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By Brian Nichols

With eight days remaining until President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, things have gotten a tad hairy in the world of the media, press, and intelligence.

On Tuesday, Buzzfeed News publish a controversial article, in which a dossier, supposedly compiled by a former British intelligence official, alleged that Russia has compromising information on Trump. In the article, Buzzfeed admits that the allegations are unverified and that their report contains errors, yet still decided on releasing the piece anyways. This sent the media, and the President-elect into a frenzy over “fake news.”

Despite Buzzfeed’s acknowledgment of the piece being unsubstantiated, their Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, argues that publishing the Trump dossier was “absolutely the right thing to do.”  In an appearance on MSNBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, Smith argued that, “…we are now in a media environment where you have to engage in false statements…This was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country.”

Upon the release of this dossier, CNN released it’s own report that stated there were classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump that included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.  While CNN’s report does not delve into the darker, salacious, and unsubstantiated aspects as Buzzfeed’s did, that did not stop the media outlet from facing the wrath of Trump, as witnessed in yesterday’s press conference at Trump Tower:

CNN’s Jim Acosta, in an attempt to respond to Trump’s attack on CNN and their reporting, attempted several times to defend his organization by insistently requesting Trump take a question from him.  However, as discovered in the above video, Trump was having none of it, and instead lambasted Acosta and CNN by labeling them as “Fake News”.

The issue of fake news has been a point of contention following the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.  From the promotion of the “Ted Cruz Sex Scandal”, “Rafael Cruz-JFK Assassination”, “PizzaGate”, and more, fake news has been often used as a means to discredit any information being put out by those not within the hierarchy of the mainstream media.

While there has indeed been a promotion of fake news, the mainstream media and liberals alike have often used the term “fake news” to attack a variety of right-wing news organizations and their publications of various stories.  Since the presidential election, many on the right have been defensive of their news organizations and the accusations of being label “fake news”.  However, with Trump’s use of the term “fake news” in an attack on CNN, those right-wingers who were quick to ignore the term have now embraced it, and ferociously at that.

However, as unpopular as it may be, I find it necessary to point out that having a President-elect labeling news organizations that he doesn’t agree with as “fake news” is an extremely dangerous precedent.

It is one thing to have individual citizens and organizations label news they disagree with as “fake news”, but it is an entirely different situation when the next Commander-in-Chief is making such accusations.  Yes, it is ironic to see Trump label CNN as “fake news”, but the weight behind these words cannot and should not be understated.

Fox News anchor Shepard Smith put it best in his response to Trump’s labeling of CNN as “fake news”, stating:

“President-elect Trump today [Wednesday] told CNN’s Jim Acosta that his organization amounts to fake news. CNN’s exclusive reporting on the Russian matter was separate and distinctly different from the document dump executed by an online news property [Buzzfeed].  Though we at Fox News cannot confirm CNN’s report, it is our observation that its correspondents followed journalistic standards.  Neither they, nor any other journalists, should be subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the president-elect of the United States.”

CNN, despite their faults, also had a strong and precise response to the President-elect’s comments, stating in a press release that:

CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than BuzzFeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos.  The Trump team knows this.  They are using BuzzFeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations.  We are fully confident in our reporting.  It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government; in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week.  We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report’s allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.”

And therein lays the true problem with Trump’s targeted attack of CNN:  The First Amendment.

The First Amendment states that there shall be “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Now, this is not to say that slander and libel are protected under the First Amendment (though many libertarians argue that hate speech, libel, and slander should in fact be protected speech), but it is important to differentiate between what CNN reported and what Buzzfeed reported.

CNN made it clear they were not going to publish the explosive claims that Buzzfeed recklessly decided to publish, and instead kept their reporting strictly based on the briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump.  These are two very different situations, and should be treated as such.

Trump’s attack on CNN is in fact an attack on the First Amendment, and it shouldn’t be brushed away as “Trump being Trump”.  During the eight-years under President Obama, Republicans and conservatives cried foul over Obama’s jabs at Fox News.  Yet Obama never went out of his way to label them as “fake news”.  The implications of being labeled fake news are very dangerous, especially with regards to the manner in which our Constitution is set up to protect the press so they may be able to openly and freely report on the happenings in government without fear of retribution.

While I find great fault in Buzzfeed’s reporting (as does several others in the media, including those within the MSM), it is important to differentiate Buzzfeed’s recklessness and the substantive reporting done by CNN.  Unless you are prepared to establish a precedence in which a President can begin the means to silence his detractors in the press, I suggest you do the same.

As feared, it now appears that lawmakers are now calling for the head of CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, following his contentious day with the President-elect.

About The Author

Brian Nichols

I graduated college with a B.A. in Political Science and have spent time working on several political campaigns, ranging from small, local elections to campaigns for United States Congress. I have a strong desire to share and discuss a libertarian perspective on today's pressing issues. In the meantime, I enjoy watching the Dallas Cowboys, reruns of The Office on Netflix, and going to the gym to become a swole bro. Feel free to follow me on Twitter for your daily dose of political snark and rapid-fire analysis!

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