by Walter Brasch
If Donald Trump should become president, don’t expect his administration to be a transparent one or one that tolerates dissent and believes in the First Amendment.
At his campaign rallies, even those held at public venues, he forbids, according to his press advisories, “homemade signs, banners, professional cameras with a detachable lens, tripods, monopods, selfie sticks, back packs or large bags.”
The restriction on “professional cameras” is targeted to the media. Apparently, he doesn’t want unflattering pictures of him and his extra large baggage mouth to get to the public, although he is adept at positioning himself in front of the media for every possible story angle. If he were president, he would not have a choice of who can and cannot photograph him, because the First Amendment guarantees that public officials cannot invoke a “prior restraint,” which is what a restriction on photography would be.
Why he doesn’t want “back packs or large bags” is probably because he fears weapons at his rallies. Of course, he has said numerous times that he believes in the Second Amendment right to own and carry weapons, even assault weapons like the handguns and semi-automatic assault rifles that were used to kill 26 at the Sandy Hook elementary school, the 14 killed in San Bernardino, and the 49 killed in an Orlando nightclub.
Not allowing the public to make signs and banners is such a huge violation of the First Amendment that even the most rabid conservatives, and every judge—no matter what their judicial or political philosophy is—would laugh themselves silly at Trump’s belief that as a president he could control the message, like he is doing as a candidate.
Trump also revoked the press credentials of several newspapers, including the Washington Post and the Des Moines Register, solely because he and his combed-over ego believe the publications didn’t treat him fairly or that they were inaccurate in coverage. If he were to become president, such restriction would also be unconstitutional because having a thin skin is not a reason to deny press credentials.
Access to a president is critical for White House reporters. Legally, Trump may decide not to grant interviews or to allow certain reporters to accompany him on Air Force One, placing those he believes are unfriendly to him to a trailing press plane. To gain access, reporters may compromise their reporting.
Trump follows the practices of Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Nixon not only had an enemies list, but he also unleashed numerous unconstitutional First Amendment violations against dissenters and the media, including numerous “dirty tricks” against those opposing the war in Vietnam.
The Bush–Cheney administration established “free speech zones” as far as a mile from where either Bush or Cheney were speaking. These zones were to keep dissenters and their signs and banners away from the media, most of which followed the president and vice-president, and ran stories and photos of friendly audiences, while not venturing off to write about and photograph the large crowds that disagreed with the administration’s policies.
Trump will figure out how to skirt the First Amendment at his public speeches while crossing ethics guidelines.
In 1789, Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
The First Amendment protects not just freedom of the press and speech, but also the freedom of religion, the right of people to peacefully assemble and support or dissent from government policy, and the right to petition government to address grievances. Most public officials, while running for office demand adherence to the First Amendment, but once in office try to suppress some of the rights of the First Amendment. If elected, Trump would probably be among the top five of 45 presidents to try to control the media and violate the First Amendment.
[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist is also a First Amendment scholar and advocate who taught media law while a university professor. As a reporter, he wrote about Nixon illegally reviewing IRS returns of other reporters and those on his enemies list; the following year, “coincidentally,” his own IRS return was audited. He was also thrown out of a Dick Cheney re-election rally at a public university, although he had press credentials issued by the Republican National Committee. The latest of his 20 books, Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Welfare for Short-Term Economic Benefit, includes numerous case studies of government violating the First Amendment.]