Recently, three distinguished pundits took the stage at NRO to denounce The Donald for his penchant to sue people for libel (for presumably committing the cardinal sin of criticizing America’s Media Monster & Master), or even use the sedition laws to stifle debate.
On Feb. 26 Trump told supporters:
We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when the New York Times writes a hit piece that is a total disgrace or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.… We’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.
But Trump has pushed back against political correctness. What David Gelernter calls “the elephant in the room” that enrages millions of voters who feel disenfranchised by elites telling them to shut up:
Trump hasn’t made it a campaign theme exactly, but he mentions it often with angry disgust. Reporters, pundits, and the other candidates treat it as a sideshow, a handy way for Trump (King Kong Jr.) to smack down the pitiful airplanes that attack him as he bestrides his mighty tower, roaring. But the analysts have it exactly backward. Political correctness is the biggest issue facing America today. Even Trump has just barely faced up to it. The ironic name disguises the real nature of this force, which ought to be called invasive leftism or thought-police liberalism or metastasized progressivism. The old-time American mainstream, working- and middle-class white males and their families, is mad as hell about political correctness and the havoc it has wreaked for 40 years — havoc made worse by the flat refusal of most serious Republicans to confront it. Republicans rarely even acknowledge its existence as the open wound it really is; a wound that will fester forever until someone has the nerve to heal it — or the patient succumbs. To watch young minorities protest their maltreatment on fancy campuses when your own working life has seen, from the very start, relentless discrimination in favor of minorities — such events can make people a little testy.
We are fighting Islamic terrorism, but the president won’t even say “Islamic terrorism.” It sounds like a joke — but it isn’t funny. It connects straight to other problems that terrify America’s nonelites, people who do not belong (or whose spouses or children don’t belong) to the races or groups that are revered and protected under p.c. law and theology.
Political correctness means that when the Marines discover that combat units are less effective if they include women, a hack overrules them. What’s more important, guys, combat effectiveness or leftist dogma? No contest! Nor is it hard to notice that putting women in combat is not exactly the kind of issue that most American women are losing sleep over. It matters only to a small, powerful clique of delusional ideologues.… [Emphasis added.]
Yet Gelernter writes that even Trump has not fully faced up to the threat posed by PC’s “thought-police liberalism”; at least, however, he has made a start, unlike his fellow GOP candidates.
As for Trump’s libel designs, he is correct that in real life, successful libel suits by public figures against the press are rare, courtesy of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), a landmark Supreme Court ruling setting a standard of “malice” — knowingly false, or in “reckless disregard” of the truth — in order for a libel plaintiff to win. The case arose out of a harassing lawsuit filed by an Alabama official over the Times’s coverage of Dr. Martin Luther King’s activities in Montgomery, Alabama. The summed up its view of the scope and character of pubic debate under the First Amendment, citing therein
a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials. [Italics mine.]
In Reckless Disregard (1986) investigative journalist Renata Adler chronicled two famous libel suits: in a 1982 60 Minutes broadcast, “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception,” CBS falsely accused Vietnam-era Gen. William Westmoreland of having deceived the Lyndon Johnson White House about the strength of the North Vietnamese forces. “Westy” filed a libel suit in 1984, citing biased selection of evidence to favor CBS’s thesis; coaching witnesses, rehearsing those CBS favored; secretly paying one key anti-Westy witness, and more sins. In one particularly egregious example, LBJ’s national security adviser, Walt W. Rostow, told CBS that LBJ was aware of the dispute over how to count the enemy, but CBS did not air his comment. Even assuming CBS did not believe Rostow, a statement by the president’s top national security assistant should have at least made the air, to give viewers a chance to assess its veracity. CBS hired superlawyer David Boies, who outclassed the general’s counsel, a lawyer who had never tried a case. In 1985 the case — considered strong by knowledgeable observers — was settled on the eve of trial, without any apology or monetary payment by CBS.
Adler’s other major case was a 1983 suit brought by Israeli Gen. Ariel Sharon, falsely accused by Time magazine of intentionally allowing Lebanese Falangist troops to massacre Palestinian civilians at two refugee camps. The jury issued a special verdict, finding that the accusations were false, but then finding that the defamatory statements were not made with “reckless disregard” for the truth. (This obviated the need for the jury to address a third issue: whether Sharon’s reputation had been damaged; in fact, of course it had, as the issue was used against Sharon for the rest of his long life.) Hence Time escaped liability. I recall watching Time’s Ray Cave appearing on Ted Koppel’s Nightline to contemptibly proclaim victory — this in a case where his reporter was found by a jury to have made false accusations. Time insisted that its story was “substantially true.”
Time’s attitude brings to mind Dan Rather’s 2004 “fake but accurate” gloss on his false story about letters allegedly written purporting to criticize President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service. But in this case, the blogosphere dug out compelling proof that the “letters” were faked decades later. In a 1982 example of predatory press coverage, President Reagan’s Labor Secretary, Ray Donovan, saw his reputation savaged endlessly by the anti-Reagan lefty press after his firm was indicted for allegedly corrupt dealings with mob elements. After his acquittal he plaintively asked: “To which office do I go to get my reputation back?” At least Rather paid for his sins, whereas those who slimed Donovan escaped punishment.
Back to the selectively predatory press present, where the press is, once again, in the tank with — quelle surprise! — the left. Hillary’s minions prevented pressies from taking photos of her boarding a private jet, after a recent campaign stop; what would have been a tempest had a GOP candidate done this, was a mere blip. Of this, one can only recall Bob Dole’s desperation sally during the 1996 presidential campaign, as to lack of press interest in myriad Clinton scandals: “Where’s the outrage?”
No wonder The Donald has concerns about press abuses. Hillary does too, but she, in league with her husband, goes much further. Hillary attempted to suppress a film by her critics, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). First Amendment ace lawyer Floyd Abrams got five Supremes to carve out broader freedom for unions and corporations to advocate their views without government superintendence. And in 2006 both Clintons had successfully curtailed DVD distribution of a docudrama, The Path to 9/11, that originally (truthfully) recounted how then-President Clinton passed up a chance to take out Osama bin Laden. Earlier (the late 1990s), the Clintons sicced the Justice Department against this very publication, nearly bankrupting TAS for the heinous crime of truthful reporting.
And then there is what Wisconsin Democrats did: conducted dawn SWAT raids on the homes of supporters of Gov. Scott Walker. NRO’s David French recounted a harrowing example of the Gestapo home-invasion tactics used by thug cops serving Democratic local masters:
For the family of “Rachel” (not her real name), the ordeal began before dawn — with the same loud, insistent knocking. Still in her pajamas, Rachel answered the door and saw uniformed police, poised to enter her home. When Rachel asked to wake her children herself, the officer insisted on walking into their rooms. The kids woke to an armed officer, standing near their beds.
The entire family was herded into one room, and there they watched as the police carried off their personal possessions, including items that had nothing to do with the subject of the search warrant — even her daughter’s computer. And, yes, there were the warnings. Don’t call your lawyer. Don’t talk to anyone about this. Don’t tell your friends. The kids watched — alarmed — as the school bus drove by, with the students inside watching the spectacle of uniformed police surrounding the house, carrying out the family’s belongings. Yet they were told they couldn’t tell anyone at school. They, too, had to remain silent. The mom watched as her entire life was laid open before the police. Her professional files, her personal files, everything. She knew this was all politics. She knew a rogue prosecutor was targeting her for her political beliefs.
French sums up:
For dozens of conservatives, the years since Scott Walker’s first election as governor of Wisconsin transformed the state — known for pro-football championships, good cheese, and a population with a reputation for being unfailingly polite — into a place where conservatives have faced early-morning raids, multi-year secretive criminal investigations, slanderous and selective leaks to sympathetic media, and intrusive electronic snooping. Yes, Wisconsin, the cradle of the progressive movement and home of the “Wisconsin idea” — the marriage of state governments and state universities to govern through technocratic reform — was giving birth to a new progressive idea, the use of law enforcement as a political instrument, as a weapon to attempt to undo election results, shame opponents, and ruin lives. Most Americans have never heard of these raids, or of the lengthy criminal investigations of Wisconsin conservatives. For good reason. Bound by comprehensive secrecy orders, conservatives were left to suffer in silence as leaks ruined their reputations, as neighbors, looking through windows and dismayed at the massive police presence, the lights shining down on targets’ homes, wondered, no doubt, What on earth did that family do? This was the on-the-ground reality of the so-called John Doe investigations, expansive and secret criminal proceedings that directly targeted Wisconsin residents because of their relationship to Scott Walker, their support for Act 10, and their advocacy of conservative reform.
And here is George Will on Hillary’s view of the First Amendment, from a speech April 15, 2015:
Free speech has never been, in the history of our republic, more comprehensively, aggressively and dangerously threatened than it is now. The Alien and Sedition Acts arose from a temporary, transitory fever and were in any case sunsetted and disappeared. The fevers after and during the First World War and in the early culture war era also were eruptions of distemper rooted in local conditions and local issues bound to disappear, which they did.
Today’s attack is different. It’s an attack on the theory of freedom of speech. It is an attack on the desirability of free speech and indeed if listened to carefully and plumbed fully, what we have today is an attack on the very possibility of free speech. The belief is that the First Amendment is a mistake.…
Yesterday the Democratic Party, the oldest political party in the world, the party that guided this country through two world wars and is more responsible than any other for the shape of the modern American state — the Democratic Party’s leading and prohibitively favored frontrunner candidate for the presidential nomination announced four goals for her public life going forward, one of which is to amend the Bill of Rights to make it less protective. It’s an astonishing event. She said that she wants to change the First Amendment in order to further empower the political class to regulate the quantity, content and timing of political speech about the political class — and so far as I can tell there’s not a ripple of commentary about this on the stagnant waters of the American journalistic community.
A Hillary presidency promises a new round of no-knock raids on dissenters, of a ferocity and volume not seen in a century, since the infamous “Red Scare” no-knock raids on lefties and anarchists conducted after the end of World War I by then-Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer — this, mind you, in the administration of progressive icon Woodrow Wilson.
Granted, Trump’s First Amendment stance is unsettling to pundits, who benefit most from the virtual immunity from libel suits that the Supreme Court has given them. But at least — unlike totalitarian-minded Hillary — The Donald likely does believe in free speech.