By Thomas M. Harvell-DeGolier
The First Amendment of the U.S Constitution clearly establishes that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” (U.S. Const. Amend. I). This freedom facilitated the American press’ rise to prominence; indeed, the press has been called the 4th branch of government due to its ability to influence government action and hold the government accountable. Furthermore, while the press may aggressively pursue partisan or economic interests—in modern days, websites such as Breitbart and Huffington Post represent the former, while clickbait titles emphasize the latter—they can also lead to reform or expose corruption. For example: Ida Tarbell’s reporting exposed the corrupt practices of Standard Oil, while Woodward and Bernstein exposed the conspiracy at the Watergate Hotel– thus facilitating the fall of Nixon’s presidency–and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring exposed the dangers of DDT. Although a free press can overstep its bounds— with Hearst’s Yellow J
ournalism whipping up a sentiment for war with Spain among the public, being a prominent example— its value comes from its ability to shine light the light on those who gain their power through unscrupulous means. At its best, the media: informs voters about the character and positions of those running for office, exposes corporate and governmental corruption, and unveils abuses of power. In these roles the press serves as a public watchdog.
The American press is at its most important in an election cycle, during which it determines; which candidates are seen by the public, which issues are important, the character of the candidates, and the implications of their policy proposals. Moreover, an effective free press is able to question, criticize, investigate, and praise the candidates without fear of retribution. Without this freedom, the press cannot fully fulfill its moral obligation to create an informed electorate. As such, when Donald Trump retaliates against those who investigate him, he rejects that the words and ideas of those running for office should be criticized and laid bare before the public. His reluctance to face scrutiny for his words, actions, deeds, and even his previous positions manifests itself in a disdain for the media, which is evidenced by his treatment of reporters and media outlets.
The Kelly Feud:
During the very first debate—hosted by Fox News—moderator, Megyn Kelly, confronted Trump with questions about his derogatory remarks on women. This perfectly legitimate line of questioning insulted the Donald. Following the conclusion of the debate, Donald implied that Fox treated him unfairly and suggested that Megyn Kelly was tough on him because “blood was coming out of her wherever”. The meaning behind this euphemism is so blatantly obvious that it hardly requires explanation and is extremely sexist. For one, it suggests that journalists shouldn’t hold candidates responsible for their derogatory comments; furthermore it breaks the bounds of common decency. Mr. Trump’s suggestion that a female journalist must be on her period if she asks him about his misogynistic remarks only reaffirms his own misogyny. In doing this, Trump attacked the legitimacy of female journalists. Furthermore, he refused to participate in Fox’s next debate, saying the network had been unfair to him. By refusing to show up to the next debate, Donald revealed he is unable to bear the media’s criticism lightly. Trump’s refusal to treat journalists with respect mirrors his wider attitudes to any criticism.
Donald Goes Postal:
If Trump is so thin-skinned when it comes to press criticism, one wonders how he would react to a diplomatic insult.
Trump also exhibits a heavy-handedness when it comes to dealing with media organizations. Indeed, recently Trump revoked the Washington Post’s press credentials, after complaining that they had posted a dishonest article about his speech following the Orlando shooting (Farhi 2016). The article, “Donald Trump seems to connect President Obama to Orlando shooting,” examined Trump’s speech and concluded that Trump seemingly implied that Obama is either clueless or is an aide to terrorist acts and also explored Trump’s speech in the context of his previous statements (Johnson 2016). Moreover, Trump’s revocation of the Washington Post’s press credentials mirrored his previous actions with other organizations As of now, Trump has blacklisted journalists from: the Washington Post, Politico, The Huffington Post, Univision, Buzzfeed, The Daily Beast, and the Des Moines Register. Donald’s consistent retaliation against criticizers reveals his thin-skinned nature and inability to bear media scrutiny with grace. It is notable that even at the height of the Watergate scandal Nixon didn’t remove the Washington Post’s press credentials. If Trump is so thin-skinned when it comes to press criticism, one wonders how he would react to a diplomatic insult.
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All in all, Trump’s treatment of the media and his need to lash out reveals his self-righteousness. Unable to bear scrutiny and negative press, Trump acts impulsively and petulantly by banning newspapers and journalists. This rash behavior attacks the interests of the American people by diminishing their ability to fully cover the Donald in a meaningful way. Furthermore, in the end Trump’s behavior towards the media is a reflection of his personality. How can Trump, a thin-skinned alleged billionaire, who cannot bear media pressure, handle the pressures of the presidency? C
Thomas M. Harvell-DeGolier is a sophomore at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.