations of the freedoms granted to us in our Constitution.
President Trump’s hyperbolic accusation that the press is the “enemy of the people” every time he reads or hears a news story about him that he does not like is an incendiary comment that is intended to appeal to emotion rather than reason. He refers to journalists as “disgusting” “dishonest,” and “scum.“ After watching one news broadcast he did not agree with, President Trump threatened to revoke NBC’s broadcast license. That response even caused Senate Republicans to protest.
Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, asked, “Are you recanting the oath you took on January 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the First Amendment?”
Former Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon said, “It is contrary to this fundamental right for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC license simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist.”
There is much irony in President Trump’s complaints about “fake news” in that as of July 31, President Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading claims.
The website www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump outlines each of these claims and shows the actual facts regarding the claim. For example, on July 31, President Trump stated, “We’re living by two very important rules — buy American and hire American.” In fact, Trump has a long history of outsourcing a variety of his own products. The Fact Checker has counted a total of 12 countries where Trump products were manufactured (China, Netherlands, Mexico, India, Turkey, Slovenia, Honduras, Germany, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea.)
A free press is a check on politicians of all parties and is an invaluable source of information about our government and in many ways, a check on our government. Prior court cases have been instrumental in protecting our right to information from our government. Near v. Minnesota rejected prior restraints on publication of news, requiring that certain high standards must be met before the government can prevent a publication from a media outlet. In New York Times Co. v. United States the Supreme Court upheld the publication of the Pentagon Papers concerning the Vietnam War, information which the government had tried to hide from the public.
With the advent of the digital age and social media, our methods of obtaining news have changed dramatically. Unfortunately, out in the ether of the internet there can be much that truly is “fake news.”
In England the government announced a review into the future of the newspaper industry, warning that the closure of local papers is “fueling fake news and is dangerous for democracy.”
While some may not agree, it seems clear that the backbone of our news sources is still from newsprint, and especially from our local newspapers. Cable news can be a positive news source, but without local or regional newspapers, community events, activities, and government actions will remain unreported, and citizens will become further alienated from their community and their government.
Our founding fathers placed freedom of the press as one of those precious freedoms found in the very first amendment to our Constitution. They did it for a reason.
Cynthia Neely is a former city attorney for the city of Stockton and a longtime Lodi resident.