NY Times Finds Trump Threat to First Amendment, Yet Downplays Anti-Trump Free-Speech Denial in San Jose

June 4th, 2016 7:31 PM

What’s the real danger to the First Amendment? Trump! the New York Times shouts in its Saturday lead. Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak gathered up opinions from left and right for “Trump Declarations Seen As Threat to Rule of Law -- Scholars Finds Disregard for Constitutional Rights in Remarks That Raise Alarm." Yet after going after Trump in its lead story for disrespecting the First Amendment, another story on Saturday’s front page dismissed the recent violent attacks on the First Amendment rights of Trump supporters to peaceably assemble.

Donald J. Trump’s blustery attacks on the press, complaints about the judicial system and bold claims of presidential power collectively sketch out a constitutional worldview that shows contempt for the First Amendment, the separation of powers and the rule of law, legal experts across the political spectrum say.

Even as much of the Republican political establishment lines up behind its presumptive nominee, many conservative and libertarian legal scholars warn that electing Mr. Trump is a recipe for a constitutional crisis.

Yet given that Trump’s likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton wants the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in support of free political speech for all overturned, perhaps there’s not just one candidate in the race who “disregards constitutional rights” like the First Amendment. In 2010’s Citizens United vs. FEC, the Court lifted the ban on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, ruling the spending was protected by the First Amendment, to the dismay of Democrats and the New York Times. (President Obama also classlessly attacked the Supreme Court over its decision as they sat before him during a State of the Union Address.)

The libertarian Cato Institute earned a rare trip into the NYT’s good graces as it attacked the Republican nominee.

“Who knows what Donald Trump with a pen and phone would do?” asked Ilya Shapiro, a lawyer with the libertarian Cato Institute.

With five months to go before Election Day, Mr. Trump has already said he would “loosen” libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. He has threatened to sic federal regulators on his critics. He has encouraged rough treatment of demonstrators.

His proposal to bar Muslims from entry into the country tests the Constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom, due process and equal protection.


Other legal scholars said they were worried about Mr. Trump’s commitment to the First Amendment. He has taken particular aim at The Washington Post and its owner, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.

That same accusation could be lobbed at the Times itself, given its dim view of the First Amendment as shown in its excoriation of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

After going after Trump in its lead story for disrespecting the First Amendment, another front-page story dismissed the recent violent attacks on the First Amendment rights of Trump supporters in San Jose. Adam Rappeport and Nick Corasaniti reported under the useless headline “Passion Meets Fiery Oratory Of Campaigns.” The New York edition headline was slightly more specific: “Trump Rallies Attract Passion and Violence.” Only an online headline dabbled with the truth (“Anti-Trump Voices Amplify on Internet, With Violent Results”).

When Mathew Gonzales, a Latino musician from San Jose, heard that Donald J. Trump was coming to town, he knew he had to do something.

Unwilling to let the presumptive Republican nominee’s visit pass quietly, he created an event page on Facebook to organize a protest titled “Manda A Donald Trump A La Chingada” -- Spanish for “Send Donald Trump to Hell.”

Two days later, Mr. Gonzales, and more than 100 other protesters who visited his page, arrived at the arena in San Jose where Mr. Trump would be speaking and jeered his supporters through a megaphone. The taunting at Thursday night’s rally turned violent, with some of Mr. Trump’s backers beaten and “Make America Great Again” hats set on fire.

The Times had many photos to choose from to show such anti-Trump violence, including the woman in a Trump T-shirt surrounded by Mexican flag-waving chanters who pelted her with eggs, but it chose a small photo of a burning Trump cap and a stare-down between a Trump supporter and a protester.

The paper took care to blame absolutely no one on the left. In fact, the term “left” doesn’t even appear in the story. One can hardly imagine a story on right-wing violence against Hillary Clinton supporters leaving off an ideological label.

While Mr. Trump has blamed paid “disrupters” and operatives from Hillary Clinton’s and Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaigns for such protests in the past, the violence at this rally and the protest that inspired it appeared spontaneous and not directed by Democrats or other groups. Instead, it was more the product of independent local efforts that caught fire through social media.


Mr. Gonzales’s group was one of many that arrived on Thursday to express disapproval of Mr. Trump, who has angered many critics with proposals they consider to be anti-immigrant. While protest organizers and attendees said that violence was not their intention, clashes with Mr. Trump’s supporters have become increasingly common.

The disturbances are the result of a combustible mix: the passion of the anti-Trump movement and, on the other side, the often fiery oratory of Mr. Trump himself, who at a rally this year in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, went so far as to urge his supporters to “knock the crap” out of protesters at the event.

The Times took a benign look at the violence-makers.

According to those who attended, the several hundred people outside Mr. Trump’s rally were a mix of immigrants’ rights groups, union workers, members of nonprofit organizations and individuals who wanted to voice their concerns.

The attacks on Mr. Trump’s supporters could have some political benefit for the presumptive Republican nominee, whose backers have been accused of being unruly at his events during the campaign. Embracing the role of the victim, Mr. Trump has been able to paint his critics as the ones sullying the democratic discourse.

The protests are also problematic for Democrats. Mrs. Clinton, who has accused Mr. Trump of inciting violence in the past, faced the awkward situation of having to denounce the actions of people speaking out against her likely opponent in the general election.

The reporters carefully drained the left-wing content out of the protest, blaming it on possibly “a few local gang members.”

The precise cause for the violence on Thursday night remains unclear. Some protesters claimed that supporters of Mr. Trump instigated it, while others who were there said the violence was escalated by the sudden presence of a few local gang members.