Trump Just Shocked Me
By David Henderson
Here’s Brendan Kirby reporting on a segment from President Donald Trump’s speech last night in West Virginia:
“You know, I’d rather have fake news like CNN,” he said, waving toward the bank of reporters in front of him. “I would rather have fake news — it’s true — than have anybody, including liberals, socialists, anything, than have anybody stopped and censored.”
Trump’s mention of CNN, a favorite foil, drew some groans. But Trump brushed them aside.
“We gotta live with it. We gotta get used to it,” he said. “We gotta live with fake news. There’s too many sources. Every one of us is sort of like a newspaper. You have Twitter. You have whatever you have. Facebook.”
“You can’t have censorship. You can’t pick one person and say, ‘Well, we don’t like what he’s been saying. He’s out.’ So, we’ll live with fake news,” he said. “I mean, I hate to say it. But we have no choice. Because that’s by far, the better alternative. We can’t have people saying, ‘censorship.’ Because you know what? It could turn around. It could be them next … We believe in the right of Americans to speak their minds.”
I was pleasantly surprised. This is actually quite a good pragmatic defense of free speech: we can’t trust the censors and one day the people we distrust will be the censors.
Of course, you could argue that Trump is kissing up to the media he hates because he wants them to go easy on him in his newly vulnerable position. There are two problems with that argument. First, read the quotes again or, even better, watch the video. It’s hard to conclude that he’s kissing up. Second, although I’m not sure how smart Trump is, I’m pretty sure he’s not that dumb. There’s no way, now that they smell blood in the water, that the media will go easy on him.
Moreover, as I said in a piece a few months ago, titled “He’s Good and Bad on Foreign Affairs, Good and Bad on the Economy:”
if Trump really wanted to follow through on his threatened censorship of television networks, he chose the wrong chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Ajit Pai is one of the most deregulatory officials in the Trump administration.
I also pointed out how a smart Donald Trump would really act if he wanted to squash the press. He would emulate Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Consider, by contrast, someone who effectively quashed radio criticism of his policies: Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, as University of Alabama historian David Beito has noted, President Roosevelt’s FCC put radio stations on a short leash by reducing the license-renewal period from three years to six months. He appointed Herbert L. Pettey as head of the commission. Pettey had been FDR’s radio adviser during his 1932 presidential campaign. Shortly after this licensing change, NBC announced that it would limit broadcasts “contrary to the policies of the United States government.” CBS went further, announcing an end to broadcasts “in any way” critical of “any policy of the Administration.” Who was more effective—the unsophisticated Trump threatening in public, or the warm and fuzzy (but ruthless and strategic) operator behind the scenes, Roosevelt? The record speaks for itself.