President Trump bemoaned what he said were attacks on conservative college students’ freedom of speech during a White House event Thursday, saying that their First Amendment rights are “under siege.”
Just a day earlier, when Trump was in Ohio for a speech at a manufacturing plant, he singled out the press as he often does and called it “fake and phony and corrupt.”
“It is encouraging that the president is supporting free speech on public universities, but it’s also highly ironic that he simultaneously criticizes the media who do their work under the blanket protection of that very same amendment,” said Clay Calvert, a journalism professor at the University of Florida and director of its First Amendment Project.
The president signed an executive order Thursday to withhold federal funds from universities found to restrict free speech on campus. While the guidelines — which have not yet been written — would ostensibly cover all types of speech, the impetus for the president’s actions was stories of conservative speakers being silenced. He first announced his plans at the Conservative Political Action Conference confab a few weeks ago.
“Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces and trigger warnings . . . universities have shut down the voices of great Americans like those who are here today,” Trump said Thursday to an audience that included some of the students who have said their speech was silenced.
But freedom of speech is not the only component of the First Amendment. The law also includes four other freedoms, including freedom of the press.
Throughout his candidacy and presidency, Trump has denigrated the press, suggesting the government open up libel laws to make it easier to sue media and rescinding temporarily press credentials of a reporter he doesn’t like. Along with targeting the press, Trump has also threatened to have the federal government “look into” “Saturday Night Live” for its political satire.
Democrats have also questioned whether Trump has sought to use his office to punish companies associated with CNN and The Washington Post. Trump had promoted blocking AT&T from purchasing Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, and he wanted the U.S. Postal Service to increase shipping costs for Amazon, whose chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, also owns The Post.
“It would be laughable,” Katy Glenn Bass, research director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, said of Trump’s focus on the First Amendment, “but it’s too serious for it to be laughable.”