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The Constitution under stress after Charlottesville

Opinion

by William H. Freivogel

The bloody weekend in Charlottesville, Va. has put enormous strain on President Donald Trump, the First Amendment and constitutional checks on the president.

Trump flunked the stress test spectacularly in his unhinged, red-faced rant of a press conference by failing to speak to the nation with the voice of moral authority.

The First Amendment emerged from the weekend tattered, facing new questions about how to protect protests when demonstrators are hateful and armed.

But the separation of powers held up pretty well. An unprecedented number of top Republicans criticized their own party’s president for failing to call out white supremacists and neo-Nazis. And the mainstream media continued to pepper Trump with hard questions in the face of the president’s repeated and false refrain about “fake media.” People would understand his view on Charlottesville, he claimed, “if the press were not fake and were honest.”

Going ‘rogue’

Trump wasn’t supposed to answer questions after his Trump Tower event on infrastructure on Tuesday, but he went “rogue,” as one staffer put it. Chief of Staff John Kelly stood glumly to one side.

White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, standing near the president, was “particularly displeased” according to Politico, that “the president launched into a rant about the culpability of the ‘alt-left’ while calling some of the protesters at the white nationalist rally ‘very fine people.’”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, also was trapped next to Trump. McConnell on Wednesday said simply, “There are no good neo-Nazis.”

Exhibiting the nastiness he shows when backed into a corner, Trump went out of his way to attack Sen. John McCain, R-Az. Asked about McCain’s criticism of the alt-right, Trump shot back, “you mean Sen. McCain who voted against us getting good health care.” Then, in an especially distasteful quip, he added sarcastically, “I’m sure Sen. McCain must know what he’s talking about it.” McCain is under treatment for brain cancer.

By Wednesday the resignations of seven top industry leaders from presidential advisory councils led Trump to dissolve two of them. He didn’t hesitate to blast some of those who quit in protest for failing to bring jobs back to the United States.

Sprinkled throughout the press conference were attacks at the media. “I’m not finished, fake news,” he said when he thought a reporter was interrupting. At another point, he suggested his view would be better understood “if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you are not….”

“Unlike the media before I make a statement I like to know the facts … I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters” — a claim that doesn’t pass the sniff test coming from the president who has lied more often in his first year of office than any other president.

But most disheartening was the ignorance of American history explicit and implicit in his comments. He defended the “very fine people” there because of “the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.” He said these protests were understandable when “you are changing history, you are changing culture” by taking down Confederate monuments.

Never mind that these “very fine people” were standing next to white supremacists and Nazi’s chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Never mind that the city had changed the name from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. Never mind that Trump failed to see the difference between Robert E. Lee, a traitor who fought a war to destroy the United States, and George Washington, who fought a war to create it.

First Amendment

After the death of a counter-protester and two police officers, the ACLU and federal courts faced criticism for having forced the city to allow the demonstration in Emancipation Park, rather than another park a mile away.

As a matter of black letter law, U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad was right to issue an injunction forcing the city to allow the demonstration in Emancipation Park. The judge noted that the city had tried to move the white supremacists’ rally away from Emancipation Park, but had not revoked the counter-demonstrators’ permits for the area near that park. This amounted to discrimination against the white supremacists based on the content of their speech, which violates the First Amendment. http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wvir/documents/kessler-federal.pdf

But Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern suggest future First Amendment cases may have to factor in the growth of the Second Amendment and open carry movement. They wrote:

“The judge (Conrad) failed to answer the central question: When demonstrators plan to carry guns and cause fights, does the government have a compelling interest in regulating their expressive conduct more carefully than it’d be able to otherwise? This is not any one judge’s fault. It is a failure of our First Amendment jurisprudence to reckon with our Second Amendment reality.” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2017/08/the_first_and_second_amendments_clashed_in_charlottesville_the_guns_won.html

Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, made a similar point in the Lawfare blog. He noted that Justice Robert H. Jackson had once cautioned that if the court “does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact. https://www.lawfareblog.com/first-amendment-grounds-charlottesville

Twitter shaming

Another media-related First Amendment issue emerging from Charlottesville was the Twitter campaign – @YesYoureRacist – to shame white supremacists and neo-Nazis who attended the rally.

A first casualty was Cole White, a cook at a hot dog stand in Berkeley, Calif. who lost his job after he was outed as a demonstrator. White has no First Amendment protection because the amendment does not protect people from a private employer.

But Peter Cvjetanovic, a student and employee at the University of Nevada does have constitutional protection from the 10,000 petitioners who demanded him be expelled for his views.

The university said it rejected his views but added, “there is no constitutional or legal reason to expel him from our University or to terminate his employment.”

The university is right. As despicable as Cvjetanovic’s views are, they cannot be the basis of punishment by a state institution.

Those joining in the Twitter campaign might ask themselves how they would feel about a social media campaign to expel a member of Black Lives Matter or the anti-fascist Antifa group? They also might ask whether they want to be part of an online vigilante attack that sometimes mistakenly singles out lookalikes.

In an online piece of the New Yorker, the insightful journalist Robin Wright asks alarmingly, “Is America headed for a new kind of Civil War?” Wright quotes experts who warn America is not immune from the problems that befall other countries.

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/is-america-headed-for-a-new-kind-of-civil-war

But that is a risk we should be able to avoid as long as the press and courts check the power of this wayward president, as long as Republicans with the spine of Sen. McCain criticize Trump’s excesses and as long as the First Amendment provides a constitutional way for protesters, right and left, to vent their anger.

‘It’s patriotic to question authority’

Publisher’s note:  Margaret W. Freivogel wrote this appreciation of Dudman on his retirement from the Bangor Daily News in 2012.  The piece appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, which merged later with St. Louis Public Radio where Freivogel was editor.  (She is the wife of GJR publisher William H. Freivogel.)

by Margaret Wolf Freivogel

It’s appropriate that Richard Dudman, the quintessential intrepid journalist, retired this week of July 4. For him, journalism has always been a patriotic act.

Of course, Dick has claimed to retire before. He retired as Washington bureau chief for the Post-Dispatch in 1981 after a career that included ground-breaking coverage of the Vietnam War, 40 days in captivity in Cambodia and numerous other scoops. He moved to Maine, only to resurface as an editor for a university-based international news service. He retired from that but emerged 12 years ago as an editorial writer for the Bangor Daily News.

His last of more than a thousand editorials urged Maine’s senate candidates to forgo funding from Super PACs. Characteristically, he argued against secrecy in government. “The high court has held that money is a form of speech and that corporations have the same First Amendment right of free speech as individuals,” Dick wrote. “But the anonymous donations restrict the public’s ability to track which special interests are influencing which campaigns and candidates.”

At 94, Dick may be serious about retiring this time, though I hope he’ll find a new way to continue sharing his signature pithy insights. One I recall well was reserved for slow reporters. “He who sits on hot story gets ass burned,” Dick advised. He always kept a bag packed in his Washington office so he could be out the door before editors had time for second thoughts about sending him on assignment.

With the media world battered by cross currents of economic and technological change, Dick’s work and life shine as a guidestar. His devotion to traditional journalistic principles and zest for trying something new are just the example we need to navigate the shoals of uncertainty.

As Dick learned, charting a new course can be much harder in real time than it looks in retrospect. The love-it-or-leave-it crowd did not cotton to his reporting on the Vietnam War. They didn’t want to hear that reality on the ground was not nearly so sunny as the view from the official briefing in Saigon. The Globe-Democrat once denounced Dick’s work in a front page editorial headlined, if memory serves, “For America or for Hanoi.”

In contrast, Dick believes the most valuable service that journalists can perform for their country is to provide a clear-eyed challenge to conventional wisdom. Years ago, when some critics of the war were burning flags, he built a flag pole at his Maine house and called neighbors together to raise the colors. “Some of our liberal summer friends had questioned why would want to put up a flag pole and suggested that I sounded like a superpatriot,” he recalled this week. Dick told them, “It’s patriotic to question authority.”

Shortly before he left the Post-Dispatch, Dick found himself in uncharted waters. Two eager reporters proposed the crazy idea of sharing a job in the Washington bureau, where 24-7 dedication to work was the prevailing ethic. Would these reporters be sufficiently committed to the calling, he wondered? Dick sought advice from a friend, the feminist author Betty Friedan. “Do it,” she advised. And, with a nudge from publisher Joseph Pulitzer Jr., he did.

The unconventional arrangement was a life-saver for my husband, Bill, and me as we struggled with the logistics of raising our young family. And it turned out to be a good deal for the paper, which could deploy us as a sort of perpetual motion reporting machine.

On Dick’s last day in the office, President Ronald Reagan was shot. Dick ran up Connecticut Avenue to the scene. I rushed to George Washington hospital, where a shanty town of reporters and equipment instantly materialized to keep watch. That evening, Bill arrived in a taxi. I handed him my notes and he handed me the kids, ensuring seamless 24-hour coverage without interruption for sleep.

Then as now, tradition plus innovation works.

Time to send Donald Trump to time-out

By William H. Freivogel

Opinion

Almost every day, President Donald Trump behaves the way parents tell their children never to behave. He lies, boasts, berates friends, threatens foes, acts like a spoilsport, blames others for his failings, objectifies women, demands the spotlight and relishes flouting the norms of public behavior.

To many of his supporters, turning the world topsy-turvy is refreshing, even fun.

But Trump’s rude, crude behavior must be jarring to millions of good, decent people who voted for Trump only to find him violating every rule of good behavior.

Trump’s speech to Eagle Scouts in West Virginia this week was a classic. After promising not to be political, he attacked President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the “fake media.” Somehow he worked into his speech a six-minute story of meeting a failed real estate developer at a Manhattan cocktail party — with references to fabled exploits on his yacht.

Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, tweeted after the speech, “He’s so far beyond the usual bounds of even vulgar politicians’ vulgarity….” Former CIA Director John E. McLaughlin tweeted, “Trump’s Boy Scout speech had the feel of a third world authoritarian’s youth rally.”

Trump’s everyday actions challenge the Scout motto of “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” These are not character traits associated with the current president.

Think about the norms parents teach their children.

Don’t lie: This week Trump falsely blamed The New York Times for tipping off the leader of ISIS to a U.S. strike. He also claimed, “So many stories about me in @washingtonpost are Fake News.” These are among the 800-plus lies Trump told during the first six months of office, including fabrications about five million fraudulent voters for Hillary Clinton and Obama tapping Trump Tower.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/07/20/president-trumps-first-six-months-the-fact-check-tally/?utm_term=.4e3aa4ec041c

Don’t deceive yourself: A year after Russians came to Trump Tower to interfere with the presidential election in their meeting with Donald Trump Jr., the president continues to say he is not convinced the Russians interfered. In a remarkable exchange with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said the Russians are too slick to get caught hacking. “Somebody said to me yesterday, I won’t tell you who, that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails you would never have seen it,” Scramucci said. “They are superconfident in their deception skills in hacking.”

When Tapper pressed who the anonymous source was, Scaramucci responded, “How about it was the president.”

Be loyal to your friends: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the first senator to support Trump for president, received a dose of Trump “loyalty” this past week. The president told the New York Times he wouldn’t have appointed him if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. In other words, Trump wanted Sessions to protect him from the criminal investigation of Russian interference in the election that threatens his family and his presidency, even though Sessions’ recusal was required by Justice Department policy.

Don’t shift blame to others: After telling the Times last week that Sessions’ recusals was “very unfair to the president,” Trump came back this week with tweets about the “beleaguered AG” whom he then beleaguered with the Tuesday morning tweet: “So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Later in the day, he labeled Sessions “VERY weak,” something one doesn’t want to be in Trump’s administration of alpha males.

Don’t develop a persecution complex: Trump made it clear in the Times’ interview that the Russia investigation is Fake News pursued as part of a “witch hunt” by the mainstream media. He also criticized the acting director of the FBI, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, possibly as a prelude for firing one or more of them. He said Sessions’ recusal was “very unfair to the president.” He revised that Tuesday to say — inexplicably — it was unfair to the presidency, as if the presidency can’t withstand an attorney general’s proper recusal decision.

Don’t showboat: Trump starts most days by tweeting his grudges and grievances and grabbing the nation’s attention. Everything screams “look at me.” Look, I have big hands. Look, I attract the biggest crowds. Look, I’m really, really rich and smart and went to the best schools.

Don’t call people names: Trump has turned around this parental admonition and attached a nasty pejorative to every opponent. Crooked Hillary. Little Marco. Lyin’ Ted. Goofy (Elizabeth) Warren, alias Pocahontas. Low Energy Jeb. Crazy Bernie.

Then there are the norms of public life that Trump flouts.

He threatens to lock up political opponents such as Hillary Clinton. He ridicules cabinet members in public. He writes nasty, graphic tweets about women and their bodies. He refuses to embrace the unanimous conclusion of his intelligence agencies that the Russians tried to influence the election in his favor. He fires the FBI director after demanding loyalty and asking him to block a federal criminal investigation. His son meets with a Russian agent to get dirt on Clinton instead of reporting the contact to the FBI. Trump cuts off support for Syrian rebels, handing Russia a victory in Syria. He blasts federal judges for incompetence when they disagree with him. He calls reputable news organization fake and believes reports of disreputable news organizations. He told a Youngstown, Ohio, audience Tuesday night that he was trying to get beyond the filter of “Fake, fake, fake news.”

At one point in the Youngstown speech, Trump addressed the criticism that he is not presidential.

“Sometimes they say: ‘He doesn’t act presidential,’” Trump told the audience. “And I say: ‘Hey look; great schools, smart guy, it’s so easy to act presidential, but that’s not going to get it done.’ . . . It’s much easier, by the way, to act presidential than what we’re doing here tonight.”

He added, “With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president who has ever held this office. That I can tell you. It’s real easy.”

If it’s so easy, Mr. President, give yourself and the American people a breather and try a few months of being presidential.

The lies are catching up with Trump – a presidency imperiled

By William H. Freivogel

Opinion

False and misleading statements from President Donald Trump and the White House pile up day-by-day, week-by-week, steadily undermining the president’s credibility and making him the most unpopular president in modern history at the six-month mark.

Trump claims to have signed more bills than any other modern president. He hasn’t.

He blames the Democrats for killing the GOP health bill when it was the Republicans who couldn’t muster a majority.

His son first denies ever meeting with Russians about campaign issues, then admits meeting a Russian lawyer but says it wasn’t about the campaign, then admits he was promised a Russian government lawyer had dirt on Hillary Clinton, then releases emails expressing delight at the prospect of the dirt, then claims to have told everything about the meeting but leaves out other Russians in attendance.

Trump defends his son’s decision to meet with the Russians tweeting, “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” But political operatives from both parties say it isn’t just politics to collude with agents of America’s chief adversary and the proper response would have been to call the FBI.

Trump’s lawyers say he is not under criminal investigation even though they have no way of knowing and the claim is difficult to believe. Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel after fired FBI Director James B. Comey disclosed the president asked him to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – an act that is arguably obstruction of justice. And now there are reports Mueller is investigating the Trump Jr. meeting.

All of this lying and misleading is in the last 10 days alone. Before that Trump lied about President Barack Obama tapping Trump tower, about millions of illegal voters for Clinton, and of course there was the big lie that was a cornerstone of his campaign – that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

One might have thought Trump would take a vacation from his refrain about the “dishonest” mainstream media and “fake news” as his son was the source of the documents about the Russia meeting. But there’s no stopping this president who tweeted a day later, “Remember, when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.”

And this week, when the media disclosed that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had an undisclosed meeting on the side of the G-20 summit – in which Trump spoke to Putin through the Kremlin interpreter – Trump complained bitterly “The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest!”

Some of conservative commentators finally have lost patience. Last week Fox’s Chris Wallace said any fair-minded citizen should worry “about the fact that we were repeatedly misled about what this meeting concerned.” And Fox anchor Shepard Smith told Wallace, “Why is it lie after lie after lie? … My grandmother used to say … Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling.”

Then this week the Wall Street Journal editorial page called for “radical transparency” criticizing the Trumps for having “created the appearance of a conspiracy that on the evidence Don Jr. lacks the wit to concoct. And they handed their opponents another of the swords that by now could arm a Roman legion…. Denouncing leaks as ‘fake news’ won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36 percent approval rating shows.” The brutal realities of Washington, the Journal warned, will “destroy Mr. Trump, his family and their business reputation unless they change their strategy toward the Russia probe.”

It is true that a PPP poll shows more than half of Trump’s supporters think Trump Jr. never met with the Russians, even though he admits it. But Trump’s low approval ratings show the lies have had a cost. As Trump’s overall approval rating has slipped, the percentage of strong Trump supporters has declined while the percentage of strong opponents has grown.

It will take months for Mueller to complete his investigation, but it isn’t too soon to say this presidency is imperiled.

The biggest bombshell: ‘I love it.’

opinion

by William H. Freivogel

The New York Times’ story about Donald Trump Jr.’s enthusiastic reaction to the prospect of getting dirt from Russia on Hillary Clinton is the biggest bombshell among the many big newspaper disclosures published during the first six months of the Trump presidency.

Since the Russian scandal began, Trump has insisted that it was “fake news” and that there had been no collusion between the campaign and the Russians.

Now comes proof his son enthusiastically agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer last summer to get “ultra sensitive” information on Hillary Clinton after he was told explicitly the information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the letter had been sent to Trump Jr. as part of an FBI sting, it couldn’t have been written more clearly:  Russia was trying to elect the presumptive Republican nominee and was ready to give Trump and his father damaging information about the Democrat.

Nor could Trump Jr.’s response have been clearer. “If it’s what you say I love it,” he responded in an email to a trusted intermediary.

Those three words – I love it – will go down in history. The president’s son was ready to accept information from a hostile government as part of that government’s secret intelligence operation to help elect Trump.  Not only did Trump Jr. meet with the Russian, but he also brought along his important brother-in-law Jared Kushner and then campaign chair Paul Manafort.

In their wildest dreams, Clinton campaign officials never imagined such clear proof that the highest levels of the Trump campaign sought to collude with the Russians to beat Clinton.

It’s not treason, as Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine suggested.  That requires a plot to aid an enemy.  But there are plenty of potential legal violations for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate, including campaign violations for accepting a thing of value from a foreign national.  Mueller already is investigating other aspects of the Russia story and Trump’s firing of FBI director James B. Comey, which raises obstruction of justice questions.

Many Republicans suggested Tuesday that the disclosure of the Trump Tower meeting was a “nothing-burger.” The repetition of the obviously scripted phrase became comical as the day wore on.

Fox’s Martha Martha MacCallum, playing defense for Trump, tried to get conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer to say the meeting was not important because Trump Jr. says he didn’t receive damaging information. Krauthammer wouldn’t play ball:

“It’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion might be incompetent.  If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up but the cops show up, I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here.’”

The White House says the president didn’t know about the meeting.  The president himself tweeted Wednesday that his son is innocent and the victim of “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

But if it turns out that the president knew his son, son-in-law and campaign manager were meeting the Russian in an office near his in Trump Tower that day in June, the “nothing-burger” email could become a “smoking gun,” like the tape from 45 Junes ago that forced Richard M. Nixon from office.

McCaskill’s town hall pitch for media literacy

by Terry Ganey

Photo by Terry Ganey

TIPTON, Mo.—Sen. Claire McCaskill held 10 town hall meetings across Missouri last week, fielding hundreds of questions about issues like health care, sanctions against Russia, and the sharing of voters’ information.

But it was at a forum in Tipton, a small town in the middle of the state, where McCaskill was asked about something other than congressional policy.

Shawn Meintz, a high school teacher from Kirksville, wondered what the senator would suggest teaching young people, 17 and 18-years-old.

The question prompted one of the longest responses McCaskill would give at the forum.

“Teach young people where they should go to find facts,” McCaskill replied. She said people today go to certain television networks to find affirmation, rather than information.  She said 15 percent of her constituents watch FOX News to get affirmation for their right-wing beliefs, while another group on the other side watches MSNBC to get their own assurance that they are right.

“The rest of the state is watching ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ and can’t stand either side,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill told Meintz that students need to know where to go to find fact-based journalism.

“They need to learn that there are no editors on social media like there are at newspapers. During the political campaign, hundreds of Russians created Facebook news feeds and people were repeating them as if they were true.

“One of the challenges we have in America today is simply learning what are the facts,” McCaskill added. “The notion that everything is fake news is not good for democracy.”

Meintz teachers U.S. government to 12th graders, and newspapers to 11th and 12th graders.  He also teaches an advanced placement class in world history.

On the day of McCaskill’s forum in Tipton, Meintz was just ending a vacation with his family at Lake of the Ozarks.  On their way back to their home in Kirksville they stopped by the senator’s hour-long town hall session.  Meintz was accompanied by his wife, Angela, and their three children: Jackson, 10, Kennedy, 6 and Pierce, 2.

Asked what he thought about McCaskill’s response, Meintz said, “I wish I had recorded it.  It was good.  I’m going to talk more in class about where to go to get real news.  She’s right.  There’s too much misinformation out there and public schools can address that.”

 

Terry Ganey covered the Missouri Legislature for 35 years for the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Daily Tribune. He is the former St. Louis editor of the Journalism Review.  He is also the author of “Innocent Blood, a true story of obsession and serial murder,” and co-author of “Under the Influence” about the Anheuser-Busch dynasty and “Pretty Ladylike,” McCaskill’s memoir.

Trump’s nonsense won’t undermine the First Amendment

opinion

by William H. Freivogel

President Donald J. Trump can spend his entire presidency threatening the press, calling it the enemy, branding real news fake and fake news real.  He can tweet crude attacks on female journalists and post nonsensical videos like the one of him beating up CNN in a parody of Wrestlemania.

But he never will succeed in diminishing the power of the press to hold him to account, nor will he diminish the First Amendment protection that the Constitution and an independent judiciary guarantee to the press as a check on presidential power.

The only thing that President Trump will diminish is himself as he cheapens the highest office in the land and the symbol of American democracy and might.

But many people are worried.

Over the weekend, I was at a party on a front porch in North Carolina enjoying the fireflies and the company.  A group of musicians wondered out loud whether Trump could undermine the press and stifle dissent as authoritarians do in other countries.

The next day, Jim Rutenberg, the New York Times’ excellent media columnist, wrote a gloomy Independence Day piece stating “one of the pillars of our 241-year-old republic – the First Amendment – is under near-daily assault from the highest levels of the government.”

Rutenberg had plenty of examples:

– Trump’s CNN attack parody.

– Trump’s crude tweet describing Mika Brezinski “bleeding badly from a facelift.”

– Trump’s veiled threat toward Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon and the Washington Post: “The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!”

– Sean Hannity’s suggestion that reporters be required to submit questions to the White House in writing and Newt Gingrich’s call to close the White House press room to the media altogether because they have become “a danger to the country right now.” http://www.mediaite.com/online/gingrich-trump-needs-to-close-white-house-press-room-because-the-media-is-corrupt/

– The incendiary NRA commentary of former St. Louisan and conservative radio host Dana Loesch saying liberals “use their media to assassinate real news” leading to a “violence of lies” that needs to be combated with “the clenched fists of truth.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtGOQFf9VCE

And that was just last week.

Almost every week of his short presidency Trump has found a way to demean himself and cheapen the presidency.

He has done it when he lies, as with his claim that President Obama tapped Trump Tower. He has done it when he tells the truth, as when he said he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired FBI director James B. Comey.

He does it when he calls reliable news organizations such as The New York Times and Washington Post “fake” and then treats conspiracy theorists, such as Alex Jones and Hannity, as reputable.

He does it when he calls the Russia investigation fake news in the face of the unanimous intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the presidential election to try to help elect Trump, thus subverting the most important quadrennial act of the most important democracy in history.

But Americans need not fear Trump will scare off professional journalists.  The tireless work of the Times, Post and other mainstream media dispels that fear.  Every journalistic instinct is to challenge politicians who abuse power.  Bullies like Trump don’t frighten journalists, they inspire them to dig deeper.

Nor does Trump have power to undermine the constitutional protection that the First Amendment explicitly provides the press.

The First Amendment protection for the press has grown steadily through American history as the Supreme Court has recognized broader and broader protections for all forms of media.

There was a time when newspaper editors criticizing President John Adams were jailed.  When Abraham Lincoln had draft resisters arrested and newspapers censored. When socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs could be locked up for advocating resistance to the draft during World War I. When burning an American flag could get a protester jailed. When the Nixon administration could try to stop the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War. And when Southern segregationists could threaten the national press with expensive libel trials before sympathetic juries to make it too expensive to cover the evils of segregation.

Thanks to the Pentagon Papers decision of 1971, the government can’t stop publication of national security secrets absent “direct, immediate, and irreparable damage to the nation.” Thanks to New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964, politicians’ ability to use libel suits to intimidate the press is mostly a thing of the past.  And there is nothing Trump can do about it because the courts can be counted on to enforce the constitutional standard protecting the press.

President Ronald Reagan is well remembered for speaking eloquently about America as a shining city on the hill. How sad the person elected to protect that shining city has dimmed its bright promise.

I offered a toast to my friends in North Carolina on this 4th of July to be grateful we live in a country that has a free and fearless press.

Fooling some of the people

Opinion

By William H. Freivogel

 

Two stories by mainstream media – an excellent one by the Washington Post and a terrible one by CNN – have provided President Trump more material for his fairy tales on Twitter.

The Post reported a heavily sourced and deeply researched story showing that President Obama reacted cautiously to the high-grade intelligence he received last August showing “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race and help elect….Donald Trump.” The story reported Obama was slow releasing the information because he did not want it to appear he was trying to help Hillary Clinton win the election. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/world/national-security/obama-putin-election-hacking/?utm_term=.1c2d1b0eadff

Meanwhile, CNN retracted its story suggesting contact between a Trump associate and the Russians. The story has just one source. Three reporters and editors have now submitted their resignations for their involvement in the poorly sourced story, including Eric Lichtblau who won a Pulitzer Prize at The New York Times.

Trump pounced. Using his talent for semantic jujitsu, Trump tweeted that the Post story showed it was Obama who had failed to respond to Putin’s cyber attack and was guilty of collusion and obstruction – not he.

The president tweeted, “The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected Clinton would win…and did not want to ‘rock the boat.’ He didn’t ‘choke,’ he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good.”

This was an extraordinary switch of positions for a man who called during the campaign for Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, who suggested at a presidential debate the culprit may have been a 400-pound hacker or China and who, as president has called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” “phony” and a “Dem HOAX.”

About a week ago, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he couldn’t say whether the president thought Moscow interfered in the election. “I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing.” Later Spicer said the president had accepted that there was some Russian involvement in the election but wouldn’t say whether he agreed with the intelligence assessment that Putin wanted Trump to win. Other countries might have been involved in the hack, Spicer said, without providing proof.

So we have the remarkable spectacle of a president who has been in full charge of the government for five months still hedging on the unanimous intelligence assessment that Putin tried to help Trump win. And we have a president who has done nothing to respond to the Russian interference in the election criticizing his predecessor for not having responded forcefully enough.

When late last week CNN retracted its story linking a Trump transition official to the Russia investigation, Trump tweeted it showed the mainstream media was peddling fake news.

“Wow, CNN had to retract big story on ‘Russia,’ with 3 employees forced to resign,” he tweeted. “What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!”

He followed with another Tweet taking after other mainstream news organizations. “They caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!”

CNN definitely violated important standards of journalism in publishing the story based on one source. It deserves the criticism.

But the New York Times and the Washington Post have provided strong, traditional investigative reporting, including the Post’s report revealing that Michael Flynn had talked to the Russian ambassador last December about easing sanctions, even though Flynn had denied it. The Post story led to Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser and the president’s improper request to then-FBI Director James Comey to let go of its criminal investigation of Flynn. That, in turn, is an important part of a possible obstruction of justice case against Trump.

Trump’s twisting of the truth into convenient fairy tales recalls a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln. “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”