In 1957, Reuters reported that communist dictator Mao Zedong had condoned “a ‘blossoming’ of democratic freedoms among the people so long as it keeps within bounds.” The headline, according to The New York Times’ online archive, credited Mao with proposing “More Freedoms but With Limits.”
Sixty-six years later, the concept of “Freedoms, but With Limits” is back in the headlines. Major outlets are all carrying water for an activist judge’s order that Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump is totally welcome to use his First Amendment freedoms during his political prosecution by his rival’s Department of Justice — as long as he keeps those freedoms “within bounds” set by the same people working to destroy him.
On Monday, federal Judge Tanya Chutkan barred the former president and current candidate from criticizing the special counsel who is running a politicized prosecution against him. Since Chutkan — who has made no secret of her prejudice against Trump and his voters — didn’t step off the judge’s dais, take off her robe, and hand it to the prosecution, granting every request they threw at the wall to silence their defendant, the corporate media responded in lockstep by championing Chutkan’s “narrow” and “limited” order gagging a presidential candidate from criticizing his prosecutors on the campaign trail.
The Associated Press made sure to describe the gag order as “narrow” in both the headline and first sentence of its report on Monday afternoon, as did Axios. The New York Times shilled for Chutkan even harder, fawning that her “limited order really sought to thread the needle on balancing Trump’s rights to political speech as a candidate for the country’s highest office and her own duties to protect the integrity of the case in front of her.” She really tried, guys — The New York Times said so!
Meanwhile, CNN parroted the prosecutor’s claim that Trump’s criticisms of his prosecution “warrant a narrow restriction on Trump’s speech around the case.”
It was, in the same sense that any authoritarian’s restrictions on citizens’ rights are “limited.” No despot ever outlaws everything anyone could possibly say. Rather, they dictate what people are and aren’t allowed to say. No real journalist would draw from such restrictions the takeaway: Look at all the things you *are* still allowed to say! See, the restrictions on your speech are really quite limited.
If a Third World dictator, after arresting his top political opponent, barred the defendant from criticizing his prosecutors but still allowed him to speak “freely” about some other people in government, we’d hardly praise him for delicately “threading the needle.”
Eight years into the restless effort to smear Trump — first for supposedly stealing the 2016 election with Russia, then for “corruption” relating to a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, then as an “election denier” (whatever that phrase means), and always as a “threat to democracy” — Chutkan now says Trump can’t speak out publicly against his prosecutors for fear it would amount to a “smear campaign.”
But thankfully, the media blob reassures us, Trump can still direct criticism elsewhere, like at the overwhelmingly Democrat residents of D.C. who will make up his jury pool, or at the Biden administration and DOJ “more generally,” or probably at a driver who cuts him off on the freeway or at a barista who botches his coffee order. It doesn’t really matter how many exceptions Chutkan comes up with to her gag order. The speech Trump is being banned from is what matters, in the same way that you don’t have real freedom of the press if you can write scathing critiques of some parts of the government but not others. Or in the same way you don’t have real free speech online if you can say some things about Covid or Biden family corruption or the integrity of the 2020 election, but not other things.
That’s perfectly fine with our national media, though. Your freedoms, and the freedoms of the candidates you wish to elect, aren’t being denied — only “limited.” How benevolent of your rulers, really!