Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trump Isn’t the First Politician to Threaten Newspapers

Trump Isn’t the First Politician to Threaten Newspapers

Donald Trump isn’t happy with the Washington Post, which has steadfastly opposed his presidential campaign on its editorial pages and now has assigned a reporter team to write a book about him. And he has repeatedly responded in Trump fashion: by threatening the business interests of the newspaper and its owner Jeff Bezos.

Trump cited the Post by name in his February comments about how he wants to “open up” libel law so that “when the Washington Post… writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” And he said then of Amazon, of which Bezos is CEO, “If I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

He has claimed for months that Bezos was using the newspaper as either itself a tax dodge or as a tool of influence to prevent Amazon from having to pay “fair taxes,” a theory hard to square with the institutional arrangements involved (Bezos owns the Post separately from his Amazon stake; the Post editors credibly deny that Bezos has interfered, and as it happens Amazon itself supports the idea of an internet sales tax.)

More recently Trump has opened up a second front, arguing last week on the Sean Hannity show that Bezos employs the paper “as a political instrument to try and stop antitrust,” and implying that he, Trump, would hit Amazon with antitrust charges.

As you might expect, many critics are crying foul. “He’s basically giving us a preview of how he will abuse his power as president. … He is clearly trying to intimidate Bezos and in turn The Washington Post from running negative stories about him,” writes Boston Globe columnist Michael A. Cohen.

“Mr. Trump knows U.S. political culture well enough to know that gleefully, uninhibitedly threatening to use government’s law-enforcement powers to attack news reporters and political opponents just isn’t done. Maybe he thinks he can get away with it,” writes Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins.