IMMEDIATE RELEASE 28 May 2020WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUNDToday’s Events in Historical PerspectiveAmerica’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932Donald Trump vs. John AdamsBy Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift WASHINGTON – The next best thing to unregulated social media for President Donald Trump is an FCC regulation that legitimizes lawlessness and allows him to be the biggest, baddest gunslinger on the wild, wild Internet, saying and writing whatever he pleases regardless of truth or consequences. It is the opposite of what John Adams did as president in 1798 by signing the Alien & Sedition Acts. The sedition portion allowed him to prosecute his nemesis gunslingers – newspaper editors – who wrote whatever they pleased. Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin and editor of a newspaper in Philadelphia, invited his ire describing him “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams.” An editor in Richmond, Virginia, was jailed under the act for nine months and fined $200 for writing that Adams “never opened his lips, or lifted his pen, without threatening and scolding . . . and destroy every man who differs from his opinions.” Incendiary rhetoric for the time. Considered an affront to the First Amendment right to free speech and press, the Sedition Act was cast aside when the next president, Thomas Jefferson, took office. On the opposite extreme, and just as wrong, is Trump, who is ramping up his campaign of grievances by signing an executive order threatening Facebook, Google, and Twitter with government regulation for allegedly attempting to silence him. Trump is angry because Twitter placed a tag on some of his tweets to warn viewers they contain false information about voting by mail. Without any evidence to back him up, Trump claims that widespread voting by mail would open the door to fraud. He told Fox News in March that if there is universal voting by mail, “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Social media is not regulated like traditional media because it does not edit content, and therefore does not play the role of publishers. Even so, harking back to the Sedition Act, the 1964 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and 1967 Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts Supreme Court cases mostly shielded the media from defamation suits for libel or slander by public officials and public figures. The Washington Post, for example, just published a book documenting the tens of thousands of lies uttered by Trump since he took office. With this executive order, Trump is challenging the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to take action against social media. He has figured out that as long as Twitter is the Wild West, he benefits. He wants to keep it lawless and unregulated, so he is asking the FCC to regulate against regulation – to rule against what Twitter has done by placing a warning label on his content. There is so much more of Trump’s false and scandalous tweeting that should be taken down, like the smears he has been posting about the death of a young woman in 2001 who he claims with no evidence was murdered by a talk show host whom he regards as an enemy. The social media companies apologized to the woman’s widower but declined to respect his wishes to take down the injurious commentary. Social media companies are reluctant to play the arbiters of truth, but that is a lame leg to stand on after we saw what happened in 2016. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, initially said it was “crazy” to think Russians used Facebook to help elect Trump. The evidence said otherwise, up to and including the payments Facebook accepted that were made in rubles. Twitter has taken a first step in drawing the line at Trump spreading misinformation about voting by mail because it suggests a calculated effort to undermine confidence in the upcoming presidential election. If the race is close and Trump is looking for a way to contest the results, he appears to be laying the groundwork to claim the election was rigged. In the end, both Adams was wrong and Trump is wrong. Adams sought to stop the media from attacking him, whereas Trump is seeking to stop the media from interfering with his attacks. Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency. Twitter: @douglas_cohn © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc. Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
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