Would Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh view as sacrosanct the Constitution’s orders to Congress to “make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances?”
Or would he see such protections as a threat to the republic?
As it stands now, The Press — television, radio and newspapers — is in big trouble, largely of its own making. But, of course, some of the public’s disdain for the news media must be attributed to a relentless war being waged against it by President Trump.
The latest salvo was launched last week at a campaign stop for a Republican US Senate challenger in Montana. The president lit into unnamed journalists for reports on his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and other reports on his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling them “fake news,” and concluding most but not all reporters are “downright dishonest,” “crooked” and “bad people.”
This might have been easy to dismiss, except for the fact the president’s remarks came one week after five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis Maryland were shot to death. Two others were also seriously injured after a man with a grudge against the paper entered the newsroom and opened fire with a shotgun.
One day after the shooting, the president said, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job,” CNN’s Brian Stelter reported.
“But that same day,” Stelter’s report continues, “he also resumed his anti-media rhetoric. On Twitter, he called the ‘fake news’ part of the ‘opposition party;’ chastised journalists for pointing out his Twitter typos; accused the Washington Post of making up sources again; and called the Post ‘a disgrace to journalism,’ adding, ‘but then again, so are many others!’”
In an interview with PBS’s Judy Woodruff, CBS reporter Lesley Stahl told of a conversation she had with Trump shortly after the election. Stahl, according to the Washington Post, said she asked the president if he planned to stop attacking the press.
“I said, you know that is getting tired, why are you doing this — you’re doing it over and over and it’s boring,” Stahl said. “He said you know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
And that tactic appears to be working.
A Gallup/John S. and James L. Knight Foundation survey of 1,440 people found that “US adults estimate that 62 percent of the news they read in newspapers, see on television or hear on the radio is biased. They think the news media mostly provide accurate information, but still estimate that 44 percent of what they see is inaccurate. And they believe that more than a third of the news they see in these channels is misinformation — false or inaccurate information that is presented as if it were true,” according to the foundation. On social media, “They believe 80 percent of it is biased, 64 percent is inaccurate and 65 percent is misinformation.”
On Wednesday, the ACLU Pasadena-Foothills chapter and the LA Progressive web magazine hosted the discussion “Press Freedoms Under Attack,” featuring comments from civil rights attorney Stephen Rohde, author and radio political talk show host Sonali Kolhatkar of KPFK 90.7 FM, and Dick Price and Sharon Kyle, publishers of LA Progressive.
David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier this year that the Justice Department had tripled the number of leak investigations that were going on when President Obama left office.
“The First Amendment protects not just free speech, the right to assemble, but it specifically calls out the free press,” said Snyder, speaking to Brian Day and David Cross of the Pasadena Now news website. “So written into our Constitution is the idea that the Fourth Estate, as it’s sometimes called, has a key function, and that is to help expose corruption and wrongdoing in government so that the people can understand where their government is running afoul of the law or of the goals to which the people believe the government should be focused on.”
Does Judge Kavanaugh or the sitting justices think it’s OK to spy on reporters, as Presidents Bush II, Obama and now Trump have all done? Could this apparently widespread diminution of trust in the press lead to fewer journalistic freedoms with Kavanaugh on the High Court?
Given the damage that the Fourth Estate is already doing to itself, in part by sometimes acting like “the opposition party,” Trump may have no need to continue criticizing a once unassailable institution that more and more people seem to trust less and less.