Hillary Clinton and Democrats warned during the 2016 campaign of the effects a Donald Trump Presidency could have on the free press and, subsequently, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Part of the fears came from the fact Trump openly said at one of his rallies he would “open up libel laws,” so that when the press “unfairly publishes” something they “know to be untrue,” the subject of their stories could “sue them for a lot of money” (hat tip Politico, Feb. 26).
— The Colleges of Law (@CollegesOfLaw) December 2, 2016
Set aside for a moment whether that is possible. Trump did say it during the presser where he announced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was endorsing him for the Republican nomination. He has also had a contentious relationship with the press from the time he announced his candidacy.
Through all of this, Hillary Clinton and Democrats were able to escape similar accusations. But at the recent Business Insider Ignition Conference, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes turned the tables and said Trump and Republicans were the least of his worries when it came to First Amendment protections.
Bewkes charged that Democrats were attempting to “change the First Amendment and they were doing it in the guise of campaign finance reform,” CNBC reports.
Bewkes particularly was uncomfortable with the Hillary Clinton campaign for wanting to roll back the Citizens United decision from 2010 that solidified a corporation’s right to spend money on political ads.
The Democratic explainer for wishing to do so was to get money out of politics, but according to Bewkes, it would end up silencing people.
“That was worrying me more because the press tends to miss that — because they tend to lean that way and therefore they were supporting what they were viewing, I think overly charitably, as something cleaning up money in politics — when in fact what it would do is restrain multiple voices,” Bewkes said.
While Bewkes believed any effort to affect free speech and the First Amendment would be worth worrying about, he did not think Trump and Republicans would touch Citizens United — it was approved through a 5-4 decision along conservative lines while the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia was still alive — and did not take seriously Trump’s threats against the free press.
Oddly enough, Bewkes’ provocative attack on Hillary Clinton is not the first time that she has been called into question for being hawkish when it comes to opposing the First Amendment.
The political magazine Reason, which slants libertarian and ran a number of anti-Trump articles during the campaign, posted a damning piece earlier this year called, “Hail to the Censor!” that details Clinton’s history of unsuccessful Supreme Court challenges that were struck down for going against the First Amendment.
Referencing the Hillary Clinton book It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, “Hail!” author Matt Welch digs out this statement from the former First Lady.
“I cannot stress too much,” the first lady said while promoting the book on WAMU Radio in January 1996, “that if I could do one thing to help children in our country, it would be to change what they see in the media, day in and day out.”
Clinton’s efforts would later manifest in the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which mandated that U.S.-sold televisions “with a screen 13 inches or larger come pre-installed with a ‘V-chip,’ a programmable device allowing parents to screen out objectionable content as determined by a ‘voluntary’ ratings system that the television industry would be encouraged heavily to adopt,” Welch writes.
“I believe that these past few months have marked a hopeful turning point for families and their relationships to those TV sets in their homes,” Clinton said when the act, part of the larger Telecommunications Act, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
— Jamie Gray (@jamiegray) February 3, 2016
To make a long story short, the issue was challenged, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against it in June 1997 by a vote of 7-2 with Justice John Paul Stevens writing, “Under the CDA, a parent allowing her 17-year-old to use the family computer to obtain information on the Internet that she, in her parental judgment, deems appropriate could face a lengthy prison term. … In order to deny minors access to potentially harmful speech, the CDA effectively suppresses a large amount of speech that adults have a constitutional right to receive and to address to one another. That burden on adult speech is unacceptable.”
In light of that, readers, who do you think was the bigger threat to the First Amendment/free speech: Trump or Hillary Clinton? Sound off in the comments section below.