On the first debate night of the presidential campaign in Cleveland, OH, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked then-Republican candidate Donald Trump something that made his stomach churn.
“Does calling women you do not like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals’…sound like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
He responded with a tantrum of interjections, including a threat. “I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me,” he said.
Trump has threatened current and future journalists with libel, too. According to New York Times’ writer, Sydney Embers, Trump does have potential to change libel laws. He can modify them through the Supreme Court or the Constitution, which could make journalists more vulnerable to libel lawsuits.
Dual degree journalism major, Nick Tantillo, 25, disagreed. “It sounds like [Trump] is just sounding the dog whistle.”
Embers argues if Trump receives support needed to overturn the 1964 NYT vs. Sullivan case, a ruling that mandated evidence of “actual malice” to confirm libel, media conglomerates in New York and California could fight for protection at the state level.
But, journalism minor Mercedes Ortiz, 26, thinks that since journalists have called Trump out on his bigotry, Trump is retaliating against them. “[Modifying libel] is only the first step. He will take away the first amendment,” she said.
But as Jim Rutenberg pointed out in the Times, Trump’s stance on free speech and a free press is unpredictable. He comments that Trump has the power to publicize government information. So, he may control what journalists and whistleblowers dare to share, too.
Professor of journalism, Howie Good, said Trump’s idea to modify libel laws is “impractical and probably unrealistic…He’s not starting from zero,” he added, referring to libel being part of common, unwritten law. He also said Trump will “connect with his constituency so…that if he wants to lie he can do it without anyone challenging the truthfulness of his claims.”
If Trump can lie without penalty, report bans, deny interviews, and fight fire with fire via threat tweets, perhaps he can change the way journalists are thinking about their future careers. Ortiz for one has felt uncertain about her post-undergraduate endeavors as a radio host. She asked, “What is my plan now? Like what am I going to do?”
However, Associate Professor of journalism, Lisa Phillips, believes Trump’s presidency will foster current and incoming students’ drive to “seek truth and report it like never before because there’s been such blatant disregard of facts throughout the election cycle.”
In fact, based on Institutional Research at SUNY New Paltz, hundreds of students are majoring in digital media and journalism (DMJ). Phillips reminds us that “[Trump] will storm, and try to bully and tends to think about the world as with him or against him.” But journalists have to keep their First Amendment right in mind, be brave, and “publish important stories about what he does,” despite his storming, she said.
“To me,” Good said, “journalists were the ones on the white horses charging at the fire breathing dragon and it was their responsibility to drive it away or slay it. I hope [journalists of the millennial generation] have more of the idealistic fire of a dragon killer,” he added.
p.s. Submitted this work of art on Friday, including the video supplement today. So, here’s to my best piece yet as a journalism major in her first journalism class!