The title may cause readers to think this is strictly about the half baked book by Michael Wolff on the Trump Administration. That is already being debunked by even some liberal sources like the Washington Post which has been finding errors on every page. The only criticism I would make is that too much is being said about it and that makes sales of the book go up. The old adage that “Get banned in Boston if you want a best seller” holds true.
The concern here is the interpretation by the courts of the First Amendment that people with a public position are fair game for the spreading of information whether true or untrue. This has been going on for some time and the first I became aware of it was with the entertainment media.
Back in the late seventies my wife Carolyn and I were privileged to host Elizabeth Taylor several times when her husband John Warner was running for the U.S. Senate here in Virginia. We found Elizabeth a very open person and easy to talk with and there was one question I had to ask.
I had seen a number of covers on Super Market magazines with stories hinting of scandals and Elizabeth Taylor was a popular subject. I had heard that Hollywood stars did not mind that sort of thing as bad publicity was still good publicity as long as it kept their name in the news. I had to ask Elizabeth if this was true in her case.
“No, it can really hurt” she replied. She went on to tell us how in one story the cover headline announced “Elizabeth Taylor is slowly killing her mother.” As it turned out the story was about how her mom worried about her daughter’s health and travels. Elizabeth went on to relate that in the United Kingdom you could not get away with such stories. She had sued successfully 15 times, winning each. “I did not need or want the money” she confided. “I just wanted a retraction. That is not possible in the United States.”
These kind of distortions about Elizabeth were not just prevalent in magazines. Books have done the same thing. There is a biography of Elizabeth Taylor by an author known for penning page turners about celebrities with as much dirt as possible. In one story she described an argument between Elizabeth and John during a political gathering locally here in the Roanoke Valley. One that had her storming off and not returning. We were there with other friends and no such thing happened.
Now I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment and the idea of freedom of speech. I also know I do not have the right to go into a theater showing a film and shout “FIRE” if there is no fire. I could be rightfully arrested for that because of the possible danger to public safety.
Today we see people in the liberal media distributing fake news with every opportunity they can find. They have done every thing they possibly can to see the presidency of Donald Trump fail. The Michael Wolff book makes a case that every one around the president, including family, think he is not competent and not smart. He is fair game for such fake news. People with common sense know that a man who was an honor student in college, became a billionaire, was a success on TV and able to get elected president is no small potatoes. The success with our economy alone should erase such ideas.
Of course not being a born politician Donald Trump believes in fighting back and he makes ample use of Twitter for this. This is also not news as when Ronald Raegan was president his competence and ability to lead was often called into question. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil labeled President Ragean as an “amiable dunce.” Reagan made ample use of television to go over the heads of congressional critics and the media. In this digital age Donald Trump is only doing what many wish they could do to protect themselves.
While our president can protect himself, you have to wonder about so many others in government, business. the entertainment world and elsewhere who have found untrue criticism in the media too much to handle. The definition of what people are not exempt from untrue news keeps broadening. This sort of thing is even happening on college campuses where conservative teachers have found themselves under attack by student publications using the First Amendment as their defense even when not telling the truth.
There is no easy answer here and we can only wish that someday common sense will find a solution to protect us all from such attacks.