Donald Trump currently has 66.3 million followers on Twitter. Throughout his presidency, Trump has blocked vocal opponents, dismissing them as sources of “fake news.” When questioned about the constitutionality of this decision, President Trump’s legal team argued that he operated the Twitter account in a purely personal capacity. According to The New York Times, his lawyers claimed that Mr. Trump has the right to block whomever he wants and for any reason, including criticism or mockery. However, on July 9, 2019, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is unconstitutional for Trump to block critics on Twitter.
In spite of this, Trump’s most recent action to suppress unwanted political speech occurred on October 22, when federal agencies cut their subscriptions to the The Washington Post and The New York Times. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham emphasized the fiscal responsibility of the action, for “not renewing subscriptions across all federal agencies will be a significant cost saving for taxpayers — hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Other publications delivered to the White House include The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Financial Times and The New York Post among a number of others. According to The New York Times, the administration has simply been urging federal agencies to discontinue their subscriptions, and will extend the potential discontinuation to other papers at their own discretion.
The truth of this is questionable.The day before federal subscriptions to The Washington Post and The New York Times were discontinued, Trump called The New York Times “a fake newspaper,” and said that “we don’t even want it in the White House anymore” on Fox News’s “Hannity.” However, Trump has hesitated to criticize the publications; in January Trump spoke with The New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger and two White House correspondents, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman. With regards to his relationship with the press, Trump noted “…Fox treats me very well…Everybody thinks The New York Times treats me terribly. The Washington Post also, but The New York Times even more so treats me unbelievably terribly.” It is clear from both words and actions that President Trump is partial to certain press. The Washington Post reported that both the Post and Times have been among the leading news sources in investigating Trump, and have closely covered the impeachment inquiry. The fact that the Trump administration is cracking down on them so relentlessly is clearly not an effort to save money; rather, it is just suppression of dissent.
In a supposed attempt to save taxpayer dollars, the Trump administration has also silenced two publications that have a precedent of presidential scrutiny. It is unclear the exact dollar amount that the White House spends on newspaper subscriptions, but The Washington Post is free to anyone with a government or military email address. The taxpayer argument appears to be a band aid on a larger phenomenon of silencing opposition. Trump has done so before when blocking Twitter users. The decision to cancel subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post communicate a similar message: voices of dissent are not welcome on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As the press is silenced, President Trump’s White House increasingly resembles an echo chamber.