Freedom of the press was never meant to be limited to one country.
The founders of the United States suggested as much within their wording of the First Amendment, which reads, in part, that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom… of the press.”
Note how that amendment, accessible at Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, does not establish press freedoms. Rather, it restricts any law that curtails them. That is a clear indicator that the founders of this nation believed that press freedoms were inherently true, here and everywhere around the world.
Our founders’ views differ greatly, it seems, from our current commander-in-chief’s beliefs. President Donald Trump, in myriad ways these past few days — and really, ever since he became president — has made it clear that he does not respect the freedom of the press, nor the protections that members of the media are meant to have.
There’s one notable exception. Trump, in a recent interview, tried to suggest that he does, indeed, respect press freedoms. “Nobody believes in the First Amendment more than I do,” he said, according to reporting from CNN.
Words are one thing, however, and his actions say otherwise. Take his administration’s new rules on press briefings. The rules are a response to the drama that unfolded between Trump and CNN’s Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta earlier this month — after which Acosta’s press credentials were unceremoniously (and unconstitutionally) revoked by the White House.
Among the new rules, the White House can revoke credentials belonging to a member of the press for merely asking a follow-up question to an official in government, virtually allowing all officials in the executive branch the chance to stonewall reporters from getting to the bottom of things.
New rules by the White House on reporters asking questions. pic.twitter.com/ji6rW1dvLD
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) November 19, 2018
NBC News journalist Chuck Todd is among those who has expressed qualms with the new guidelines. “These aren’t exactly pro first amendment rules,” Todd wrote in a tweet, per reporting from the Hill.
The White House Correspondents Association also felt that the new rules were too draconian. “For as long as there have been White House press conferences, White House reporters have asked follow-up questions,” the organization said in a statement. “We fully expect this tradition will continue.”
As if that weren’t bad enough, Trump’s recent comments about slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a frequent critic of the Saudi royal family, are much worse. Intelligence agencies worldwide — including the CIA — have all reached the same conclusion: that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a direct role in ordering Khashoggi’s assassination.
Prior to his murder, Khashoggi was living in America as a legal U.S. resident, and three of his children are indeed U.S. citizens. Khashoggi himself was believed to have been seeking permanent residence in the U.S., and his current visa would have allowed him to legally stay in the country for at least few more years. Khashoggi should have been afforded at least some of the legal protections normally given to other Americans, according to reporting from Quartz.
How did Trump treat this man? With contempt and little concern. Although he’s said that the murder was a terrible thing, Trump also deemed it as none of his business — since Khashoggi wasn’t technically a U.S. citizen. As time progressed, Trump continued to express his clear disregard for this journalist, and on Tuesday seemed to have sided with Saudi Arabia, despite his intelligence agency’s assertions that Khashoggi was murdered on the orders of the crown prince, per previous reporting from the Inquisitr.
This tells us that Trump does not deem the safety and protection of journalists to be a universally inherent right. The matter happened outside of the U.S., so he doesn’t care. Furthermore, if siding with press protections interferes with his relationship with a foreign (and blatantly oppressive) government, that’s apparently too bad — because Trump won’t do anything to stand up to that regime. “It is what it is,” Trump said, according to a Twitter post from ABC News.
The disrespect of journalists by this administration, both domestic and abroad, is a low-point for this nation. America has long-respected the rights of journalists, even before we were officially separated from Great Britain. One need only to examine the Peter Zenger trial of 1733 to see how far back those protections preceded our country’s founding, per USHistory.org.
The president, and members of his administration, look upon the protections afforded to journalists as privileges, not rights. They are wrong to do so. Press freedoms deserve recognition and protection, here and in every corner of the globe, by all freedom-loving governments.
Where press rights are disrupted or abridged, condemnation from the leader of the free world is not only warranted, but demanded. Yet Trump has failed that test at nearly every opportunity it has been presented to him, and has demonstrated that he will not be a protector of rights and freedoms for any of us — if it gets in the way of his own agenda.