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Fake news and the First Amendment
February 27, 2017, 05:00 AM By Sue Lempert

In less than a month, it’s obvious that Trump’s presidency is a threat to freedom of the press. His freewheeling press conference earlier in the month was ample evidence. He demeaned or refused to call on reporters who had been critical. He told viewers to watch Fox News and not CNN. He blamed all unfavorable news coverage as fake news and said stories about Russia and his aides were a ruse. Later he tweeted that any negative polls are fake news and even worse that the press was the enemy of the people. As we all should know that’s how dictatorships get started. The first thing they do is muzzle the press.

Ironically, most of the fake news is coming from D.T. himself. I hate to repeat this stuff but here is a sample: 1). The numbers at his inauguration — not the most as he claimed but well under Obama’s historic turnout. 2). The largest number of electoral votes — not so. The 46th lowest. Reagan, Nixon, Johnson, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Obama received more. 3). Terrorist attack in Sweden. Never happened.

Trump lied his way into the presidency and there’s little hope he’s going to change now.


But what is fake news? It’s lies posing as news. Deliberate disinformation, hoaxes or propaganda pretending to be real news. Mostly on social media to drive web traffic. Some of these affected the election and they also presented a threat when a gunman inspired by false stories fired shots inside a pizza restaurant. A sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Clinton, helping Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.


Just as serious as the president’s lies (because his supporters believe them or don’t care) is his attack on our free press. Will reporters resort to self-censorship so as to not anger D.T. or lose funding? It already happened in San Antonio when a local commentator slammed Trump on a PBS station and his editor removed it from airing. It was only after local papers published the commentary did news of its suppression go public and viral. Meanwhile, the Republican-led Congress’ investigation about Michael T. Flynn’s forced resignation is more about leaked information to The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN then the real issue — did cohorts of the president discuss removal of sanctions with the Russians at his urging before and after the election. This could be the smoking gun — a la the Nixon tapes of Watergate.


With the lowest approval rating of all U.S. presidents in their first month in office, many who did not vote for Trump and even some who did are beginning to ask is there a way out? Can he be impeached for treasonable activities, conflict of interest, putting his business interests before the country’s, lying to the American people, etc.? Not likely with the Republican Congress or Senate whose members are willing to sacrifice America’s health ,welfare and security in return for corporate tax cuts and reduced regulations. Section 4 of the 25th Amendment provides that the Cabinet can by a simple majority vote to strip the president of his power and immediately hand power to the vice president. But that’s not likely to happen. It looks like we are stuck for four years.

But here’s what we can do. Make sure the Democrats regain control of the Senate and gain more seats in Congress during the mid-term elections. Very difficult to do with current gerrymandering. Democrats have more seats to lose than gain. Still money and effort needs to be poured into these races to increase turnout and educate voters. Don’t give up, feel too stressed to deal with bad news every morning. Keep up the protests, write letters, make calls, watch all the news you can and encourage your friends and family to do the same. You need to stay informed. And help our free press remain strong and vigilant by subscribing to The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time Magazine, the Economist and other mainstream media. And let The Wall Street Journal know you want real reporting and not fake news. Their news room is in turmoil with most of their great reporters threatened by corporate ownership to tone down anti-Trump stories.


The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Let’s protect our freedoms and keep reminding Congress of our grievances.”

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at



Tags: press, trump, congress, about, reporters, their,

Other stories from today:

Guest perspective: Immigration and our nation’s laws
Letter: Congrats to San Bruno for considering recreation needs
Fake news and the First Amendment

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