Under a Hostile Media-Basher, Can the First Amendment Survive?
These short and simple words from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — “Congress shall make no law….abridging the freedom of…the press…” — have ruled the treatment of America’s journalistic expression since December 15, 1791, when Congress officially added the 10-Amendment Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
Endless challenges to the press clause of the First Amendment have come and gone since then, all ending in similar outcomes. Even in cases of questionable rhetoric or reporting, Congress and the courts have consistently protected this kingpin of American freedom.
So potent has “free press” become that the amalgamated effects of America’s publishing industry have lead to its endowment as the unofficial “Fourth Estate” of government, joining the legislative, judicial, and executive branches as the fearless watchdog over those decision-making bodies. The assumption, of course, is that the process of allowing unabated freedom of the press (including print, radio, television and internet) will continue. Maybe not.
The forty-fifth president of our nation (heretofore referred to in this blog only as “#45” to avoid dignifying this blasphemous mock-up of a leader with a real name and a much-revered title), is viciously attacking the Fourth Estate on an unprecedented daily basis as being purveyors of “fake news.” This well-calculated approach toward intimidating and silencing the news media, along with other surprise attacks yet to come, pose a threat level to the First Amendment that would make it’s revolutionary authors, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, quickly call in the firing squad.
Unique Press-Silencing Tactics
To be clear, there have been other notable media-bashers living in the White House.
Primary among those was Richard Nixon, whose hatred for the Fourth Estate was legendary (“The press is the enemy.”) But Tricky Dick’s bungling process for demeaning the press was seldom taken seriously and pales in comparison to #45’s — Nixon did not have the social media power of Twitter to send vitriolic, middle-of-the-night attacks to hundreds of millions of global citizens with the press of a button.
Further, #45 has learned that the best means for gaining attention to his anti-media rhetoric is definitely not through the use of the traditional podium, nor through the use of the out-of-sight, backroom shenanigans we all normally expect from elected officials. In #45’s case, unheard-of tools have given him perverse new tactics. No president has ever outright barred reporters from attending press conferences, as #45 did during his campaign. No one, not even Nixon, has ever recognized only reporters representing friendly media at press conferences. No one has ever publicly promoted specific news organizations that supported his agenda, like #45 now does for FOX News (cable news did not exist during Nixon’s years). And no president has ever spent more internet strokes re-structuring “fake news” into facts and vice versa. In tweeting his fake news fact number one, #45 claimed that the media is made up of “The most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
The fact of the matter is that #45 is the original mastermind of the totally fake news cycle. Respected fact-checking service PolitiFact indicates that #45’s penchant for distributing lies as news is so overbearing that a full 70% of his assertions fit into one or more of its categories of “mostly false, false, or pants-on-fire false.” The problem is that #45 keeps repeating his falsehoods over and over, hoping that constant fibberies become eventual truths through non-rebuttal by a totally exhausted global social media audience.
The Mental Illness Wildcard
#45 possesses another extremely concerning characteristic never-before-seen in a U.S. president, a condition that may explain his mentally spastic rhetoric toward the media. A letter recently published in the New York Times http://www.lancedodes.com/new-york-times-letter signed by 37 noted psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, gives strong evidence that #45 may be mentally ill, noting that his “inability to tolerate views different from his own” leads to “rage reactions” and that “individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state” resulting in “attacks on the facts and those who convey them.” Not only does this professional opinion shed light on #45’s abnormal loathing of the Fourth Estate, but it should also give rise to a freakishly scary red flag for every human being on the planet, now that #45 single-handedly controls the launch codes for America’s nuclear arsenal.
Defining Fake News
It’s important here to differentiate among the various types of “fake news” in order to clarify the uniqueness of #45’s obsession with this topic. Up until the last election, virtually all sources of fake news came from TV comedy show news skits that satirized real news in a fashion so obvious as to be laughable. Interestingly, since #45 came to power, the popularity of these same shows as real sources of news has skyrocketed, with the success of those news portrayals now needing only to rely on the simple reporting of the hysterically fake news generated by #45 and his comedic minions. A good reason why the late-night comedy shows, more than any other news venue, now represent the heart and soul of the #45 Resistance movement.
Eventually, if left unchecked, #45 is going to do whatever he can — legal or otherwise — to silence these late-night purveyors of unmasked truth, and likely in ways never before tried. According to mega-satirist and #45-basher, Stephen Colbert, “I’ll keep doing this as long as it’s still legal.”
Other forms of fake news are not so comedic, and are intended to do real harm, like artificially swinging elections. Along with #45’s own putrefactions of truth, these types of devilish stories are what the fake news hubbub should be focused on. An example of such irresponsible behavior is a social media story that was fabricated during the last campaign by Michael Flynn, the son of #45’s pick for his National Security Advisor (who, by the way, quickly resigned due to covered-up butt-rubbing of Russian officials). That real-looking but fake story detailed how Hillary Clinton was operating a pedophile ring out of a D.C. pizzeria and so convinced one deranged #45-lover that he stormed into the pizza shop and opened fire on customers.
Another example is FBI Director James Comey’s issuing of a statement six days before the election that new Hillary Clinton emails had surfaced that might provide new evidence of wrong-doing (all the while knowing that the emails were non-incriminating duplicates supplied by Russian hackers). No one knows how many of the 80,000 combined votes that Clinton lost by in the electoral college-tipping states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania might have been influenced by this grotesque piece of criminally-artificial information.
All these types of fake news are becoming commonplace, thanks to the deviousness of political flunkies, the openness of an uncensored internet, and the apparent willingness of Americans to believe only what they agree with — a perfect category 5 storm that has the potential for destroying not just our democracy but our civil society as well.
Part of the detestable scourge on legitimate reporting is enflamed by yet another slight-of-hand — #45’s allowing of his spokespersons to actually refer to fake news generated by the administration itself as “alternative facts” in an attempt to gloss over obviously fake statements. There seems to be no end to #45’s creativity with doublespeak.
The final class of erroneous news, always cited by #45 as intentionally fake, occurs when media unintentionally publishes incorrect data that requires retraction via published correction. This happens with some frequency, but is usually quickly recognized, fixed and reporters often admonished.
The Road to Tyranny
To complicate matters, when #45 makes factual-sounding policy statements that reporters must dutifully report as being said by the nation’s top leader — statements which then turn out to be false — #45 ingeniously accuses media of erroneously reporting of his own “fake news,” further eroding public confidence in factual reporting. This is classic step numero uno down the road to a lessening of Fourth Estate protections — a road that past and present dictators and authoritarians have followed with much glee, and success.
Kim Vacariu has been engaged in communications work for the past 35 years as a newspaper editor and publisher, conservation organization communication specialist, and landscape protection network organizer. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from Kent State University. Kim currently operates a news release writing and distribution service for conservation organizations.