Image courtesy of “Talking Points Memo”
The First Amendment has been endangered within the first week of President Trump’s inauguration. The press is the only institution protected by the First Amendment, for there can be no laws made “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The press inherited the role of the fourth branch of government, with the intention of keeping government officials honest by reporting on what they do.
People have misused the First Amendment by publishing what is known as “fake news.” Fake news has become a prevailing enigma in modern society, for the internet provides more channels for citizen journalists to publish news stories, regardless if they are supported by facts. The popularity of fake news can also be attributed to confirmation bias, which refers to people’s propensity to accept or reject information based on their inherent biases. Nevertheless, fake news can be spread more efficiently with the increased interconnectedness of the internet.
President Donald J. Trump has taken advantage of this enigma by rejecting journalists’ reports in favor for his own interpretation of the facts. According to the New York Times, Trump declared, “I have a running war with the media. They are the most dishonest human beings on earth” during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency on January 21st.
This comment was in response to a viral picture comparing Trump’s 2017 inauguration to Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The picture shows that Obama’s inauguration drew a significantly larger crowd than Trump’s did. Trump spent his first day of office disputing his inauguration crowd size.
At the CIA Headquarters, he spoke about his own interpretation of the facts: “I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people”.
Later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that these photos “were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall”, according to the Washington Post.
The next day, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway had an interview with Chuck Todd about Trump’s and Spicer’s rejection of the photos. When asked why Trump told Spicer to “utter a falsehood” his first time on the podium as press secretary, Conway replied, “What–You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that”.
At a Texas rally on Friday, Trump vowed to “open up libel laws, so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money” according to a video posted by Politico. “We can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they are protected”, he continued. “You see, with me they’re not protected.”
According to the New York Times, the First Amendment has weakened its protection of the press. The press relies on “the institutional media’s relative financial strength; the good will of the public; a mutually dependent relationship with government officials; the support of sympathetic judges; and political norms and traditions.” What used to bolster the press in its mission to inform the public has faltered: news organizations have been running out of money, the public has lost trust in the media, the Supreme Court has declined major press cases, and Trump’s new administration has broken the relationship between government and journalists.
Sources to fact-check news articles:
Article by Katerina Muraviyova, COM’19