The difference between the news media and Donald Trump is the press upholds his right to speak his mind, while he would deny ours to inform you, the public. 

The GOP presidential candidate's criticism of news outlets has included frequent doses of name-calling — "sleazy" and "disgusting" and “lowest form of humanity” among other epithets. The press has become his scapegoat for the uproar over his dubious statements about women, immigrants, racial minorities, the military and others.

And while the attempt to discredit the media is as familiar to politics as back slapping and cigars, there’s something especially dangerous about Trump’s vitriol. He’s promised to punish the press – and, therefore, the public -- if he becomes president by overturning protections against meritless challenges to stories and opinions of politicians and other public officials.

Those protections are nested in the First Amendment and affirmed in 1964 by the U.S. Supreme Court in the New York Times vs. Sullivan decision that held public officials must show actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth if they file libel or slander lawsuits against their critics. The reason for this safeguard: Journalists and citizens alike need assurance they can speak out against even thin-skinned public officials without interference or restriction by government. That’s a cornerstone of our democracy.

Trump doesn’t like it, evidenced by his tweet: "It is not 'freedom of the press' when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!"

That’s a distorted statement. Politicians and public figures can redress completely false statements made about them if they can show evidence they were made knowing the statements were untrue and printing or speaking them anyway.

Trump’s strategy is to portray the press as the villain bent on rigging the election for Democrat Hillary Clinton. He’s exploiting bias against the press in an effort to win votes without any consideration to the damage his policies would do to your free speech rights.

Trump sees no value in the free press and free speech that would hold him accountable. He wants to lower the threshold for public officials to sue the press or the public, and potentially awarding enough money to impair our ability to function in an open society.

History tells us that one of the first actions taken by those who would seek absolute rule is to seize control of the media in order to control the message. We need only revisit July, when in the days following a failed coup attempt in Turkey, the government ordered the shutdown of 131 media organizations, and issued arrest warrants for at least 89 journalists.

Trump should check with his vice president running mate, Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, who has some experience in trying to control the message. He sought to establish his own state-run news outlet, “JustIN,” in January 2015. When news of the plan — dubbed "Pravda on the Plains” by critics — broke pre-launch, it drew national ridicule. Pence backed off quickly. So, too, should Trump, lest we be condemned to follow our leaders unquestioningly toward whatever consequence lies ahead. This editorial originated in our sister paper, Jeffersonville, Ind., News and Tribune. The Suwannee Democrat embraces its message.

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