"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter," said the president of the United States — 200 years ago (Thomas Jefferson).
Said Ulysses S. Grant in 1868: "Throughout the war, and from my candidacy for my present office in 1868 to the close of the last presidential campaign, I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history."
And Harry S. Truman said in 1955: "Presidents and the members of their Cabinets and their staff members have been slandered and misrepresented since George Washington … when the press is friendly to an administration the opposition has been lied about and treated to the excrescence [sic] of paid prostitutes of the mind."
Yes, we also had to look up "excrescence," which it turns out is "a distinct outgrowth on a human or animal body or on a plant, especially one that is the result of disease or abnormality."
Now that's cold.
So President Trump's battle with the American press is nothing new. Far from it. But the reaction from Congress is new — and decidedly more dangerous.
House Democrats reportedly are planning to open an official investigation into alleged abuses of power by President Trump for attacking the media, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.
"Topics for the inquiry will include Trump’s public humiliation of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his attacks on actions by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court and his abuse of reporters as 'dishonest' and 'enemies of the people,'" a source told Bloomberg News this week.
The Judiciary Committee led by Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York will announce the probe in days, the official said. There are plans to hold public hearings with witnesses, but it’s not immediately clear who will be summoned. A spokesman for Nadler said he had no immediate comment.
Presidents have wide leeway to use their bully pulpit to attack foes and get their way. But the effort comes amid a broader push by Democrats now controlling the House to investigate actions of the president and his administration.
The official said there are questions about whether Trump, through some of his actions, is going too far and undermining the rule of law, a reference to established and defined limits on the arbitrary exercise of power.
The unnamed official said, "Trump’s attacks on the news media, singling them out for abuse and ridicule, potentially threatens freedom of the press, and also could serve to intimidate other journalists."
Trump, for his part, has repeatedly made clear that he is attacking the "fake news" media, not the media as a whole. "With all of the success that our Country is having, including the just released jobs numbers which are off the charts, the Fake News & totally dishonest Media concerning me and my presidency has never been worse," Trump said last January. "Many have become crazed lunatics who have given up on the TRUTH!"
The latest move by Democrats to officially investigate Trump's criticism is simply an attempt to tie up his agenda with hopes of winning back the White House in 2020. Still, every American should be concerned when the legislative body of the U.S. government uses its power to probe the executive over criticizing the news media.