The media is having a cow over Donald Trump. They’re worried that the President Elect is not going to stand by the time-honored tradition of allowing the press full access to the White House or, even worse, that he’s going to blacklist them, as he did to the Washington Post and others during the election.
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour took the press corps’ Trumpphobia a loony step further last week, saying the former real estate mogul represents an “existential threat” to the media. She’s apparently fearful that they’re all going to end up “in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prison … and then who knows?” Here is my advice: Take a Xanax, Christiane.
Not to be outdone, the New York Times is afraid that rich people are going to drown the media in frivolous libel suits. No kidding. In Billionaires vs. the Press in the Era of Trump, Emily Bazelon tries to make a case for a Trump-led legal assault on America’s much heralded freedom of the press.
While I agree that holding the federal government accountable is laudable, it looks to me like the media elite have their heads so far up their biased behinds that they can’t see that many Americans are far more concerned about holding them accountable. Ironically, that’s exactly what much of the litigation sited in Bazelon’s story is about.
This isn’t some mass conspiracy dreamed up by Trump and his powerful friends to squelch the media and turn our nation into a police state. On the contrary, it’s an attempt by a few courageous individuals to stop journalists (I’m being kind here) with questionable ethics from hiding behind some twisted, self-serving interpretation of the First Amendment.
Bazelon complains that this “manipulation of the law” is happening at a bad time for the press, which she sees as a victim suffering from “falling revenue” and “mounting public disaffection.” No wonder. A 2015 Gallup survey found that just 40% of the public trust the media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.”
Funny that the coastal elites who run America’s vaunted media machine never even stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, there’s good reason for that mistrust. The question on the minds’ of many if not most Americans is, if the media is supposed to keep Washington honest, then who’s going to keep the media honest?
In any case, let’s take a closer look at the libel suits that Bazelon points to as evidence of a Trump-led billionaire legal assault intent on eroding America’s free press.
First we have Hulk Hogan’s $140 million verdict that ultimately put Gawker Media out of business. In posting a secret sex tape of Hogan, Gawker publisher Nick Denton apparently took a calculated risk that a First Amendment defense would trump invasion of privacy and defamation claims. Also that he had a bigger war chest than Hogan.
What he didn’t count on was billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel changing the equation and bankrolling the suit. All Denton had to do to avoid his demise was to take down the sex tape, but he arrogantly refused, and now he’s bankrupt. What bearing that has on the media’s noble pursuit of government oversight, I have no idea.
Meanwhile, a jury found that Rolling Stone and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely defamed University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo in “A Rape on Campus,” a story that turned out to be more fiction than fact, and awarded her $3 million in damages. I’m still searching for the billionaire bully in the story. If you find one, be sure to let me know.
Next up is a libel suit between Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot and left-leaning Mother Jones over “Pyramid-Like Company Ponies Up $1 Million for Mitt Romney.” Mother Jones won the suit, but the judge partially supported VanderSloot’s claim and admonished the online site for “mudslinging” in her written opinion.
In addition, the current version of the article has been amended to include, get this, five paragraphs or 334 words of updates and corrections. While VanderSloot’s suit could not overcome the high bar of willful malice in the case of libel against a public figure, the initial story clearly had more than a few inaccuracies, to say the least.
Bazelon complains that the trial cost Mother Jones $2.5 million to defend, but misses the point that the site probably could have avoided litigation by employing some journalistic integrity instead of rank political bias.
Which brings us to Trump. The only media-related libel suit that Trump actually did file in the past 30 years was against Univision over its cancelling of the Miss Universe pageant. They settled out of court. He also sued author Tim O’Brien over his book, “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” and lost. O’Brien did work for the Times at the time, but that had nothing to do with the suit.
All this fear-mongering is just another example of why Americans distrust the media. Instead of attacking and being fearful of a movement they clearly don’t understand, media elites should take a good hard look in the mirror and consider that maybe they’re the problem and Trump is the solution, not the other way around.