America’s presidents typically have adversarial relationships with the press.
Some, like John F. Kennedy, complained about unfair coverage despite relentlessly manipulating and lying to reporters. Some, like George W. Bush, exploited national tragedies to create a fortress around their administrations in the name of “security,” and severely limited unfettered news coverage of the wars they started. Some, like Barack Obama, have gone after journalists using the most severe government forces available, despite enjoying mostly deferential (and quite often, favorable) coverage from the mainstream news media.
But when it comes to naked contempt for the very concept of a free press, no modern president can hold a candle to Donald Trump.
The former president—currently running for the 2024 GOP nomination after attempting a coup, inciting a riot at the U.S. Capitol, and instilling in the minds of millions a Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen—this week filed suit against the veteran journalist Bob Woodward. Trump claims that by publishing audio of interviews he gave to Woodward in the audio version of Woodward’s book (as opposed to the print version), the writer is in violation of copyright law.
Do you follow that logic? Me neither.
Many legal experts have said the case is complete nonsense and stands almost no chance of success in court, but that’s beside the point.
“I am continuing my fight against the corrupt, dishonest, and deranged Fake News Media by filing this lawsuit,” Trump posted on his failing Twitter knockoff site, Truth Social. “This was an open and blatant attempt to make me look as bad as possible…I will always champion TRUTH and battle against the evil forces of disinformation and Fake News!” the former president continued.
Trump may not be worth the $10 billion he’s claimed, but he’s still plenty rich enough to piss away money on frivolous lawsuits. A judge last month found Trump and his lawyers liable for $1 million in sanctions for pursuing a lawsuit that was part of a “pattern of misusing the courts to serve political purposes” and constituted “abusive litigation tactics.”
“Frivolous lawsuits should not be used as a vehicle for fundraising or fodder for rallies or social media,” U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks declared.
But what does Trump produce, if not fodder for separating fools from their money or generating toxic noise on social media?
Bob Woodward and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, have the cash to defend themselves against Trump’s litigious racketeering. But as First Amendment lawyer Ted Boutros told CNN’s Oliver Darcy: “This is yet another frivolous lawsuit by Donald Trump intended to punish and chill freedom of the press that once again displays his complete misunderstanding of journalism.”
Judge Middlebrooks said Trump “is using the courts as a stage set for political theater and grievance.” And it’s hardly the first time.
He wants CNN to pony up almost a half-billon dollars for “defamation.” He’s sued the social media giants for “censorship.” And of course, being a thin-skinned bully, he tried to destroy a small independent local TV station in Wisconsin with a bogus suit for airing a political ad that hurt his feelings.
“Many legal experts have said the case is complete nonsense and stands almost no chance of success in court, but that’s beside the point.”
Think I’m being unfair in my characterization? Ask Trump himself.
Here’s what he told The Washington Post about losing a lawsuit against a journalist who questioned his lies about his net worth: “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”
Yes, Trump hates the “fake news media”—when he’s not acting as an anonymous source or planting favorable stories about himself. But his abuse of the court system to cow journalists and news outlets into submission is just a symptom of his oft-demonstrated aversion to free speech.
Trump has long advocated for “opening up libel laws” to make it easier to sue people who write unfavorable things about him. He’s advocated for criminalizing flag burning and suggested a year in prison or stripping a person of citizenship as a fair penance. He’s called for stripping TV networks of their licenses. And, of course, the guru of the anti-cancel culture movement has called for innumerable people’s firings for their expression.
Trump and his MAGA movement might cloak themselves as devotees of the First Amendment, but that’s a transparent scam. In fact, by championing their own rights to free expression, while deeming other ideas irredeemably “divisive,” “unpatriotic” or “dangerous”—it’s fair to describe their position as one of hyper-political correctness (snowflakey, even).
Bob Woodward and his massive corporate publishing house have little to fear from Trump. But as long as Trump possesses disposable income, he’s free to menace anyone in his disfavor for expressing ideas (or facts) that offend him.
Or, as he’d put it, he’ll “make their lives miserable.”
Post source: TDB