ANALYSIS ; Girding to Defend Freedom of the Press

By Sullivan, Margaret | Charleston Gazette Mail, November 14, 2016 | Go to article overview

ANALYSIS ; Girding to Defend Freedom of the Press


Sullivan, Margaret, Charleston Gazette Mail


What really makes America great?

It's the meaning of 45 words found in the Bill of Rights. Here they are, the entire First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Everything we have - everything that makes us unlike any other nation - flows from those words and the protections they offer for free expression.

Donald Trump's presidency is very likely to threaten those First Amendment rights.

If they are damaged or removed, we'll be like a lot of unenviable places.

"Freedom of speech is a rare thing, after all. It's one of the big differences between the United States and a place like Cuba," wrote John Daniel Davidson last March in the Federalist. "Cuba has no freedom of the press - or rule of law. Libel is whatever the regime says it is."

These are rights that allow us to march in the streets, to worship freely, to publish tough stories about the government.

First Amendment rights are not just for journalists but for everyone - they are so core to our democracy, so much a part of everyday America, that we take them for granted.

Trump has made it clear that he has no intention of protecting or defending those rights. He has said repeatedly that he wants to change the laws that allow the press to publish news - however imperfectly - without fear of punishment.

He has called journalists "scum" and encouraged his followers to abuse and hate them. He would like to see his political opponent locked up.

Nothing but campaign rhetoric? Clean slate time? No way.

"Believe the autocrat," urges Masha Gessen, a Moscow-born journalist, wrote last week in the New York Review of Books. Americans should not depend on their institutions to protect them - they crumble fast: "The national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism."

It's already happening. Trump barred reporters from his first official act as president-elect - his visit to the White House. Then, in a tweet, he blamed the media for "inciting" street protests, when there was no evidence of that.

Meanwhile, Corey Lewandowski, who carried out Trump's press blacklist and reportedly roughed up a female reporter, was preparing for a possible role in the Trump administration. And Steve Bannon, chairman of the alt-right Breitbart News, was named chief strategist on Sunday.

"We're facing a moment that threatens equal protection, due process, free expression, democracy - not just press freedom, wrote Brian Beutler in the New Republic. …

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