MY SIDE: First Amendment written with Trump in mind

Our founding fathers never envisioned a person like President Trump running the country, but were clearly forward-looking in protecting our individual rights as citizens. That includes the press. Or as we now call them, “news media.”

But let’s be honest, this president needs to be fact-checked big-time.

Have you voted in our Trump poll?

According to several websites that track accuracy of presidential statements, three-quarters of Trump’s statements have factual errors. That’s compared to one-quarter for Obama.  Based on what we have seen so far, the White House has a straightforward plan on how to deal with the press: Discredit the mainstream, fact-based press in an effort to drive people to the administration’s public relations machine Breitbart News.

This philosophy is taken right out of the dictator handbook in order to control information to the public. This is exactly what Vladimir Putin successfully accomplished his first year in office.  This president is not the first to battle the press.

Richard Nixon was a notorious media hater, and with good reason, because of this little ongoing issue called Watergate. But words do matter, and President Trump’s tirade calling the press the “the enemy of the American people” puts his accusations at a new level. And people did react to it.

“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free—and many times adversarial—press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time—that’s how dictators get started. I’m just saying we have to learn lessons from history.” Sound like a quote from a history professor, or editor of a student newspaper? No, this was Republican Senator John McCain reacting to the president’s attacks on the press.

The president’s news conference last week was downright scary. He seemed unhinged, waiting to pounce on anyone asking a question he perceived as negative. I felt sorry for Jake Turx, a new White House correspondent for the Orthodox Jewish publication Ami Magazine. He started by giving the president a compliment that even got him a “thank you” from the chief. But before he could even finish his question about how the government will handle the uptick in anti-Semitism around the country, the president interrupted saying “not a fair question. Sit down.” By this time, all Mr. Turx could do was shake his head. The bully had spoken. What’s ironic is this week President Trump made a statement denouncing anti-Semitic violence, finally answering Mr. Turx’s original question.

Let’s look at the organizations the president is accusing: National Enquirer? Nope. US or People Magazine? Nope. Some of the hundreds of Trump-hating blogs or Twitter posts? Okay, he does respond to some tweets. Breitbart News where an editor just resigned over his pedophilia comments? Not a word. No, President Trump went after the news organizations with the best record for accuracy. They include ABC, NBC, CBS, New York Times and, of course, CNN.

So why are these organizations on the president’s radar? Because he cannot stop them from accurately reporting news about his administration. The louder he yells, the closer to home a story hits.

I am the first to admit managing the press is harder than ever.  Because “social media” is now lumped in with “news media,” there are many who attempt to report news that simply don’t have the same accuracy standards as the pre-1999 press. Or reporting and opinion simply are mixed together. These are the organizations that deserve the wrath of Trump. Unfortunately, he’s part of the problem with his constant, mean-spirited, throw a grenade on the issue tweets.

On Wednesday, Quinnipiac University released a national poll asking who will “tell the truth on important issues.” Fifty-two percent said they trust the press, 37 percent cited Trump. More than 90 percent say it is “very important” or “somewhat important” the news media hold public officials accountable.

In our informal COURIER poll (244 people answered), 68 percent trusted the press to hold Trump accountable, while 28 percent said the president’s actions were justified (or the press cannot be trusted).

This week the president changed the US policy on policing undocumented immigrants, making it easier to deport them. On Wednesday, Mexico pushed back with Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray stating his country will not accept these measures, just like they will not pay for a wall. There’s even a plan, he said, to go to the UN about the treatment of Mexicans in America.

Clearly relations between the countries are strained, but not according to the White House. “I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now. I believe there’s an unbelievable and robust dialogue between our two nations,” White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said. I guess Mexico just didn’t get the memo.

—Peter Weinberger


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