President Trump has once again taken the position that criticism of him is, or ought to be, illegal.
On Sunday morning, he railed against "one-sided coverage" of his presidency, tweeting this:
A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can't be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2018
No, the real scandal is the president's oft-stated desire to censor his opponents.
Trump's tweet is as wrongheaded as it is incoherent. (Collusion? What?) The First Amendment protects the right of the people to speak out against the government, even if the president thinks such speech is one-sided or unfair. This has already been tested in court numerous times throughout the Bill of Rights' 200-year history.
It's true that not all speech enjoys legal protection. But as a general rule, speech is only considered defamatory if it meets certain criteria: reckless disregard for the truth, actual malice, etc. And obviously, true statements of fact can't be defamatory. Just because Trump doesn't like what NBC and SNL are saying about him, this does not mean what they are saying is wrong, let alone defamatory.
Trump has First Amendment rights too, and thus he is free to make appalling statements. But everyone in the conservative camp ought to condemn his remarks. Press freedom is a cornerstone of American democracy, and while it's true that many presidents have sought to undermine it—including recent presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama—few have proclaimed their desire so openly.
Related: Corie Whalen, former communications director for libertarian-friendly Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.), recently penned a worthwhile essay about Trump's takeover of the conservative movement and how it has harmed—perhaps destroyed—the libertarian Republican cause.