It’s honestly one of the most unsettling things that I’ve seen in a while.
In case you’re one of those people who give themselves a break from Twitter on the weekends (read: well-adjusted) and did not see them, these were the president’s comments:
Late Night host are dealing with the Democrats for their very “unfunny” & repetitive material, always anti-Trump! Should we get Equal Time?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2017
More and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V. when you look at the one-sided coverage?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2017
Now, I would completely agree that President Trump has been hit with an unsurpassed level of negative media coverage since he’s entered politics. Yes, there have been issues with the way he’s handled his job in the White House, but he and his supporters are correct in saying that many in the media insist on trying to turn even the smallest things into major scandals — all while ignoring the scandals on the left and refusing to acknowledge anything positive that President Trump has done. Here’s the thing, though: That’s their right, and neither he nor anyone else in government has the right to do a damn thing about it.
To be fair, I’m sure that it must be tough to turn on Morning Joe and see that the people you once considered friends are now talking smack about your hands. But the truth is, that should not matter. In fact, it must not matter, not if we want to continue to live in a free society — and it’s the solemn responsibility of our elected officials to honor and protect our freedoms. I know that if I were the president and I had taken that inaugural oath, then I would understand that ensuring the protection of our free press was more important than getting back at people for saying mean things about me on TV. It wouldn’t matter if there were a “Kat Timpf Sucks” channel. Hell, it wouldn’t matter care if every channel were the “Kat Timpf Sucks” channel; I’d never for a second even consider that I should be allowed to have any influence whatsoever over the negative content — not despite my position of power, but because of it.
See, in this country, one of the best things we have going for us is that the government has nothing to say about who and is and is not criticized in the media. Yes, we do have the Federal Communications Commission, which has some control over the media’s content when it comes to things such as language and nudity. (As a libertarian, I’d argue that even this shouldn’t exist, that the material that’s “allowed” could be determined by the will of the free market alone, but I digress.) But there is absolutely no limit to how much or how often we are “allowed” to criticize our leaders — and there must never, ever be one.
See, the First Amendment is about so much more than making sure the government can’t punish you for saying something that isn’t politically correct. In fact, its most important role is ensuring that the government can’t punish you for saying negative things about the government. The press is often referred to as the fourth branch of government (or the Fourth Estate) for a reason, and that reason is its ability to freely report on the doings of the government. The press is supposed to be one of the forces that keep government in check.
It is, of course, possible that President Trump was just making these comments as a private citizen — that he was saying that television “should” give people more positive Trump news in the way that I’d say that TV should have given us more seasons of Freaks and Geeks. Unfortunately, however, there are signs from this administration suggesting that this might be more than just a personal thing. On the campaign trail, then–candidate Trump blatantly stated that he wanted to weaken the First Amendment rights of reporters: “We ought to open up the libel laws, and I’m going to do that,” he said. “When [reporters] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” In August, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened subpoenas and even jail time for reporters who publish leaked information. It’s clear that this is an administration that has no qualms about threatening to use its power to weaken the power of the press. It is putting its own political convenience above one of our most sacred rights, and that’s something that should concern all of us.
I hope that I’m wrong here. I hope that President Trump will come out and clarify that he was, in fact, just making those comments in the way that I’ve asked for more Freaks and Geeks – and that his calling for “equal time” had nothing to do with any sort of actual policy proposal. I know that a lot of the coverage has been harsh, and that the entertainment shows do have a slant, but I’d still love to hear him affirm that he sees the value in having press that’s free to criticize its government.
— Katherine Timpf is a National Review Online reporter.