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Why the National Enquirer Probe Threatens Free Speech

There is actually a bigger issue when it comes to editorial decisions: The First Amendment.

Harold Hutchison · Dec. 18, 2018

Buried in all the hoopla over the Michael Cohen plea deal is something that should frighten any member of the press. The federal government’s criminal probe has included editorial decisions made by the National Enquirer about the purchasing and publication of various stories from women who claimed to have had affairs with Donald Trump more than a decade ago.

Let’s put the personal morality of paying off porn stars and Playmates for their silence aside. Whether these are campaign expenditures or illegal donations as opposed to a personal matter is, thanks to the hairy mess that is campaign-finance law, now hotly disputed. There is actually a bigger issue here: The First Amendment.

For all the complaints that come from some media personalities about how Trump is a threat to freedom of the press, perhaps we should be looking at those who are investigating Trump instead. The criminalization of the National Enquirer’s exercising its editorial prerogatives is a dangerous precedent and could enable some renegade bureaucrat to investigate other outlets.

The accusation is simple: A decision to publish (or not publish) a story would be viewed as a campaign contribution. When The Patriot Post covered the big differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016, First Amendment issues played a big role, and Hillary came out the poorer. Under the perversions espoused by some, that would have been seen as a campaign contribution.

Far-fetched interpretation? Well, in that piece, it was also noted that Democrats on the Federal Election Commission were targeting conservative media and talk radio. Imagine a Democrat-controlled FEC or Department of Justice probe on The Patriot Post team for deciding to drop George Will.

We don’t have to imagine the Democrats using the power of the government to target political opponents. Look at Andrew Cuomo’s use of financial regulations against the NRA. Look at the IRS scandal that the Obama administration got away with. Look at the John Doe investigations in Wisconsin. These are just the high-profile cases. Granted, the NRA’s suit has gone to discovery, and under Trump the DOJ settled allegations, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court put an end to the witch hunt against conservative groups, but the incalculable damage has been done.

How many Second Amendment supporters or other conservatives have decided not to get involved because they don’t want to risk the wrath of some Lois Lerner-type in a cubicle who could kick off a process that could lead to crushing legal fees in the best case of a successful defense? How much advocacy was delayed or halted because of the need to deal with investigations? We can never truly know.

It’s not as if a prominent Democrat didn’t have his political future aided by a decision to bury a story. In 2005, then-Senator Barack Obama was photographed in the company of Louis Farrakhan at a Congressional Black Caucus event by journalist Askia Muhammed. The photographer chose to bury the photo in order to protect Obama’s political future. It stayed buried for more than a dozen years, until January 2018. That photo, had it come to light a decade sooner, would have killed Obama’s campaign — and Muhammed’s comments indicate he knew it would have.

Somehow, we get the feeling that had Muhammed been investigated by the Justice Department, the FEC, or Congress, the folks who are eagerly hoping that the Enquirer payoffs can bring down President Trump would be much less eager to see “justice” done. So, the question that some conservative Trump critics must answer is why they would seek to subject conservatives to yet another witch hunt?

That is already on the agenda. According to former Investor’s Business Daily reporter Paul Sperry, Democrats are planning to investigate conservative media outlets for “ties to Russia.” In reality, the real “crime” will be supporting President Trump. Even without a successful prosecution, the process itself will serve as punishment for those who dare oppose progressives, as was the case with the IRS and John Doe abuses.

There is only one way to stop this: We must put aside the grievances and disagreements that have emerged since the Trump candidacy began in 2015 and draw a line in the sand. The right of media outlets to make editorial decisions that are protected by the First Amendment must be defended.

It is better to have to explain editorial decisions with our free-speech rights intact than to accept a double standard and find our ability to make the argument extremely limited at best. If conservatives can’t make the argument, how can they win debates, much less elections?

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