Editorial: Trump threatens free press

Today, the First Amendment of the Constitution may be under the greatest threat of the 21st century due to the country’s Tuesday, Nov. 8, election.

President-Elect Donald Trump has not only openly shown his disdain for journalists, he has actively sought to limit their coverage. He has targeted news organizations like The New York Times and The Washington Post for their critical coverage. He has encouraged his supporters to physically assault members of the press, saying that he would pay for their legal fees.

At a Trump rally on June 2 in California, a POLITICO reporter who the Trump campaign had refused to give credentials bought a general admission ticket to the event and sat in the stands with his laptop, doing his job.

A campaign staffer noticed him and asked if he had press credentials. When they learned he did not, the staffer had him removed from the event by private security.

The Trump campaign, of course, denied any knowledge of the incident. Shortly after being ejected from the event, the same reporter received an email saying his credentials had been denied for another upcoming Trump event.

In its story about the reporter, POLITICO noted that the Trump Campaign has repeatedly stated that it has a right to deny credentials to reporters because events are private and funded by Trump. However, the piece also points out that federal tax dollars are spent on Trump’s Secret Service protection and by local law enforcement who must police his events.

POLITICO is not the only news organization to be targeted. In July, the Trump campaign barred a Washington Post reporter from a rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The reporter, again, had tried to enter the event as a private citizen, but was stopped by private security.  

Trump has also promised to “open up” libel laws to make it easier for people to sue journalists.

So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace—or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons—write a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected,” Trump said.

Everyone in this country should be unnerved by Trump’s threats to the Constitution.

Historically, censorship of the press is the first step of dictators. In 1934, the year Adolf Hitler took control of Germany, the Nazis “controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 papers,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was only a matter of weeks before Nazis began destroying printing presses and newspaper offices. Political opponents were attacked and imprisoned in concentration camps.

By the end of the 1944, less than a quarter of those 4,700 papers still existed, and only half of those remaining were owned by private individuals and institutions. Even those only printed material when they were specifically instructed to do so by the Nazi regime.

Everyone in this country should be unnerved by Trump’s threats to the Constitution.

— The Campus Staff

During Stalin’s reign over the Soviet Union, citizens were restricted on what they could listen to and what they could read. The state had a tight grip on the media, according to the History Learning Site. The site writes that “[t]hose who attempted to listen, read etc. anything else were severely punished. Everybody knew of the labour camps and that was enough of a deterrent.”

North Korea, well-known for having one of the most repressive governments in the world, also has arguably the most censored press, according to Radio Free Asia. Everything published, everything broadcasted, must be approved by the government. No criticism or new ideas are allowed to be shared publicly within the country.

And now, in the United States, there is a man in the most powerful seat that the country has to offer who has threatened First Amendment rights, the same rights that have given him and his supporters the opportunity to demean the majority of the U.S. population.

Donald Trump is a man who won Politifact’s 2015 Lie of the Year for the “misstatements” made during his campaign. Of the more than 300 statements made by Trump that Politifact has fact-checked, 70 percent of them were mostly false, false or “pants on fire.” Only four percent of statements fact-checked were rated as completely true. We need a free press holding this man accountable for the rampant lies he constantly claims he did not spread.

Because of its capacity for voicing dissent and exposing corruption, a free press is critical in a democracy’s system of checks and balances. Journalists are always an easy target. They are often critical, they have very little power in that they are not credentialed investigators, and their effectiveness is often based on a willingness of sources to speak with them. Journalists are rarely loved. In fact, often their best work inspires outrage and anger against them.

It is fair to say that the media is not perfect. There are news outlets that have violated journalistic ethics and breached the trust of their audiences. Just as the Klu Klux Klan is an unfortunate ramification of freedom of speech, the National Enquirer is the unsavory byproduct of freedom of the press.

However, organizations like The Washington Post, The New York Times and 60 Minutes have done exceptional work, working hourly to cover crucial news in the public’s interest. Often, these journalists are risking their lives to provide these crucial news stories to the public.

Trump has shown his willingness to attack the First Amendment and those who seek its protection in the name of public service, and these attacks have been met with cheers. What we must remember is that in 1934, Hitler, too, was met with cheers.

We must be diligent over the next four years to ensure that the rights of our free press are not stripped away. There is no doubt Trump will try to stop major news outlets from covering his time in the White House by continuing to deny credentials to select reporters. We must not allow this to happen.

A free press is essential to our democracy, and it is under assault. We must be ready to ensure we are not caught sleeping, and that we are mindful of the past.

We are perched on a slippery slope. At the bottom lies the same fate as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and North Korea. Over the next four years, we must be mindful that we do not begin to slide, because once one constitutional right falls, others will inevitably follow.

Send letters to the editor. Support news organizations. Do not let anyone take away your right to dissent.