While speaking in Texas Friday morning, GOP front-runner Donald Trump made a pledge to essentially disembowel First Amendment free press rights by “opening” libel laws to make it easier for him to sue media outlets that are critical of him.
“I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met,” he said. “They’re terrible.”
“One of the things I’m gonna do, and this is only gonna make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of the things I’m gonna do if I win… is I’m gonna open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re gonna open up those libel laws,” he told the crowd.
“With me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people… We’re gonna open up those libel laws, folks, and we’re gonna have people sue you like you never get sued before,” he added.
Here’s video of those comments:
To be fair, he’s got a point about the so-called “mainstream media,” but what he’s proposing here is nothing short of gutting the First Amendment right to a free press.
His comments received thunderous applause from the crowd, which did not completely grasp the significance of his statement.
"So this is how Liberty dies, with thunderous applause?" https://t.co/bhrrqYXdgi
— Passive Ingenuity (@ShaneWright22) February 26, 2016
@mckaycoppins Oh cool, now he's down with squashing freedom of the press. What won't that wacky Trump say next?
— Rusty Weiss 🤔 (@rustyweiss74) February 26, 2016
Being anti-political-correctness, but also pro-broader-defamation-suits, is freakishly incoherent.
— NarrowlyDecidedHat (@Popehat) February 26, 2016
Can a President Trump unilaterally “open” or loosen libel laws? Of course not. But according to the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers, he could get the bar lowered through judicial appointments, which he would have to run through the Senate.
Alternatively, Trump could simply use the bully pulpit to promote a culture of frivolous libel suits that ultimately wouldn’t go anywhere but would force media companies to spend precious resources on defending themselves. If his goal is to cause news outlets to lose money, Trump could conceivably achieve that objective without changing any laws at all.
Scary? Yes, it is, and as the Right Scoop noted, it should concern anyone who gives a rip about the Constitution:
Yes, we all hate the mainstream media. But eroding the Constitution and suing them because they annoy Donald Trump isn’t the solution, and it should alarm ANY American who has even the slightest shred of respect for the Constitution.
By the way, it’s not the first time Trump has demonstrated a, shall we say, distorted view of the First Amendment, as the Columbia Journalism Review observed last October:
Trump has tried to wield his censorship powers against many others besides journalists. He sent a cease and desist letter (a Trump speciality) to an anti-Trump website called StopTrump.us for trademark infringement because “As I am sure you are aware, the Trump (R) name is internationally known and famous as a result of Mr. Trump’s long, extensive, and high-profile business and entertainment related activities.” Apparently he thinks that, by trademarking his own name, he can immunize himself from criticism. That’s ludicrous by any reading of the law, but who knows how many people he’s scared into compliance.
Granted, I have a lot of issues with many in what I call the “Democrat-media complex.” Nevertheless, they have a right to their opinion, just as I have a right to mine. And no president — regardless of party — has the right to take that away from anyone.
And besides, between Twitter and Facebook, Americans have to deal with enough censorship — they certainly don’t need it coming from the White House.
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