This presidential election has been one for the books. Never before have we seen this kind of media coverage and mudslinging – or US citizens eating it up. One particular candidate got our attention a couple of weeks ago – Donald Trump.
On Feb. 26, the real estate mogul, who is also running for president in this year’s election, claimed he was going to, “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,”: our, being the United States of America, and they being the media; Trump specifically cited the Washington Post and the New York Times.
Trump really has trumped himself this time.
Trump is best known for his work in real estate, finances and reality TV, of which he has over a decade of experience in. He has also flirted with the idea of being in the White House before; Trump gathered a committee to pursue the idea of him running in the 2000 election, but nothing came of it. His experience with the media is also not limited.
In this election alone, reports claim Trump is on a first name basis with several reporters currently covering his campaign. Not to mention the type of press his rallies get – for every person that’s injured, another report gets written; for every goal he doesn’t explain a plan for, another broadcast is shot; don’t even start on who is endorsing him. But is Trump really oblivious to what’s going on? We think not, because whether or not you’re tweeting your frustration or reading the latest poll, all of that press is free of charge to Trump.
What about that press, though, can Trump take away its power? To the dismay of some, the answer is no.
First, libel laws. Libel is a published, false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; slander is false information that is said. Both, however, communicate false information to a third party. Libel laws specifically are not federally controlled; libel laws are hammered out according to the states. So when Trump claims journalists “have it coming,” he’s talking about something beyond his control.
For argument’s sake, let’s say he gets that far. The hypothetical Trump president calls for a rewriting of the first amendment, which is the only one constitutionally protecting our profession. There are two ways.
First, Congress proposes an amendment with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, also known as a supermajority vote; this would require about 67 out of the 100 votes in the Senate and about 290 out of 435 votes from the House. A prime example of this kind of vote is impeaching a president, which has only happened twice in the 240 years we have been a country.
Second, a constitutional convention would have to be called by two-thirds of the state legislatures, or about 33 states. None of the 27 amendments have ever been proposed by constitutional convention.
The first amendment also protects more than a United States citizen’s (not just the media) right to free speech; it protects the right to assemble, practice religion and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. What will happen to these rights should the first amendment get proposed?
Thirdly, per journalistic standards, Trump is seen as a public figure and is not subject to the same type of privacy respects your next-door neighbor would be. For literal decades he has been in the media discussing development plans, sharing the inner workings of his companies and introducing us to his family. His right to privacy also dramatically decreased when he announced his running for president. The media hailstorm that followed is to be expected; many American people want to know who’s running for office and things like his private life and plans to build a wall become that much more interesting.
As college journalists, we are being taught by knowledgeable, seasoned journalists. Ethics, writing techniques, camera shots; most of our fundamental tools are being mastered in the classroom. Arguably one of the most important things we are getting taught? Get both sides of the story. So when the Arka Tech staff sees Trump’s allegations to media giants like the Washington Post and the New York Times, it hits home.
The New York Times code of ethics is built on fairness, integrity and truth. Their guidelines read, “staff members who plagiarize or who knowingly or recklessly provide false information for publication betray our fundamental pact with our readers. We do not tolerate such behavior.” If journalists don’t expect this kind of behavior from other journalists, should we really expect this kind of behavior from a wannabe president who is making a promise he can’t keep?
Our answer is a resounding no. The United States media wasn’t engrained into the foundations of our government for the sole purpose of being the fourth estate, the “watch dog.” We are the people who hold people like Trump accountable for his actions. We, like him, ask the questions everyone wants to hear; why would you not pledge loyalty to your own party? How is a project like massive deportation going to work? Why president, and why now?
Watching Trump’s campaign has been like watching a slow car crash we know is going to end badly. He will keep talking and people will keep responding. But we know that however the race ends, we will stick to the core values taught to us in hopes of changing the future of journalism, with or without Trump.