Politics & Policy

Conservatives, Get Real with Yourselves and Denounce Trump’s Attacks on the Press

(Reuters photo: Yuri Gripas)
Defense of the First Amendment is something that conservatives have traditionally bragged about.

The president of the United States thinks “it’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write,” and I think what’s “frankly disgusting” is how many conservatives are defending his comments.

As I stated in my column on Sunday — after President Trump said he wanted “equal time” given to his viewpoint on television programs — I do completely agree that the coverage of this president has been incomparably negative, and often unfairly so. There is a bias; there is a vendetta, and the mainstream media would never subject a liberal politician to this kind of scrutiny. I also, however, explained that none of this matters when it comes to the government’s role in the press. The most important purpose of the First Amendment is not protection against government punishment for political incorrectness, but protection against government punishment for saying negative things about the government. The press has a sacred duty as the Fourth Estate, and it’s the sacred duty of our elected officials to protect the press’s and all of our freedoms.

Now, I ended Sunday’s column by challenging President Trump to acknowledge that he understands this — that he does see the value in having a press that’s free to criticize the government, even if the coverage can be tough sometimes. And what has he done since then? Well, first, Trump took to Twitter to threaten NBC’s broadcast license. Then he said that it’s “frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write,” leaving me somewhere between too dumbfounded to speak and screaming for Jesus to take the wheel.

Mr. President: The immense freedom that this country grants to its press is not “disgusting”; it’s beautiful. One of the best things about this country is that our leaders have absolutely no say in our criticism of them, because it’s that freedom that keeps us free. Think about it: Here I am, writing a column criticizing the president, and yet I’m not going to get my head chopped off by the Gestapo! Other countries don’t have that; we do have that, and I’ll never, ever accept its being even slightly diminished . . . and you shouldn’t, either.

Of course, I do know that people are going to disagree with me. Somehow, many so-called conservatives are going to disagree with me. Actually, what many of them will probably do is write me off as an “anti-Trump libturd” who needs a safe space and a pussy hat because President Trump is Making America Great Again and snowflakes like me need to either get over it or move to Canada with Miley Cyrus and all of my other little pussy-hat-wearing, Hillary-loving friends. But the truth is, not liking this does not make me a liberal, turd or otherwise, and agreeing with President Trump here — regardless of the party he labels himself as being a part of — does not make you a conservative. I cannot believe I even have to write this, but “conservative” does not equal “agreeing with the president no matter what he says or does because he won as a Republican.” It’s about a certain set of values and principles, and one of those principles is an unwavering commitment to free speech as guaranteed under the United States Constitution, even and especially when that speech is something controversial.

Let me be clear: Calling for government control of the media is not a conservative view; it’s a fascist one. You’re fine to think that the government should control the media; you’re fine to espouse it — thanks, of course, to the First Amendment that you’re apparently totally fine with jeopardizing — but please understand that this idea is not compatible with conservative, or even traditionally American, values.

Honestly, it’s making me so sick to see how many conservatives are bending over backwards trying to defend these kinds of comments. They’ll say: “But the media lie! Shouldn’t they be punished for their lies?” Okay, a few things about that. First of all, although the mainstream media are biased, and although journalists have incorrectly reported some things surrounding this administration, President Trump has a penchant for flippantly calling any news he does not like (true or not!) “fake.” Second of all, President Trump himself has lied, misreported, or misrepresented information countless times. Do you think he should be punished, too? Oh, and then there’s this question: Have any media outlets that you do like ever made mistakes or shown a bias? Do you really want to risk putting those outlets in jeopardy by allowing the government to create these kinds of policies, knowing full well that future administrations — potentially, administrations you may not align yourself with — will be able to use those tools as well? Think!

I’ve also, of course, seen this: “But it’s the Left that hates free speech! Look at those Antifa thugs trying to shut down speech in Berkeley!” and I have a few things to say about that one, too. First of all, what Antifa did in Berkeley is an unacceptable threat to speech, but Antifa did not take an oath on inauguration day vowing to protect our freedoms, so I think that probably we can hold the person who did do so to a little higher standard than those loons. Second — and this is a real humdinger — it is totally possible to disagree with Antifa violence and the president’s comments. It’s called being f&*$%+@ ideologically consistent, and I literally cannot believe that that is some kind of radical concept to so many people whom I know know better.

Calling for government control of the media is not a conservative view.

If, in 2013 when the Edward Snowden leaks were being reported, you were saying, “The media have a right to publish leaked information! The public deserves the truth!” and now you find yourself cheering when Jeff Sessions threatens to send reporters who publish leaked information to jail, then you need to take a long, hard look at yourself. Seriously, try it. Look in the mirror and say: “It’s 2012. President Obama just threatened to revoke the license of Fox News Channel, and I am totally okay with that,” and see how it feels.

Please note that I’m not saying this as an employee of NBC or of any of the networks that President Trump is threatening. I’m a capitalist; I hate Obamacare; I’m a Second Amendment defender. I’m also, however, a First Amendment defender, and I know that defense of the First Amendment is something that conservatives have traditionally bragged about — and I’m tired of seeing so many giving this up.

I’ve had it with this political climate. Not only because it’s disgusting, but also because it’s intellectually cheap. Too many today believe that, if you support and defend the free press, you’re not pro-1A, you’re anti-Trump. If you support gun rights, you’re not pro-2A, you’re pro-Trump. If you support privacy rights, you’re not pro-4A, you’re just either pro- or anti-Trump depending on what the leaks are revealing. How are so many people, on both sides, centering their entire identity on the whims of an administration? What good does this kind of base, childish rhetoric do for any single one of us? We’re all better than this; we’re smarter than this, and we had better get it together before it’s too late.


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— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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