The Biggest Threat to the First Amendment is the Press Itself

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 May 22, 2017|
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The media has been deceptive and/or outright lying about Trump for a long time now. Mollie Hemingway detailed just a few of their whoppers in a recent piece. When the president exercised his constitutional authority to fire FBI Director James Comey, the New York Times published a story accusing Trump of pressuring Comey to end his investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who is also supposedly related to the story of the Russian collusion canard. Part of the problem with that story is that it was published just in time for the evening news push for “breaking news” and when such stories are rarely properly challenged.  The object is ratings.

Never mind that the story was based on complete hearsay, that the reporters never secured the original documents in question (and still haven’t), and that we have testimony from Comey  under oath and saying the exact opposite of what this report claims.

Recognizing the genius of the American Founding, Calvin Coolidge once said that democratic forms of government are an exercise in rule and ruled. He believed that the government was controlled by the consent of the governed. The people were sovereign.

Increasingly, the press cares more about competition with “Access Hollywood” than it cares about journalistic ethics, especially when it comes to the overuse of anonymous sources.

Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, the media have sought to undermine his legitimacy. So assured were they of their own superior intelligence about electoral politics, that even Fox News anchor Chris Wallace was astonished at the outcome. Even networks built to counter the left-wing bias of the legacy media could not counter the bias of the new class media elites. They were all certain Trump would be trounced by Clinton. In this our expert elites were all wrong, and that should cause us to pause and consider what else might they have wrong. Can’t we do better than the elites we have now?

Increasingly, the press cares more about competition with “Access Hollywood” than it cares about journalistic ethics, especially when it comes to the overuse of anonymous sources. It used to be a matter of practice that journalists would confirm at least one on the record source before running a story that only relied on anonymous sources.

The elite media, including Fox News, are making a mockery of our freedoms, and especially the freedom of the press. No one represents the mindset of elite media more than Fox News’s Wallace, who also took Trump out of context arguing that his criticisms of the press means that he wants to shut them down.

In fact, Wallace contended that Trump is worse than Obama when it comes to the press. This claim is astonishing in its blatant dishonesty. Wallace, of all people, should know that Obama is known to have spied on another Fox reporter, James Rosen, and then to have leveled an espionage charge against Rosen. In fact, Obama tried to jail more journalists and their sources than any other president. Wallace also said recently, that the press must be free to do its job because it is their right and because they are a watchdog for the people.

There are two significant problems with the Wallace mindset about the First Amendment: 1) the idea of the “press” never meant to imply an institutional right.  Rather, the freedom it seeks to protect is an individual freedom. In other words, those rights don’t adhere to any official organization, they adhere to individuals, and 2) any person who speaks, writes, or prints, his or her opinions must also be held responsible for those opinions. The press, as a class, is not by virtue of that status granted a magical pass to utter untruths or to slander people.

It is revealing that Wallace defends his profession and not the free speech rights enjoyed by all, including the president. He sees only a right people like him enjoy by means of their employment and position in society. How oligarchical.

During the congressional debate over the Bill of Rights, James Madison proposed the wording this way: “the people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments.” In the original wording of the 1789 Amendment, these freedoms were thought of as “great bulwarks of liberty.” Freedom of speech or press are synonymous terms.

It is revealing that Wallace defends his profession and not the free speech rights enjoyed by all, including the president. He sees only a right people like him enjoy by means of their employment and position in society. How oligarchical.

With all of the media’s hysterical bloviating about their superiority and unquestioned authority protected by the right of a free press, we should remind them that the First Amendment is not merely a natural right to comment publicly on politics, but that speech carries with it a duty to be truthful.

Since free speech is an individual right, it should be protected as long as it isn’t injurious. That is, in keeping with the understanding of natural right to speak freely, there is an equal and corresponding duty not to violate that right in another person. In other words, those who exercise a right must respect another person’s right to the same or void theirs. Since individuals have a right to free speech, there is a duty not to abuse it, or to violate another person’s right to speak.

There is no requirement for the government to protect injurious speech. In fact, punishing injurious speech is a means of protecting the natural right to free speech. Such false speech that harms others is punishable. And it  is the province of the government to protect the natural rights of individuals in such cases. As Thomas G. West has noted, “freedom of speech is not freedom for licentious speech.” Injurious speech includes injury to the character or reputation of an individual. To engage in such an act is to abuse the liberty an individual possesses.

Far from protecting the First Amendment and exercising it in the manner it requires, the media and the elitist press have continuously flaunted the intent of that protection and absconded in their duty. With each fake news story, they have engaged in licentious speech harming not only the president in his reputation, but those of people who are associated with him.

They have breathlessly blamed Trump for revealing information that they cannot prove he has revealed even as they  then  reveal classified information themselves. Only the most irrational and propaganda driven press could defend such an indefensible act.

Hiding behind a limited and perverted view of the First Amendment, the press is trying to usurp the consent of the governed by overturning the election and by lying about the events of the day through gossip and deception. Their intent is to confuse the public so that they, in their infinite and superior wisdom, might choose our representatives for us.

About the Author:

Erik Root
Erik Root, Ph.D is a writer living in North Carolina.
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21 Comments

  1. Kenny A May 22, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    “the press is trying to usurp the consent of the governed by overturning the election”

    Honestly, guys, staking your ground on an election won with a minority of the popular vote is just not a winning strategy. Blather all you want about the EC being the constitutional process, but Americans simply don’t see it that way – and emphasizing the sanctity of the election as the first line of defense is just not convincing in this case. There are other and better rhetorical strategies.

    • Whiskey Sam May 22, 2017 at 11:53 pm

      Yes, Americans do see it that way. Outside of leftwing nutjobs, no one disputes the outcome of the election. We don’t elect Presidents by national popular vote, and the only ones crying about it are leftist children who never bothered in middle school to learn how our government works.

      • Kenny A May 23, 2017 at 1:17 am

        Well, what a surprise – someone wants to blather about the EC being the constitutional process. Never would have guessed that was coming. Step outside the bubble, breath the air – the popular vote matters in this country, just as it should. I won’t say that his minority victory totally invalidates Trump’s legitimacy, but it won’t do as a basis for his support.

        • Whiskey Sam May 23, 2017 at 2:37 am

          Do you get your leftist talking points off Twitter? No one cares about the popular vote except for those who can’t accept Hillary lost. It is irrelevant and doesn’t matter to anyone who understands how our government works. He won the most states with enough electoral votes which is exactly how the system was designed to work. Step out of your leftist bubble.

          • Kenny A May 23, 2017 at 2:50 am

            It wasn’t actually how our system was designed. The electoral college, as designed, was to be chosen by state legislatures which in turn were chosen by an electorate limited by property qualifications to the upper levels of American society. But no doubt you’d find that system far too “elitist”, you liberal hypocrite.

          • Whiskey Sam May 23, 2017 at 2:54 am

            You may want to read up on the Twelfth amendment since you appear to be ignorant of it. Trump won exactly the way the system was designed to work. The only people who think the popular vote matters are morons who don’t understand how our government works and coastal crybabies who can’t accept Hillary lost. Which are you?

          • Kenny A May 23, 2017 at 3:03 am

            You may want to note, you ignorant fellow, that the 13th amendment did not change the manner of selecting electors – which continued to be the prerogative of state legislatures for decades afterwards – or property limitations for state franchises which also remained in place for decades. You may insist that the electoral college is the constitutionally prescribed method for selecting the head of state. You may insist that Americans care nothing for the majoritarian principle. You may not claim that the electoral college today functions in the way it was designed. You damned liberal.

          • Whiskey Sam May 23, 2017 at 3:06 am

            This is the first time I’ve ever seen a troll have a stroke.

          • Kenny A May 23, 2017 at 3:27 am

            Nothing else to say for yourself then, you ignorant fellow.

          • usamopatriot May 23, 2017 at 11:41 am

            It’s completely pointless to try to convince fools like Kenny A. They’re brain dead libtard trolls.

        • Stick May 23, 2017 at 1:44 pm

          More reason to clean up voter registration. How many illegals voted in our election last year? Citizens deserve to know.

    • Rick May 24, 2017 at 4:10 pm

      To understand the function of the Electoral College, you first must understand that the Constitution is a contract ( a social contract). The parties to the contract are the States and the People. Both are supposed to have an equal role in choosing the President because that office embodies all executive power plus the specific powers in Art II Sec 2. And the restrictions of those powers also contained in that section.

      For that reason, it was decided that the President should be the candidate who receives a majority of votes in each State rather than a nationwide majority of votes. The same reasons existed back in 1787 as exist now. Large populations were concentrated in small geographic areas; and, those large population concentrations alone should not be able to elect a President. In 1787, the populous areas were New York and Virginia. Today, they are New York and California. The Electoral College is supposed to guarantee that the President carries the majority of States because the Constitution created a federal republic of States – not a national government.

      In this respect, the media is trying usurp the will of the majority of voters in a decisive majority of the States. And the argument for a national popular vote majority reflects an inaccurate view of the federal governments as a national government instead of a federal republic. California and New York are simply two States out of 50. The sizes of their respective popular vote majorities for Clinton do not invalidate the clear nationwide mandate for Trump in the other 48 States. But their preferences for Clinton are accounted for in the total number of electoral votes that both States have in the Electoral College.

      The fact that some Americans do not see it this way results from the decline in teaching accurate civics and government courses. It also is a convenient rationalization for the same old argument that goes back to the 19th century when a national popular vote winner loses in the Electoral College.

      • Kenny A May 24, 2017 at 7:23 pm

        I appreciate the time you took to review the Electoral College and its function. But as much as I join with you in deploring the decline of civics instruction in recent decades, to ascribe the belief in the legitimacy of the popular vote simply to the lapse of civics classes is misleading.

        It’s certainly true that the Founding Fathers intended the EC for essentially anti-democratic purposes, in order to minimize the possibility of an office with quasi-regal powers falling into the hands of a populist demagogue, and to ensure that the head of state would be determined by electors freely exercising their judgement and who themselves were chosen by state legislators, men drawn largely from the socio-economic elite of their states. The Founding Fathers were also well aware that those state legislators were themselves elected (until the 1820s in most cases) by a franchise restricted by property or other qualifications – a point which served to remove the EC even further from the dangers of populism and which is often lost in discussions of the EC in the original framework. The EC, in other words, was the main bulwark of an aristocratic or oligarchic conception of the Federal government.

        However, the Jacksonian era (a period which by now should be familiar enough to supporters of the current president) promoted an ideal of mass democracy in the United States, which has been the dominant ideology of Americans ever since. The ringing utterances of two centuries of American leaders, the often-proclaimed justification for foreign wars and rationale of foreign policy, the very formulation of the national identity, have shaped the idea in (almost) every American’s head that whatever else the United States is, it is fundamentally a democracy. In relation to the EC, this general belief in democracy manifested itself in the direct election of electors and in various “faithless elector” laws designed to convert the will of the general vote into the election of the president.

        My point is simply that it is now too late and too contrary to that general belief to insist on the anti-democratic original purpose of the EC. Insisting that the legitimacy of the current president’s claim to his office derives from an election which gave him a minority of the popular vote is not a winning rhetorical strategy because it flies in the face of the central ideal that Americans have upheld about their country for two centuries. You, or anyone, may lament that this is the case, but that doesn’t change how most Americans think, so if it comes (as it appears to have come) to defending the president against efforts to remove him from office, it would be better to take your ground elsewhere: on the weakness of the accusations against him, for instance, or the sheer chaos it would involve, but not on the electoral legitimacy of a minority of the popular vote.

  2. BOB® May 22, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    It doesn’t take any journalistic talent to discern that Obama holdovers in executive agencies are spilling this intelligence to the WaPo and the NYT under the direction of Obama and Valerie Jarrett who are coordinating this well-funded dark state operation out of Obama’s DC residencial offices.

    David Brock set forth this plan to undermine the Trump administration in January, 2017 and his cadre of 250 staffers at Media Matters, American Bridge, and CREW is working closely with the Obama holdovers, the MSM, and left elite funding sources to undermine the Trump administration (and overturn the election, if they can successfully demagogue the electorate.

    While this conduct is the opposite course to the American custom of supporting a smooth democratic transition to an incoming administration, for the liars to whom the end justifies the means, its no problem. Of course people who support this undemocratic conduct are putting their politics and their party before their principles, and demeaning their professional integrity, but that’s what unprincipled, power-hungry humans have always done. Throughout history, most of them didn’t live under democratic rule, because they didn’t deserve it. They deserved anarchy and the law of the jungle and that’s what they got.

    Well, the American people don’t deserve that rude fate and will not accept the attempt to overturn a duly elected administration based on anonymous rumors from hostile holdovers, unprincipled political activists, and a complicit, biased 4th estate. Let the administration complete the transition and give it a chance to get organized. Take some respite from the hysterical vilification of the new administration.

    • Joel Mathis May 22, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      “It doesn’t take any journalistic talent to discern that Obama holdovers in executive agencies are spilling this intelligence to the WaPo and the NYT under the direction of Obama and Valerie Jarrett who are coordinating this well-funded dark state operation out of Obama’s DC residencial offices.”

      You’re right. It doesn’t take any journalistic talent.

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  3. usamopatriot May 23, 2017 at 11:38 am

    1000 up votes!

  4. rnsr4Trump May 25, 2017 at 4:51 am

    AWESOME! The free press is no longer the press of America but all about their own corrupt agenda as they were proved to be the ones colluding with Hilliary and the DNC by Wikileaks. The conflicts of interest and they negative tainted headlines to the lies and fake news has caused them to be as President Trump correctly said, the enemy of the people. In their echo chambers and hidden videos, and audio tapes coming out daily on the web sites, they are imploding before our eyes, and much of it is criminal. I don’t think anyone realizes the traps laid for them and the leakers until they are Brought into the light for us all to watch the cockroaches run and hide as they should. Soros has failed and we Thank God every day for Trump!

  5. Sam McGowan May 25, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Two things – first, the First Amendment is about the freedom of the individual, of which the use of the printing press to put out missives critical of government is one. It is NOT about commercial media, although they are, perhaps, included. Remember that in the 1790s there were very few commercial newspapers. Second, it is the media themselves ho appointed themselves as the “watchdog.” In truth, they are no such thing. Remember that media knows nothing except what it is told. Everything else is figments of journalist’s own imaginations. Far too much “headline news” is just that, a headline with no substance. The modern “news” media has no interest in “news,” they see themselves as advocates, advocates for their own opinions.

  6. swek May 26, 2017 at 10:16 am

    blame the media
    why not
    it’s a lot easier than facing the truth

    America elected an ignorant hate-monger
    And we’re suffering the consequences

    but blame the media

  7. URstandingwhere May 30, 2017 at 12:30 am

    Hair Twitler the truther? I’ve noticed when the message is unpopular, or facts emerge, it’s always the messenger, never King Con.

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