Last week, PEN America, a nonprofit that works to defend free expression, sued President Donald Trump in federal court. The lawsuit claims Trump’s statements and actions violate the First Amendment protections of free speech and a free press. “PEN wants the court to block the president from using his office to retaliate against media criticism,” said Margaret Sullivan in her article in The Washington Post. The lawsuit cites several of Trump’s attacks on the press.
- Trump aimed to punish Jeff Bezos, Amazon and The Washington Post (both owned by Bezos) for the Posts coverage of him. He also told the U.S. Postmaster General to double Amazon’s delivery rates.
- Trump has threatened CNN and its parent company Time Warner.
- Trump has threatened to withdraw White House press credentials of individual reporters on multiple occasions.
- Trump has threatened broadcast licenses for TV stations owned by or carrying NBC and other networks. (fortune.com)
In the same week that PEN America sued Trump for violating the First Amendment, another important event occurred. Stormy Daniels lost her defamation claim against Trump. Trump’s tweet, which led to the lawsuit, constituted “rhetorical hyperbole” and was protected by, you guessed it, the First Amendment.
The Trump administration’s conflicting stance on the First Amendment is a topic I have written about in past blog posts. Once again, we see Trump picking when it is most convenient to uphold the First Amendment.
In her article, Sullivan discusses Trump’s First Amendment conflict, stating “Yes, our trash-talking president needs the First Amendment like a marathon runner needs his water bottle. He would collapse without it.”
Paying attention to Trump’s flip flopping on the First Amendment is crucial to protecting the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and press. It is important to note that while Trump makes attacks on the media and calls for the loosening of libel laws, he also relies on those same laws to protect himself from lawsuits.
“As he blasts, daily, far beyond civility into the ugly territory of insult and threat, he is well aware that the laws he disses are very likely to protect him,” says Sullivan.
When journalists can lose their lives for criticizing their government, protecting freedom of the press and holding Trump accountable for his actions towards the press is incredibly important.