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December 11, 2018

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Anti-press rhetoric is problematic for free society

Freedom of the press is a tenant of a prosperous society. Even when the media are characterized as “the enemy of the American people,” it is up to the work of journalists and editorial writers to inform the public.

By the nature of his position, President Donald Trump should be working to run a government that respects the freedom of all. However, being the leader of the “free world” doesn’t fit Trump’s persona. As the country’s leader, he is the government, and Trump does not want that forgotten.

Humans are naturally receptive to knowledge acquisition, and journalists serve as repositories of information for people from all walks of life. The recent rise of anti-journalist rhetoric damages these institutions and threatens the fabric of civic debate, discourse and engagement.

Trump has restricted reputable media outlets he has deemed “fake news” from press gaggles. Investigative journalists with confidential sources from within the U.S. intelligence community are threatened with prosecution. Trump singles out entire outlets and their staffs for reporting and analysis critical of his administration. Moreover, Trump has sought to tax whole newspapers out of existence with the levy of high-percentage tariffs on newsprint imports.

Trump’s immigration policy is barring foreign journalists from entering the country. Plus, journalists regularly receive threats of violence from people who cite Trump as their justification. This list goes on, and on.

The Constitution dictates: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

John Stuart Mill additionally wrote: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and one, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

The critical takeaway cites the concept that authority and collectivist support can lead to the ultimate silence of truth. Trump’s anti-press campaign could lead to the silence of this truth.

In 1919, Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. dissented in the 7-2 verdict of the benchmark Supreme Court case Abrams v. United States. Holmes wrote: “When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas.”

Holmes also termed the “marketplace of ideas” during the litigation of Abrams.

Freedom of the press protects the commentary and the news that journalists and political commentators provide. Additionally, press freedom protects how the “free trade of these ideas” interact in the marketplace of ideas. Because the society we live in constitutes multiple realities and multiple truths, hindering the market of any views leads our nation closer to the tyranny of Orwellian governance.

There’s no rationality in trusting the government to stand up for First Amendment rights. Whether the goal is to stand up for a free press, free speech or free faith, there will be people, en masse, within the ranks of government who seek to control these valid forms of expression.

A long-held standpoint on freedom of expression can be attributed to Ayn Rand’s 1963 piece, “Man’s Rights.” Rand wrote: “The political function of “the right of free speech” is to protect dissenters and unpopular minorities from forcible suppression.” Individual rights, including press freedom and speech, are required for the creation of a society that respects the natural yearning of humans to have the liberty of cognition and freedom from government censorship.

The logic here reminds all people that the government, thus Trump, isn’t the sole arbiter of what is said in discourse and who can say it. There isn’t an arbiter of sorts, whatsoever. Trump’s anti-journalism posturing, thus, is an overt attack on the press, the free market of economic competition, and the marketplace of ideas.

Michael McGrady, a political consultant, is executive director of McGrady Policy Research. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.