By Joseph W. McQuaid
“It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”
Does that statement betray its speaker’s ignorance of the First Amendment to the Constitution? Was it made with the intent of undermining one of America’s most precious and important freedoms?
Either way, when the President of the United States says it, it should be of great concern to every American, including those who have supported Donald Trump and forgiven him his bombast.
NBC News may have erred in reporting a Trump defense story last week. It was then that he made his “disgusting” remark and hinted at reviewing NBC’s broadcast licenses. Two days later, as he sometimes does, Trump dialed back, a bit. He said he really didn’t want to limit the media.
That’s nice. But the American press is able “to write whatever it wants to write” because our founding fathers and succeeding generations have understood that a free press is vital to a free people. If the press is not free, the government is free to lie, cheat and keep itself in power.
Statements like that of President Trump are more dangerous to the republic than a thousand stories. If government can muzzle the press, it can restrict your freedom to speak, to worship, to bear arms.
The press is not always correct, to be sure. But as Thomas Jefferson, the victim of many “disgusting” stories, wrote:
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Joseph W. McQuaid is publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.