President Donald Trump is not a huge fan of free speech. During his tumultuous election campaign, the business mogul promised his supporters that once in office, he would look to curtail the First Amendment because it offers “too much protection” to journalists — a promise that, according to his chief of staff Reince Priebus, he has actually looked into.
After his unexpected victory, Trump took no time in declaring media Public Enemy No. 1, simply because he didn’t like the things major news outlets were writing about him — like his alleged ties to Russian government and the long history of sexual assault allegations against him, for instance.
The reality TV star-turned-politician even decided to skip his administration’s first White House Correspondents’ Dinner and then sent out a tweet entertaining the possibility of amending the Constitution to make it easier to sue journalists.
The failing @nytimes has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change libel laws?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
During a recent appearance on ABC News to discuss the president’s first 100 days in office, Reince Priebus made some rather shocking comments about free speech in Trump’s era. When network correspondent Jon Karl asked him if Trump could actually change national libel laws, Priebus’ answer was affirmative.
“I think it’s something that we’ve looked at, and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story,” the former RNC chief said. “But when you have articles out there that have no basis or fact and we’re sitting here on 24/7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters… I think that newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news.”
Karl followed by attempting to explain the difference between personally disagreeing with the media coverage and suing them for libel. However, Priebus’ response remained the same.
“I already answered that. I said this is something being looked at,” he said, later adding that the administration will also look into banning flag burning, a protected form of protest.
As scary and appalling as the Trump administration’s plans are for free media, the most interesting part about the whole thing is that the president does not actually have the authority to make such changes to libel law, as it is administered by state courts and state legislatures instead of the federal government.
In order to make constitutional adjustments just so Trump could sue media outlets, he would need the Supreme Court to intervene — a fact he or Priebus might have known had they been paying attention to matters other than banning refugees and detaining immigrants.
Watch the complete interview below:
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters