By Brigitte L. Nacos
Donald Trump, as candidate and far more as the 45th US President, has relentlessly attacked news media and individuals therein for reporting critically on his and his administration’s politics and policies.
Reporting that the president does not like becomes “fake” news in White House jargon.
Trump has threatened to change the libel laws, presumably having the Supreme Court overturn the New York Times vs. Sullivan ruling that makes it next to impossible for public figures to prevail in libel actions against news organizations.
Trump should read a history book to get some sense of previous presidents’ experiences with the press. He would first of all learn that some earlier presidents had a much harder time with the press than he ever could imagine.
A good time to look at would be the 1790s and the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, both Federalists who were vilified constantly by the Republican presses of their times.
The most influential Republican (Anti-Federalist) paper was the Aurora in Philadelphia published and edited by Benjamin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin, who hired writers like William Duane and James Callender.
Bache and his newspaper, more than any other Republican newsman and press, were constant thorns in both presidents’ hide.
Bache described President George Washington’s “comportment as ‘that of a monarch,’ his governance as the ‘apish mimickry of kingship,’ his ‘pompous carriages, splendid feasts, and tawdry gowns’ and his encouragement of the public celebration of his birthday.”
Since Bache’s Aurora was very influential in that it informed the content of many other Republican newspapers around the country, Washington war quite upset—but instead of publicly venting his feeling, he did so in conversations with and letters to friends.
In one letter, Washington wrote, “If you read the Aurora of this city…you cannot but have perceived with what malignant industry, and persevering falsehoods I am assailed, in order to weaken, if not destroy, the confidence of the Public.”
After George Washington died, the Aurora commented,
“If ever a nation was debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by Washington.
If ever a nation has suffered from the improper influence of a man, the American nation has suffered from the influence of Washington.
If ever a nation has been deceived by a man, the American nation has been deceived by Washington.”