Even before he was elected, we tired of Donald Trump’s sophomoric verbal jabs at the news media.
Journalists, being human, are no more immune to making mistakes than people in any other profession.
But Trump, rather than complain about errors, indulges in the fantasy that the media is engaged in a grand conspiracy against his administration.
The president’s inane claims of “fake news” insult the people whose reporting, no matter the president’s distaste for the topics journalists cover, is a model of reality (not to mention civility) compared with some of Trump’s Twitter diatribes.
And yet, we recognize that there is a distinct difference between a president’s words regarding journalism, and a president’s actions.
Which is why we were a bit surprised to read that a literary and human rights organization whose members include journalists has filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging that he has “violated the First Amendment and his oath to uphold the Constitution.”
The plaintiff is the PEN American Center.
Its complaint states that “President Trump has First Amendment rights and is free to criticize the press vehemently, but he is not free to use the power and authority of the United States government to punish and stifle it.”
PEN’s chief executive officer, Suzanne Nossel, said “there is widespread concern that the president is actually extracting reprisals on the media for coverage he considers unfavorable.”
The lawsuit cites Trump’s threatening antitrust action against Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post.
Our surprise about the lawsuit stems from one simple issue — President Barack Obama’s actions against journalists, and against their potential sources for information potentially embarrassing to his administration, were greater threats to the media’s ability to report accurately than Trump’s words have been.
Yet PEN America never sued Obama.
Not after his Justice Department subpoenaed phone records for almost 100 reporters and editors from The Associated Press, a move the venerable newsgathering business branded as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into journalism.
Not after his administration prosecuted three times as many whistleblowers and leakers than all previous presidents combined.
Not after administration officials contended there was probable cause to believe a Fox News reporter was a “criminal co-conspirator” against the U.S. because he was gathering information about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
We point this out not because we condone Trump’s offensive and unfair statements and tweets.
As we noted above, we find many of his comments reprehensible. Some of them, such as calling for CNN President Jeff Zucker to be fired, might even be legally actionable.
But PEN America’s righteous indignation rings hollow in our ears when it follows the silence that reigned during the Obama administration.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.