Media Matters' Angelo Carusone Explains How Trump's Legal Threats Against Media Will Have A "Chilling Effect On ... Speech"
Carusone: News Companies "Will Necessarily Self-Censor" To Avoid "Not Just Legal Threats, But Actual Litigation From Donald Trump"
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From CBC News on March 5:
ANDREW NICHOLS (HOST): Alright, so Angelo, I know that you are no stranger to [Donald] Trump's intimidation tactics. We've heard Donald Trump say that the media are the worst group of liars he's ever seen. He's even suggesting suing them, which raises some concerns that Mitt Romney's raised about First Amendment rights being at risk here. Now, I understand that he threatened you and your group with a lawsuit in 2013 because you were petitioning Macy's to drop his brand for his efforts in the Obama birther movement, suggesting that Obama wasn't born in the United States. Do you think -- what was that like?
ANGELO CARUSONE: In that case, I was both working at Media Matters and I was actually conducting the campaign against Macy's on my own, in my own personal capacity. And I think the effect of that, even that legal threat, is very significant in terms of what that could actually mean for the news media. Because when when I got that legal threat for a $25 million lawsuit on Christmas Eve, the intention was to get me to stop talking about Donald Trump and the efforts publicly. And what the effect of that was, was either I could have just followed the suit, the threat, and stopped completely, or if I wanted to continue to engage in my public efforts, I needed to make sure that I had legal counsel, enough resources or, donated or otherwise, to sustain a protracted legal fight against Donald Trump. And what that actually meant was it took about three months to marshal both the legal resources necessary, the support needed to continue to conduct those efforts, and in that time period, there was a real, meaningful chilling effect on my speech and on my conduct. Now, thankfully, I didn't just, you know, stop and go home, but still the effect is chilling. And I think that even the mere threat that Donald Trump puts out there against news companies, they'll have the same effect. They will necessarily self-censor, they'll not want to deal with not just legal threats, but actual litigation from Donald Trump. Even frivolous lawsuits can cost these companies, who are already sort of struggling to meet the bottom line, a lot of money. And that's partly what is motivating the,sort of, the intense coverage around him, too. On the opposite end of that spectrum, one of the reasons why Trump is getting all of his stump speeches covered live on cable news every single day, unlike any other candidate, is because of the entertainment value that is there -- or at least how they characterize it -- the ratings, and then the potential for them to commercialize that. The head of CBS even said that, that Donald Trump is bad for American but he's good for CBS. And I think they all really believe that.
NICHOLS: Okay, so Angelo, what did you think of that? This is interesting, I know that you are from a left-leaning watchdog. This is Fox News that is actually -- they've come up with big graphics saying here are the facts, you're wrong, sir, your numbers just don't add up.
CARUSONE: Yeah, that was actually a rather extraordinary moment, because you typically don't associate facts and Fox News. But there is a very significant reason as to why Fox News can sort of be a little bit more aggressive there than, say, some of the other channels. Part of what I think is affecting, say, some of the coverage, at least in terms of facts and challenging him, is less an issue of the chilling effect right now, but more a question of access. And, you know, news programs, media companies, reporters, they know that if they push Donald Trump too hard, he'll simply deny them access going forward, as he has done so far throughout this cycle. And yet, Fox News is sort of positioned very well in that sense because, while he may fight individual personalities and hosts, and there has certainly been a lot of friction between Donald Trump and Fox News, sort of a power tussle over that very core right-wing constituency in America since this campaign has unfolded, there is still a symbiotic relationship there and Donald Trump can only go so far. And what that means, is that you can get, say, a Chris Wallace, who gets up there and actually presents the facts to Donald Trump and forces him to confront them in front of a live, national audience. Now, in some ways, he's inoculated from blowback there, because at least the core part of his base right now is sort of steeped in a universe where facts don't really matter. They live in an alternative universe where everybody is lying to them about everything, and so you don't have to believe anything that is being told to you. But that is a pretty good model for journalists going forward, is to sort of adapt that and force Donald Trump to confront the facts, not just the bigotry and the vitriol that he is putting out there, but the actual misinformation that, sort of, you know, his campaign is built on top of.