Trump says the reporting of the 'mainstream media' should not be considered 'free speech'

Trump says the reporting of the 'mainstream media' should not be considered 'free speech'
Fox News screenshot

At a White House event ostensibly organized to celebrate the value of free speech, President Donald Trump declared that one of the central pillars of the First Amendment should not actually be covered by the Constitution's protections.


The Social Media Summit was convened, it seems, to gather some of the most absurd right-wing trolls who claim they are victims of companies like Facebook and Twitter who undermine free speech. These private companies, in fact, have no legal obligation to follow the principles of free speech, and many of the claims that conservatives are being suppressed on social media are baseless or patently false.

But in comments that couldn't have been better scripted to reveal the utter hypocrisy of the right-wing on the topic of free speech, Trump said that the mainstream media coverage isn't protected by the concept.

"They're not using that brilliance and they're not using what we gave them fairly," he said of the social media companies. "And they have to do that. And we don't want to stifle anything — we don't want to stifle free speech — but that's no longer free speech. See, I don't think that the mainstream media is free speech, either. Because it's so crooked, so dishonest. So to me, free speech is not when you see something good and then you write something bad. To me, that's very dangerous speech. And you become very angry at it. But that's not free speech."

In fact, protections for the media are embedded in the fundamental right to free speech as outlined in the Constitution. The First Amendment prevents the government from "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." The principle of free speech doesn't just cover the press when the president likes what reporters say. Indeed, reporting that public figures and government officials don't like is the paradigmatic example of protected free speech in the United States.

The idea that any president could say that the media's reporting is not "free speech" is so absurd as to be laughable. And many people will write it off, especially since Trump's phrasing, as ever, was inartful and verging on incoherent. But his intention was clear: He doesn't think mainstream journalists' rights should be protected, because he thinks their negative reporting about him is "dangerous."

It doesn't appear likely that Trump has the capability to implement this perspective in the government any time soon, an action that really would be dangerous. But we should still be worried about how these kinds of claims and attitudes promoted by a Republican president can influence the trajectory of right-wing beliefs and policies. Trump desires to pull the country in a more authoritarian and illiberal direction. And even if he only partially succeeds, it's a horrifying result.

Watch the speech below:

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