Editor & Publisher defends the news media in times in which the news media is (as usual) unpopular, and support for the First Amendment among presidential candidates is at a nadir:
When Donald Trump decided to revoke the Washington Post of press credentials in June due to its “dishonest” and “phony” coverage, the newspaper became the latest media organization to be blacklisted by the presidential candidate. The Post joined the likes of Politico, Univision, Huffington Post, Gawker, BuzzFeed, and the Des Moines Register—just to name a few.
Post executive editor Martin Baron responded in a statement: “Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the Washington Post’s press credentials in nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished.”
Organizations such as the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of News Editors publicly condemned Trump’s decision to ban the Post.
“Candidate Trump’s move to sanction coverage of his drive to win the presidency is an unprecedented dismissal of the First Amendment freedoms essential to our democracy. The public is best served when a fearless, unfettered and independent press is present at all campaign events, speeches and political forums,” according to the statement from the ASNE.
NAA president and CEO David Chavern commented that Trump’s “treatment of journalists and the press isn’t just offensive or rude or political theater. It is a danger to our Constitutional Rights.”
When Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan contacted Trump’s camp for further explanation of the ban, she didn’t receive a solid answer, but vowed she would keep trying to get Trump to answer her questions. She also noted that candidate Hillary Clinton has given no press conferences or very serious interviews during her presidential campaign.
“None of this bodes well for press access in 2017 and beyond,” Sullivan wrote.
And she’s right.
Press access is crucial, especially during a time where only 20 percent of Americans have confidence in newspapers (bit.ly/1Ua5RBQ). This “all-time low,” according to the Gallup poll, “marks the tenth consecutive year that more Americans have expressed little or no, rather than high, confidence in the institution.”
The uproar that occurred when Trump banned the Post made sense, but what about the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that resulted in Gawker Media’s bankruptcy? Filed by former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan (whose legal name is Terry Bollea), the lawsuit stemmed from a sex tape that was published on Gawker. In March, a judge awarded Hogan $115 million for economic harm, emotional distress and invasion of privacy, according to a New York Times report.
“Gawker got what was coming in a karmic sense,” criminal defense attorney and civil litigator Ken White wrote in the Los Angeles Times. But he also pointed out, “From a legal and constitutional perspective, even Gawker haters should be troubled by its fate.”
“We don’t need the (First) Amendment to defend popular speech, we need it to protect unpopular speech,” White wrote.
As this election year continues, I’m certain more “unpopular speech” will continue to be said from all sides. We need the press to document it, and we need to defend it. After the Post was banned, the York (Pa.) Dispatch’s editorial board actually challenged Trump to ban them as well (bit.ly/1UUMpTJ).
“We (believe) you’re acting like a spoiled-rotten child—the petty poster boy for why we need a strong Fourth Estate,” according to their editorial. “A spoiled, foul-mouthed child, we might add. You’re so quick to insult other members of the media for doing their jobs—‘sleaze,’ ‘loser,’ ‘scum’ — yet never once have you singled out The York Dispatch. Let ‘er rip, Mr. Trump. We can take it.”
Now if that’s not unpopular speech, I don’t know what is.