When POTUS wants journalism to be a crime, he tweets
Once again, President Trump has riled up journalists around the US with one of his question/statements:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
Let’s unpack this for a (bittersweet) good time.
First off, POTUS would be wise to get grammatically sharper in his prose. After all, if the New York Times “disgraced the media world,” that means it did something that put the rest of the media world to shame. You know, if X disgraces Y (insert football teams you know and I don’t), then X ain’t disgraced—Y is. That’s what his words mean, anyway.
Second, did the Times get him wrong for two years that were “solid” for him, or was the wrongness what was solid? When you’re slippery with words, it’s hard to tell what’s hard ground. Maybe “gotten me solidly wrong” for two years might’ve been a better way to say that.
But that’s just nitpicky (and childish) and everyone understood what Trump meant when he asked (as he does), “Change libel laws?”
Who should change them, how they should change, why they should change is all conveniently absent in this tweet. But details aren’t the point here. Details are just details, anyway. This isn’t a real question or a real concern or even a real thought. It’s an attack on the freedom of the press—freedom from a tyrannical tweeter set on turning the people against the press. But let’s not take any of this too seriously. It’s just a question, after all.
I have colleagues who’re much more well versed in press freedom than I am, so I asked them their thoughts on this tweet.
Too bad for Trump he can’t change libel law. He can wish it to happen, but until he controls the courts it ain’t in his wheelhouse.
A difference of opinion on news or the quality of news does not suffice for a libel lawsuit. This is why we have the First Amendment.
Right, Trump isn’t going to be flipping over hardened American Constitutional law anytime soon, but he can definitely dig into the trench of the misunderstood POTUS, the one the media just won’t stop lying about. But again: not the point. To pro-Trump Twitter users, this might signify another call to arms against the “enemy of the American People”.
For a taste of what they think, I turn to a fun new subreddit I found recently: r/asktrumpsupporters, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Here are top comments from the post asking, regarding Trump’s tweet: “Are you worried about the first amendment?”
Consequences is such a good word to end that comment with, because at the bar over a beer I’d simply ask, aren’t you worried about the consequences of a silenced, criminalized media? Cheers!
There’s always the possibility, of course, that Trump wants to loosen libel laws—the word change can go either way, right?
Here’s SPJ on the tweet, closing the loop:
— Society of Pro Journ (@spj_tweets) March 30, 2017
Bottom line: Trump can’t change libel law. And if he was able to and did: Changing libel laws won’t stop any press from committing acts of journalism because libel is libel and journalism is truth.
Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the publics right to know either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.