Donald Trump - An extreme risk to Freedom of the Press and Free Speech

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There is an essential and pivotal reason – actually many reasons, why the framers of the Constitution placed the right of free speech and the freedom of the press in such prominence in our charter document of governance. Thomas Jefferson spoke at great length of the critical role of the press, in acting as a safeguard against tyranny. In a letter to Colonel Edward Carrington, Jefferson opined:

The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Donald Trump, on the other hand,  is not a fan of the First Amendment. In his eyes, it is a practical nuisance in need of being managed and rationed by the powerful and the ruling class. As proof of what we knew of his previously expressed attitudes on the matter, Trump, pontificating before a crowd at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, explained that;

“One of the things I’m going to do, and I’ve never said this before, but one of the things I’m going to do is — if I win — is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposefully negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”

In so doing, Trump explained that, “when the New York Times or the Washington Post writes a hit piece, we can sue them.  With me, they’re not protected,” he said of media companies. “We’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.” 

Why is Donald Trump so animated against investigative journalism that he wishes to be the prime mover in an effort to produce a chilling effect on the reporting of public figures, celebrities and elected officials?  A full, frontal assault on the media’s ability to fulfill its’ role as public watchdog?  Could it be because such journalists have contradicted Donald Trump’s self aggrandizing public claims about himself, both in the past and more recently?

In the most recent GOP debate in Texas, mention was made by Senator Marco Rubio of a couple of reports published by the New York Times and others about Trump’s hiring of illegal aliens and about the suit underway from litigants in civil court seeking to recover millions of dollars for the rip off that is now referred to as ‘Trump University’ – being reported by the Washington Post and several others.  Trump is infuriated that such reports are available at all to his opponents and is itching for an opportunity for payback – even if it impedes your ability to access the sort of vital information that the First Amendment pledges to secure.

It’s a reasonable conclusion, given the fact that Trump has, on numerous occasions over the past few decades, filed suit against reporters and journalists who had the unmitigated gall to contradict the version of reality that Trump submitted to them, or to investigate his business dealings. What also probably grinds his gears, is that the lawsuits have been a flop.

One example is a lawsuit Trump filed in 2006 in relation to a book by Timothy O’Brien, author of ‘Trump Nation – The Art of Being The Donald’, and his publisher.

Now, Timothy O’Brien is not some anonymous hack.  As described by the New Jersey State Court of Appeals, O’Brien is a financial reporter with graduate degrees from Columbia University in journalism, business and United States history. He has reported on business and other subjects for newspapers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and he presently serves as the editor of the Sunday Business section of The Times.

The premise of the $5 billion (yes, you read that correctly – $5 billion with a ‘B’) lawsuit was that because O’Brien wrote that individuals within Trump’s close business network estimated that Trump’s net worth was somewhere between $150 and $250 million, O’Brien’s reporting of those figures “hurt his reputation and cost him specific business deals.”

In O’Brien’s actual words in the book:

The largest portion of Mr. Trump’s fortune, according to three people who had had direct knowledge of his holdings, apparently comes from his lucrative inheritance. These people estimated that Mr. Trump’s wealth, presuming that it is not encumbered by heavy debt, may amount to about $200 million to $300 million. That is an enviably large sum of money by most people’s standards but far short of the billionaire’s club.

In July of 2009, Superior Court Judge Michele M. Fox dismissed Donald’s lawsuit. In the kind of 4th grade rhetoric and sore loser mentality that Trump observers are so familiar with at this point, Trump said of the Judge’s decision:

“The libel laws in this country have never been fair. We proved our case 100 percent. We’ll appeal and see what happens. Unfortunately, the court’s decision today condones the gross negligence, and lack of professionalism and bias on the part of a reporter.”

“We proved our case 100 percent.”? As we’ll see in a minute, Trump’s estimate of the merits of his case are even more over estimated than his claims of having a personal net worth of over $10 billion dollars.

Judge Fox examined the pleadings of Trump’s legal staff and dismissed his claims entirely in a summary judgment motion. A summary judgment in the legal realm is the most severe rebuke against a frivolous lawsuit possible. It means in simple language that the filing is on it’s face, without merit and the judge won’t even allow the suit to proceed.

Mr. Trump did indeed challenge the dismissal in a New Jersey State Appeals Court. The Appeals Court was no more impressed with the case that Trump asserted was proved “100 percent”, than was Judge Fox’s court and said this in its’ ruling in September 2011:

“There were no significant internal inconsistencies in the information provided by the confidential sources, nor was there ‘reliable’ information that contradicted their reports, so as to provide evidence of actual malice. Nothing suggests that O’Brien was subjectively aware of the falsity of his source’s figures or that he had actual doubts as to the information’s accuracy.”

The Donald, it is transparently obvious, would really like to gag reporters who don’t take at face value, his outlandish claims about his success and how he obtained and the extent of it. Jonathan Alter, Newsweek magazine Senior Editor at the time, recalls appearing in a documentary and saying that Trump was a “media hound” and that his claim of being “the greatest real estate developer in the world not only isn’t true—he’s not even the greatest real estate developer in New York.” Alter says he then promptly received a letter from a Trump attorney threatening him with a lawsuit.

As to Donald Trump’s aversion to free speech itself, Trump is noted for having publicly criticized Pamela Geller, President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative for sponsoring a “Draw Muhammed” Cartoon contest in Garland, Texas – where a couple of jihadists from Phoenix, Arizona attempted a mass shooting in response. In describing Ms. Geller, Trump says, “The last thing we need is another obnoxious blowhard like Geller. She’s a person who is doing this for her own purpose.”

Amazing. Trump’s characterization of Pamela Geller is a psychological projection of the essence of Donald Trump’s own persona, real or affected.  “Obnoxious blowhard”. He couldn’t have described himself more accurately.

Trump’s next statement in connection with that attempt to defame Geller is a real window into his view of the world. Just as Trump has blamed Senator John McCain for the time McCain spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp, Trump blames the staff of the French satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo, for the attack that was launched against them, in which all but one of them died in a bloody massacre. “They were taunting, they were really taunting … and look where they are now.”

Yes, Donald, we know where they are now. They are dead. They died in defiance of the kind of society you wish to advance, where journalists know better than to either provoke religious and other fanatics or the wealthy, powerful and politically connected.

Trump also complains that Pamela Geller is not “politically correct”. “You don’t want to provoke people.” He could have finished the sentence, “they could either kill you, or in my case, sue you like you’ve never got sued before.” A remarkable statement from a man who has been praised by his loyal followers for using political correctness as a pretense for obnoxious behavior like denigrating a woman with a reference to her menstrual cycle and cruelly mimicking a disabled man – just to highlight two examples.

If elected, Donald Trump will leverage the “Bully Pulpit” and the executive power of the White House to erode the protection of free speech and freedom of the press. He has shown himself to be a vindictive man, eager to settle personal scores against anyone that gets in his way, or doesn’t kow tow to him in a manner he expects. Richard Nixon compiled an “S” list with the names of political enemies.

Compared to the intrusive apparatus of the Surveillance Industrial Complex at the disposal of the current president, Nixon’s list was relatively innocuous. There is no doubt that an “enemies of the State” list is maintained by Barack Obama.

In the hands of a man with the instincts of Donald Trump, the possibilities for abuse of such power is limitless – even beyond that of a passive aggressive President with autocratic tendencies such as Obama’s. The IRS scandal could be just a foreshadowing of the type of behavior a Donald Trump led regime, could preside over.

Donald Trump is either a manipulative “con artist” as he is dubbed by Senator Rubio, or he is an authentic sociopath. Either way, this is the last person, aside from Hillary Clinton, that we can afford to hand the reins of national power.

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