Politics & Policy

Trump Should Stop Suing the Press 

President Donald Trump holds up a copy of USA Today‘s front page showing news of his acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial as he arrives to address the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C, February 6, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
The Founders placed the highest importance on protecting political speech for a reason: It’s an integral part of a free society.

President Donald Trump has now sued the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN over opinion pieces that they’ve published — and really, he should stop.

First and foremost, it’s not like Trump stands even the slightest chance of winning any of these lawsuits. Every single one of them will be tossed out in court because, as my colleague Andrew McCarthy stated in a piece for National Review regarding the first suit against the NYT, we are talking about content that is both clearly labeled and constructed as opinion pieces — and, “as a matter of law, opinion cannot be defamation, period.”

The law is very, very clear on this — and that clarity is no coincidence. After all, what it protects is a right that our Founders considered crucial in maintaining a free society. As McCarthy puts it: “For the Framers, political speech was the species of expression that deserved the most robust First Amendment protection of all.”

In other words? Trump cannot do what he’s aiming to do here because of our Founding Principles — and if you have any respect for those principles, then you shouldn’t want him to be able to do it, either.

Make no mistake: I completely understand how these lawsuits can fire up people in Trump’s base. They feel bullied by the press, and they see this sort of action as Trump being strong and fighting back against media that are unfair to him — and of course, by extension, also unfair to them as well.

The truth is, though, there are some things that are simply never worth compromising (especially not to alleviate temporary discomfort), and toying with the laws that keep us free is certainly one of those things. For this reason, whenever I hear Trump talking about changing the libel laws specifically so the government can more easily punish the press for criticizing the people in power, I am horrified — both by the idea itself and by people who consider themselves to be small-government conservatives being, for some reason, reluctant to explain why this would set a dangerous, destructive precedent.

As both a First Amendment absolutist and as an American, I want to keep our government as far away from our press as possible. See, the Founders placed the highest importance on protecting political speech for a reason: It’s an integral part of a free society. Our freedom to criticize the government — as openly and brutally as we want to — serves as a vital check against unbridled government power and control. The more hesitant that people are to speak out (due to fear of government retaliation) the easier it will be for that government to get away with corruption and abuse. The two aren’t just related; they are interdependent.

Now, I’m not saying that the news sources mentioned in these lawsuits haven’t displayed bias against the president. They have; to me, that’s clear. What’s more, I am also not suggesting that anything I’ve said means that Trump has no choice but to just lay there and take it. Rather, he has the same free-speech protections as we all do in this country, and he can use them as he sees fit. If he thinks a piece is unfair, he can say so — but he cannot, and should not, be allowed to have any influence over what opinions others express about him. No leader in this country should ever have that power, and I wholeheartedly reject what Trump did here, even if he just did it as some kind of stunt. A person in power should never use his position to intimidate citizens from exercising their rights.

You can be the biggest fan of the president in the world. You can be upset about the way he is treated by these news sources. The thing is, though, to agree with the legitimacy of these sorts of lawsuits is to cast aside one of the core principles of the Constitution — and that is something that should never be taken lightly.

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