by John Steinberger | December 31, 2018 5:25 pm
I want to start out by thanking Representative Mark Sanford for his years of public service. I voted for him every time his name was in the ballot from 1994 to 2018. He was a staunch fiscal conservative and a model for accessibility to the voters and transparency on his voting decisions. However, his Facebook page rant on December 26 unfairly criticized President Donald Trump for threatening a free press. There is nothing in our First Amendment that prevents an elected official or anyone else from criticizing the media. President Obama frequently went after Fox News and talk radio and was never accused of interfering with a free press.
James Madison, the framer of our Constitution, wrote in the Federalist Papers, “For people to rule wisely, they must be free to think and speak without fear of reprisal.” That intent has been followed by the Trump Administration. The government has not silenced any media outlets or sent the IRS after those who disagree with administration policies. We all remember the IRS targeting political opponents during the Tea Party movement from 2009 to 2012. Filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was actually imprisoned on a minor campaign finance violation after releasing a documentary critical of President Obama.
Sanford specifically takes issue with President Trump’s use of the term “fake news.” Trump never said all media were fake, but he frequently goes after media like CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post, which often unfairly cover the results of Trump Administration policies. We have historically low unemployment at 3.7% and American manufacturing is surging for the first time in decades. Consumer confidence is extremely high, and Christmas sales increased 5.1% from 2017 levels. The economy will grow at more than 3% this year for the first time since 2005. A study by the Media Research Center revealed that 92% of the ABC, NBC and CBS coverage on Trump is unfavorable. That usually bleeds over onto local news coverage.
The Founding Fathers envisioned a robust media with varying points of view. That does not describe today’s media. You can look at reporting from several different outlets on a particular topic, such as the current partial government shutdown, and the reports will all look the same and include the same talking points. Political debates are often unfair, because media panelists ask biased questions. In the first Republican Presidential Primary debate in 2015, the Fox News moderators all took shots at candidate Trump. In the only debate for Sanford’s 1st Congressional District seat, Democrat Joe Cunningham, who will replace Sanford on January 3, wasn’t asked any questions about tax policy, impeachment, the military or foreign policy.
The media is free to criticize elected officials, fairly or unfairly, and so to may elected officials (or anyone else) criticize the media. The rise of talk radio, social media and blogs give more voices an opportunity to be heard. If you don’t like the news coverage on the major networks, there are other outlets to tune-in, including live-streaming on the internet. If you don’t like your local newspaper, you can read blogs like Lowcountry Source. We have exactly what Madison envisioned.
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