Flipping through late night shows since Donald Trump announced his plans to run for the position of President of the United States on June 16, 2015 usually guarantees several gags, skits, and satirical monologues about Donald Trump. Members of the news media and entertainment media industries have been outspoken about the campaign, election, and all political happenings since his inauguration in January 2017.
As a professional entertainer, Donald Trump generally took jokes made about him reasonably well. Trump even went as far as to participate in a Comedy Central Roast and was surprisingly graceful throughout. However, after winning the election, Donald Trump’s tolerance for humorous jokes made about him significantly decreased. Today, comedy stars from Alec Baldwin to Stephen Colbert are finding themselves to be the subjects of Trump’s late night and early morning Twitter rants. Donald Trump has even gone as far as to call for shows to be cancelled and individuals to be dismissed from their jobs.
Trump’s sudden change of opinion on comedy inspired by him calls attention to the strained relationship between the media and the presidency. The news media and artistic expressions of politics have been around since the beginning of organized government and they both play very important roles within society. The news media often holds the presidency accountable to their actions, comedians keep the public informed about political events – especially those who are not already predisposed to such news – and finally, artists use their mediums in order to relay important messages to the public about policy and the like. The roles that members of news and entertainment media are particularly important for Americans during the election cycle, and in President Trump’s case throughout the rest of the political term.
While politically charged art and political satire do play a very important role in American politics, there is something to be said about where the line between a joke or expression and outright inappropriate insinuations is drawn. In particular, Kathy Griffin’s photo shoot involving her holding the decapitated head of President Trump acts as an excellent example. Griffin’s photo shocked the internet, and proponents of both sides of the aisle were grossly offended by Kathy Griffin’s photo. While the photo was cruel and a little extreme, it is equally important to ensure that the First Amendment is not reconciled to accommodate the president, just as the First Amendment is not accommodated to protect victims of hate-speech. The Supreme Court had a similar ruling, claiming the photo was not a threat to the president. And as such, Griffin’s photo was determined to be protected under First Amendment rights.
Similarly, there was another form of artistic expression that inspired outcry from President Trump’s base. The Public Theater in New York City held a production of Julius Caesar for a Shakespeare in the Park event. In this production of the play, a Trump look-a-like Julius Caesar was depicted being brutally stabbed. The production outraged many people, including Trump supporters and advertisers such as American Express, who released a statement claiming that they do not support the Public Theater’s production or their interpretation of the play. Some have come out to argue that the play’s important message against violence towards the president was missed entirely. Regardless of how shocking the play was, censorship of this production would also violate the First Amendment.
The First Amendment rights have been a contentious issue since Trump’s inauguration, his attacks on the news media, and his claims of fake news. In America, there has historically been an adverse relationship between the Presidency and the news media. Of course, the level of contempt has varied between presidents, but the fact remains that there will always be a relationship of this nature. In other words, we cannot expect the President to have a positive attitude about an industry whose primary task in society is to hold him accountable. However, the level of contempt during the Trump era and the President’s outspoken opinion of the media is unprecedented.
Although there has been a history of negative relationships between presidents and the news media and entertainment media, never before has a president launched personal attacks against reporters. Donald Trump has personally insulted several reporters who have simply reported on his actions, and he has called for comedy shows to be cancelled after airing monologues and skits that mock him. One of his most recent attacks against the media has consisted of crude insults toward the co-hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. The tweets included an implication that Mika Brzezinski had had plastic surgery and a low I.Q., as well as referring to Joe Scarborough as a psycho.
This behaviour is concerning. Not only is it wildly inappropriate for a president to be speaking about any person like that, but attacking news reporters and artists simply because they share a different opinion than him is wrong. There is no question about it; the president needs to understand that the news and entertainment media has the right to express themselves as they please and should not be publicly attacked for doing so.
It’s terrifying to imagine an America that might have a future in imprisoning reporters and artists for sharing differing opinions. And if the President carries on his war against the media and fake news, this is exactly where the United States of America is heading.
By Stephanie Yaacoub
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.