Keep Our Press Free


Andrew Bandstra, Contributing Writer

I am sure you have heard the news that Donald Trump is our President-elect. Amidst the scandals, derogatory terms, and unorthodox plans Trump has presented, the lies are a massive threat to every American. President-elect Trump has plans to restrict our press, thus taking the power out of the people’s hands. America is founded upon the First Amendment. Without a free press, America would not be the same “land of the free” great democratic nation it has always been. President-elect Trump has plans to curtail libel laws and internet freedoms, apply prior restraint, and pick and choose which news outlets can cover him, attempting to create a controlled message.

The New York Times vs. Sullivan, and Hustler vs. Falwell decisions changed the way the press is legally allowed to publish. These decisions allow for the press to publish any statement about a public official or a public figure even if the statement is false, as long as there is no actual malice in these actions. Through these decisions, the American press has essentially been safeguarded. This safeguard allows for the process of self-government in America, thus keeping the power in the American people’s hands. (Tofel)

The very essence of our free press puts the power in the people’s hands. This holds true today more than ever with social media giving everyone with a phone the ability to be a journalist. These freedoms and safeguards enhance our ability to be a fully functioning democratic society, but Donald Trump has other plans. First and foremost, we are looking at a man who is uneducated as to exactly what the First Amendment right to a free press guarantees.

Back in August, Trump tweeted: “It is not ‘freedom of the press’ when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!”.

Through this tweet, Donald Trump accidentally advocated against his own stance on this issue. If Trump’s proposed changes were made to the Freedom of Press in America, Trump’s very own tweet, regarding his statement on the Freedom of Press could not be published, being that it is false. Contrary to the President-elect’s beliefs, the First Amendment of the nation he is to be head of does guarantee the press the right to publish such articles. Without this right to a free press, Trump would not have been able to tweet this. Without Trump’s right to tweet this, we Americans would not be aware of our own President-elect’s lack of knowledge regarding the first amendment, or his plans to abolish it. Trump showed through this tweet the importance of having a completely free press.

The safeguard for the press, coming out of the Sullivan and Falwell decisions, allows for the press’s watchdog role to stay intact. The press has free reign to oversee and publish articles regarding governmental actions, and due to this, the American people are in control. When the people have “the inside scoop” on the government, we are able to act accordingly, and the government is less likely to act corruptly. The press, with its freedoms, are an essential element to a functioning, democratic society.

Trump does not exactly share this feeling of respect and gratitude toward the press for their dedication our nation, rather our President-elect says the following regarding the press, “[the press are] sleazy, not good people, worst human beings he has ever met” (Diamond 2016).

But beyond the sheer disrespect for media personnel, and the ignorance of what the nation he will be leading in some 90 days’ constitution guarantees its press, and its people, is the issue of what his radical plans for the media will entail for our country.

So what does a Trump led America look like in regards to the press? He has stated that he plans to be strict on libel laws. If you are not factually correct in your publication, Trump wants you to be sued as he stated, “so we can make money” (Simon, 2016).

The implications of such a change to our free press standards are extremely detrimental. The rationale for the Sullivan ruling, gave the press the right to report without government oversight, or fear of being sued. When the press is free to report, thus free to be the watchdog over the government, often critically, and sometimes even untrue coverage, it fosters public debate, which per James Madison, is “integral to a democracy” (Gutterman). By curtailing the presses protection against libel, we are taking the power out of the American people’s hands and giving it all to the government, which is as far from a being a democracy as it gets.

For a more in-depth look into Trump’s plans for stomping on the Freedom of Press, look no further than the way he ran his campaign. Trump created what he called, “The Blacklist”, a list of certain news outlets that he ceased providing press credentials to, with the following as his explanation: “the practice of banning certain reporters is a logical response to what they consider to be unfair treatment” (Kludt & Stelter, 2016). The implications of such actions threaten our democracy. If the only outlets allowed to cover Trump’s presidential press conferences were the outlets he deemed “treated him fairly”, he would be creating a controlled message, the public would only hear what Trump wanted them to hear, that’s not a free press, that is not a democracy. Additionally, this notion extends to the Sullivan precedent as well, being that without criticism of our president, there is no public debate, which is a key element of democracy.

The President-elect also has plans to apply internet restrictions to Americans. Trump intends to do this as a means of preventing ISIS recruitment, but it is simply unconstitutional, and far too similar to internet censorship done in China and North Korea. Giving our president the ability to censor our internet, once again gives the president the ability to control the message the American people receive. This would mean there would be a filter on what you could, and could not find online. Does that truly sounds American? Per Common Sense Media, Millennials spend roughly nine hours a day consuming media. Imagine that everything you consume,has been stamped with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” approval. A key element of America is everyone having the ability to an obtain any information, in order to form their opinions on such information. This information both fosters public debate, and provides for self government, which is the basis of our democracy. This is yet another central part of our democracy Trump plans on taking from us.

So how can we, the American people fight to preserve the very freedoms that keep the power in the people’s hands, and not the government’s? How do we ensure we continue to have a free press that watches over, and is critical of the government? It’s simple. We use the very rights Trump is trying to take from us. For now, each and every one of us is protected, we can all be journalists through social media. As it is right now, the power is in our hands as Americans, and we have the right to publicly criticize Trump’s plans. We all have the right to inform others about what Trump is attempting to do. But we cannot wait, we must act now, because once these plans are enacted, we might not still have this right.

This article exemplifies why Trump’s plans can’t be enacted. If Trump’s plans regarding the restraint of media content he does not approve of, typically in opposition of him, were enacted, you would not be reading this article right now. Chances are, you would have no clue this was even taking place, because the government could monitor what you can and cannot view.

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Graphic by Justice Gage