by William H. Freivogel
President Donald J. Trump is playing his supporters for patsies. The First Amendment protects Trump’s lies to his Twitter followers, but it also protects the leaked stories that reveal them.
Trump calls the burgeoning investigation of Russia’s interference in the presidential election “fake news” and a “witch hunt,” even as the investigation threatens his presidency.
He calls the Washington Post and New York Times “fake news” organizations, when they are among the nation’s best journalists and have provided the most accurate picture of what is happening in his White House.
Trump calls his trip to the Middle East and Russia a “homerun,” even though he alienated the most important elected leader on the European continent.
A spokeswoman speaks adoringly of a president who has “a magnetic personality….brilliant with a great sense of humor,” while press accounts describe an angry president lashing out at his aides,
Trump brags about draining the swamp while he appoints record numbers of billionaires and Wall Street insiders.
Trump promises health care for everyone but pushes a bill that takes it away from 23 million Americans and gives millionaires $600 billion in tax breaks.
Trump claims he would have won the popular vote if millions of illegal aliens hadn’t voted for Clinton, yet still has nothing to prove it.
Fox News, often Trump’s propaganda arm, discloses the Seth Rich conspiracy theory that the Democratic National Committee staffer was murdered because he – rather than the Russians – leaked the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Fox eventually retracted the story, but its leading pundit, Sean Hannity, is retracting nothing.
While the Times is disclosing Trump relayed “code word” intelligence to the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office, Breitbart headlines the bogus Seth Rich conspiracy, criticizing “Silence from Establishment Media over Seth Rich WikiLeaks Report.”
Trump says the big story is the leaks to the press, which his Homeland Security chief John Kelly calls “darn close to treason.” But without the leaks Americans wouldn’t know of Trump’s leak to the Russians, or Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador, or Jared Kushner’s attempt to set up a back channel to Putin on Russian diplomatic facilities or Trump’s request of former FBI Director James Comey to ease off the investigation of Flynn.
British Prime Minister Theresa May had every reason last week to be upset that information about the Manchester terrorism attack was leaked to American media, including the New York Times. She is right that British intelligence has to be able to count on American intelligence to protect secrets. Trump’s call for an investigation of the leaks was appropriate.
But America is not Britain. We have the First Amendment and Britain has the Official Secrets Act.
In Britain, the government can stop the media from publishing top secret information. In the United States the government almost never can stop publication.
That is the lesson of the 1971 Pentagon Papers case when President Nixon tried to stop the New York Times’ publication of stories based on the 40-volume secret history of the Vietnam War showing presidents had lied to the American people. Our government can only stop publication where there is “direct, immediate, and irreparable damage to our Nation or its people.”
Presidents have made audacious claims of harm from leaks. Nixon claimed thousands more Americans would be killed in Vietnam. President George W. Bush told Times’ editors in the White House that the blood would be on their hands if they disclosed that the National Security Agency was tapping Americans’ conversations without a warrant. President Barack Obama’s administration claimed NSA meta-data collection revealed by Edward Snowden was instrumental in combating 50-plus terrorism attacks.
None of those things happened. Nixon’s solicitor general, Erwin Griswold, admitted later that the Pentagon Papers harmed no one. No terrorist attacks are linked to the revelation of the Bush era wiretaps. And close analysis showed the NSA programs revealed by Snowden had not thwarted terrorist attacks.
Rather than causing harm, these disclosures helped the nation come to grips with the mistakes of the Vietnam War and the excesses of government surveillance.
This isn’t to say that journalists should disclose every secret. Reputable news organizations like the Times and Post contact top government officials before publication and withhold details that could pose harm. But the final decision on publication must remain with the editors, not the officials. That’s what the First Amendment commands.
What the First Amendment cannot command is that our public officials or our media always tell the truth.
Breitbart and Hannity can claim without proof that Seth Rich was murdered for supposedly providing the hacked DNC emails to WikiLeaks. It’s up to the much-maligned mainstream media (MSM) and the people to hold up those claims to the facts and the unanimous judgment of Western intelligence that it was the Russians who provided the hacked information. There is no more evidence of a Democrat assassin than there is of those fraudulent voters in the last election or of President Obama ordering Trump Tower tapped or of Hillary Clinton’s mythical child sex ring at Comet Pizza. http://www.billofrights225.com/the-presss-identity-crisis/
Trump can claim the Times, Post and other reputable media are purveyors of Fake News. It’s his First Amendment right. But when asked for proof, the White House produces only a couple of quickly corrected reportorial errors on the Martin Luther King bust and Trump’s earpiece for listening to a translation. The substantive disclosures reported by the Times, Post and others have not been rebutted.
Ironically, Trump is almost as likely commit truth in his Twitter outbursts as to lie. He acknowledged thinking about the Russia investigation at the time he fired Comey – an act that could be part of a case of obstruction of justice. No longer does there have to be evidence of Trump collusion with the Russians in the election espionage. It’s enough to prove Trump tried to quash the Russia investigation. No one proved Nixon knew of the Watergate burglary, just that he covered up.
Congress, the professional press and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have many months of important work ahead to find the facts and determine if crimes or impeachable offenses were committed. The final verdict, however, will rest with the people whom the president is playing for patsies.