Is the First Amendment disgusting?


"It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should look into it."

Those words were not spoken by a dictator of a foreign nation. They were spoken by the president of the United States.

Donald Trump made the statement recently in the Oval Office while denying an NBC News report that claimed he asked to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal tenfold. Trump later added, "Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked."

Predictably, there was some backlash to Trump's comments from the media and First Amendment advocates.

Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said, "The founders of our nation set as a cornerstone of our democracy the First Amendment, forever enshrining and protecting freedom of the press."

Predictably, there was also some political fallout. On the night that Trump made the remarks, Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, said, "Words spoken by the president of the United States matter. Are you tonight recanting the oath you took on 20 January to preserve, protect and defend the First Amendment?"

The public, meanwhile, yawned.

There were no fiery protests, no demonstrations, no one marching in the streets with signs saying, "The First Amendment matters."

The public, for the most part, shrugged.

And although we have not seen any polling on the topic, we suspect that many in Trump's supportive base cheered the remarks.

Sadly, the public's perception of the media seems to have boiled down to the buzz words, "fake news." They nod their heads in agreement when Trump says the media is the "enemy of the people," that reporters and their news organizations are "pathetic," "very dishonest," "failing" or a "pile of garbage."

When Trump uses a broad brush to paint any news story or negative comment about him as fake news, the average citizen doesn't seem to care. When legitimate news organizations call Trump out for making false statements — something he's done more than 1,300 times since taking office, according to the Washington Post's Fact Checker — the average citizen brushes it off as politics.

Sadly, the negative perception of the media has filtered down to the local level. A few times in the last few months, when we published something a reader didn't like, we've been accused of printing fake news — any explanation to the contrary didn't matter.

It wasn't always this way. Eleven years ago, the coordinator for the Douglas County Board wanted to see any story the newspaper printed about the Douglas County Board before it was published. If we didn't comply, the county threatened to put all county employees under a gag order to discourage anyone from talking to us.

The average Douglas County citizen saw right through this, recognizing it as a direct assault on the freedom of the press. The newspaper told the county that it would continue to report the news, without the county's editing. We received a flood of letters of support. The KXRA Open Line program also received a surge of phone calls from people upset with the county coordinator who came up with the idea.

The request to see the news before readers did was quickly withdrawn. It was a great example of staunch public support for the media in general and First Amendment rights in particular.

This raises a chilling question: Would the public's support be as strong today?

How that question is answered is a tell-tale sign of how much people value the First Amendment and whether they will speak up or shrug when someone, even the president of the United States, threatens to undermine it.

(Alexandria Echo Press editorials represent the opinion of the Echo Press Editorial Board, which includes Editor Jeff Beach, Publisher Jody Hanson and News/Opinion Editor Al Edenloff)