‘Fake news’ attacks and terrible consequences

When I was a student journalist, the Nixon administration attempted to take interview notes from a story I did with a participant in the Sioux Indian takeover of a government building at Wounded Knee. I was being called as a witness in a trial. I resisted and was defended by the Reporter’s Committee for a Free Press and the ACLU.

The government argued that, as a student journalist, I did not have the protections afforded other working journalists. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark wrote the rules for getting journalist notes and weighed in by saying the rules applied to student journalists as well. The government dropped its efforts, and the student journalist protection still stands.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to attack a free press. The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by the Federalist Congress in 1798 and signed by President John Adams. The law made it illegal to publish “any false, scandalous and malicious writing against the president or Congress.” Publication of such remarks was determined to be high misdemeanors, punishable by fine and imprisonment.

The Supreme Court never weighed in on the acts’ constitutionality, but in 1964 Justice William Brennan, writing for the majority in New York Times vs. Sullivan said, “The attack upon its validity has carried the day in the court of history.”

We must look to who first used the term “fake news” and “enemy of the people” and the terrible consequences that followed. It was in the 1930s, in Germany.

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez



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