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Body slamming the Constitution: Donald Trump’s attack on a free press

Why should you care about abstract issues regarding the First Amendment? Why does it matter if journalists are being attacked both at home and abroad? Why is it so important to have reliable media sources; it doesn’t affect you, right?

Wrong.

Journalism is the backbone of our democracy, but journalists have been increasingly endangered in Trump’s America. If journalists continue to be threatened as they are today, the world will lose access to credible sources of information and no one will be able to hold authorities accountable.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution outlines many significant rights in America, including the freedom of press. This right allows us, the school newspaper, to express and publish our opinions without codified legal backlash from the school or government, to the extent that we do not libel any private citizen (along with a few other restrictions outlined in Ed. Cote 48907).

Therefore, to have the man holding the highest position of government office in a country constantly boasting about their freedom and democracy make degrading remarks about journalists and the press itself, is completely unacceptable.

President Donald Trump has made multiple comments where he refers to media outlets as “fake news” and “downright dishonest,” as well as degrading women in the press core, specifically by saying: “What a stupid question. You ask a lot of stupid questions.”

On May 24 2017, current U.S. Representative Gregory Gianforte (R-MT) physically attacked Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper, at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana the day before a special election in his district. Gianforte was given a misdemeanor assault charge after he body-slammed the reporter and broke his glasses.

A year after, on Oct. 18 2018, Trump made a series of questionable comments while referring to the incident, one being “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my guy.” The fact that Trump still continued to support Gianforte after his harassment of a reporter is deplorable, and the event did not drastically harm Gianforte’s chances of winning the election, reflecting poorly on the public’s overall view of the press.

Additionally, Jamal Khashoggi, a global opinions writer for the Washington Post who criticized the Saudi Arabian government, was murdered and his body has been missing for over a month. On Oct. 2, he went to the Saudi Arabian consulate to retrieve legal documents to get married but never returned, according to his fiance Hatice Cengiz, who waited outside in vain for around 10 hours.

Despite this, Trump has failed to proceed with any major action because, for him, there is an active incentive to break down democratic institutions like freedom of speech and of the press. Aside from Khashoggi’s status as a green card resident of the United States, Donald Trump’s refusal to take action sends a signal to countries across the world that attacks on democratic ideals will not be rebuked by the United States. As such, illiberal countries like Russia and China are able to crack down on investigative journalism without any repercussions whatsoever, making it easier for authoritarianism to rise both domestically and globally. This is magnified by the fact that the lack of action on this matter was justified for economic reasons; Trump sends a signal that it’s okay to murder anyone you want, as long as you have the money to pay for it. That, perhaps, is the most dangerous message the leader of the “free world” can send.

Even more worrying is the revocation of CNN’s Jim Acosta’s press pass based on a doctored video that was tweeted by the White House. Such an action demonstrates the the United States is now willing to suspend our most basic freedoms based on obvious lies, expecting no backlash, actions that preceded the authoritarian rises of leaders like Vladimir Putin. Even if Acosta’s press pass was restored via court order, the fact the White House thinks such action is constitutional should be deeply, deeply troubling.

The right of the press to report the truth and hold the government and the nation accountable is vital to American democracy, and the discrediting and disregard of the media by the federal government is endangering the very nature of the political system our predecessors had worked so hard to create and maintain.

Our desensitization to Trump’s rhetoric towards investigative journalism will not only turn formerly trusted media into state-run propaganda but also let human rights abuses abroad run amok. This gives the government total control over how we learn events, and is the first step towards authoritarianism. As such,  it is imperative that we protect the First Amendment and journalism at all costs.