Safeguarding free, vigorous press is critical
No doubt many politicians, both Republican and Democrat, cheered Donald Trump silently for a comment he made last week. Many of them agree with him that the press in America should be intimidated from reporting the truth about … politicians.
Trump, the leading GOP contender for president, said news organizations that have run items critical of him will “have problems” if he wins.
Trump wants “to open up the libel laws, and I’m going to do that.”
Libel laws allow those about whom inaccurate, financially damaging information has been published to sue those responsible. It is not enough that the printed matter has offended someone; actual financial damages must be proved.
For the vast majority of people, those two standards – inaccuracy and damage – are all that must be shown to win a libel lawsuit.
But for public figures – politicians and certain others – the criteria goes up a notch. Someone like Trump suing the press for libel must also prove a reckless disregard for the truth, called “actual malice” in the courts.
Trump apparently wants to do away with that, solely to intimidate those who would publish information he and other politicians don’t want to see the light of day.
Again, many politicians of both parties would be delighted were that to happen. They, too, want reporters and editors to be afraid to write about them.
Fortunately, the First Amendment safeguards the American public from that. It guarantees freedom of the press, because the nation’s founders knew it was the first line of defense against those who would take our other liberties. The courts have stood up for a free, vigorous press consistently – because they, too, realize it is critical that journalists never be afraid of those who would muzzle us.