November 28, 2018 – As the president continues to call the media, especially CNN, “fake news” and the “enemy of the people,” he is making a proposal to start his own “worldwide news” network to tout his “great” accomplishments.
The reasoning for the First Amendment’s protection is that the press is free of government interference. Though many see Fox networks as the propaganda arm of the president, Trump wants to create his own system, much like his “friends” in Russia, North Korea and China, where the media is scrupulously handled and monitored by their totalitarian leaders.
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) was the landmark decision in which the NYT and the Washington post had the right to publish articles critical of the president, in this case, the controversial Pentagon Papers. The Supreme Court’s decision was that the president does not have the power to prevent factual information from being published, even if that information was acquired illegally. Justice Hugo Black wrote:
To find that the President (Richard Nixon) has ‘inherent power’ to halt the publication of news…would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make ‘secure.’
The courts have found that the First Amendment, as are all the amendments, not all-inclusive. Speech and writings that are found to be a “clear and present danger” can be restricted, if not prevented by the state. The Pentagon Papers, which showed that President Lyndon Johnson lied to the American public concerning the war in Viet Nam and Cambodia, were not considered national security threats.
According to the Khan Academy website, the Court had two basic explanations for its ruling:
First, “Both the history and language of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to publish news, whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints.” Second, that the publication of a history of US action in Vietnam would not endanger current military personnel by revealing their location or movements.
In other words, there was no threat of a “clear and present danger.”
The press, the “Fourth Estate,” is the civilian arm that maintains the oversite of local, state and national governments. It is the watchdog warning the public of the government’s possible wrongdoings and the president, no matter how angry Trump gets at the press and CNN, cannot shut them down through governmental actions.
Trump’s only alternative is the start his own network of television, radio and media news outlets that would be the absolute propaganda arm of Trump’s Executive Branch of the federal government.
In an August 2018 report by Ipsos (a research company), the vast majority of Americans, over 80 percent, believe that a free and open press is important and “is essential for American democracy.” Additionally, 68 percent of the respondents, both Democratic and Republican, said that “reporters should be protected from pressure from government or big business interests.” This does not mean that it is true. Both business and government have some control over what is reported by the news… but not much.
What is not reassuring is that almost a third of the American people (29%) agree with the president that “the news media is the enemy of the American people, ‘including a plurality of Republicans (48%).'” 23 percent of Republicans believe that the president should have the power to shut down news outlets such as CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post.
It was a Washington Post headline that caught my eye, “Trump’s ‘worldwide network’ is a great idea. But it already exists.” That platform is the Voice of America (VOA), “the largest U.S. international broadcaster, providing news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of 236.8 million people.”
However, VOA is not strictly for the president’s personal use to flaunt his achievements or to skew stories in his favor. In a recent article concerning the tensions at the Mexican border between the Border Patrol and the migrant “caravan”, the VOA report appears to be factual and well balanced.
Yet another article concerning the closure of General Motors plants in North America appears to assert the president’s position that if more tariffs were added to foreign automobiles, GM would not be closing its doors. VOA, quoting the president, said that his tariffs on small trucks have increased American made small trucks and SUVs. The article does not mention the affordable gas prices sweeping the country.
Does the president need a personal propaganda machine other than his Twitter feed and Fox News networks? I believe that such a network would be leading this country closer to a totalitarian government. In Trump’s case, the move would be more extreme, creating a tyrannical ruling class, where Trump himself would rule with an iron fist.