White House interprets First Amendment for reporters

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders lectured reporters on the meaning of the First Amendment Thursday, in defense of President Trump’s recent tweets suggesting that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigate national news outlets.

Asked whether Trump values the First Amendment, Sanders said replied, “Absolutely, the president is an incredible advocate of the First Amendment.” However, she continued, “With those freedoms also come responsibilities. You have a responsibility to tell the truth, to be accurate.”

Sanders referenced a recent study by the Pew Research Center that found only 5 percent of news stories published about Trump during his first 60 days in office were positive — compared to 42 percent for President Obama in 2009 and 22 percent for George W. Bush in 2001.

“You’ve only found 5 percent of your time to focus on some of those big issues,” like the recent stock market rise and the fight against ISIS in the Middle East, she said, chastising reporters for focusing instead on “petty palace intrigue.”

The First Amendment does not impose any obligations on media outlets for the accuracy, balance or significance of what they report. News organizations can be sued for libel for false reporting that damages a person’s reputation, although they have broad protections when writing about public figures, such as the president. A Senate investigation into news stories on the basis of the president’s disapproval of them would be unprecedented.

Trump’s Thursday morning tweets followed Wednesday’s report by NBC News that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called the president a “moron” and considered resigning from his post. In a televised statement, Tillerson denied the resignation part of the story. As for whether he ever called Trump a moron, Tillerson simply said, “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that.”

Asked whether Trump was upset that Tillerson hadn’t explicitly denied the name-calling, Sanders said Thursday, “As the secretary of state said, this is a petty, ridiculous accusation. Frankly, I think it’s beneath the secretary of state to weigh in on every rumor out there.”

Among the other leading topics at Thursday’s press briefing was the potential for new gun control regulations in the wake of this week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. While Sanders said that “the president is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” she confirmed that Trump would be open to discussing restrictions on so-called bump stocks, modifications used to convert semi-automatic rifles into the near-equivalent of full automatics. Twelve of the firearms found in the Las Vegas shooting suspect Stephen Paddock’s hotel room were reportedly outfitted with bump stocks.

“I think this administration’s position is extremely clear; we would look to take any step we could to prevent something like that from happening again.”

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