Dear CAFE Insider Member,
Welcome to the first issue of our newsletter. Every week, I’ll be sharing my thoughts and recommending things like articles, books, and movies that have informed my thinking or piqued my curiosity.
I hope you will take the time to listen to this week’s recommendation. It is perhaps one of JFK’s less-appreciated speeches, but one I’ve returned to often for inspiration. It’s called, “The President and the Press.” The speech reminds us that there was a time when American presidents applauded and extolled the virtues of an even antagonistic free press.
It is difficult not to be concerned about the strength of our institutions. Trump has suggested that the press is the “enemy of the people.” He has also attacked federal judges by name, questioning their motives and bias.
Judges aren’t infallible, and I have strong views on some court decisions too. But it is wholly extraordinary for an American President to voice his disagreement in a way that intimidates, obscures facts, and intends to erode trust in our institutions.
People clearly want change. That’s why Obama and Trump got elected. But what kind of change, how much of it, and at what pace? Do people want a revolution?
We are forced to ask many difficult questions:
What is the possibility of reining in an executive bent on weakening the press and other branches of government?
Are institutions resilient?
And can rule of law prevail?
American democracy is fairly stable and not conducive to revolution, though America was born of it. Our democracy is fairly stable because it is stable structurally – three co-equal branches of government and a fairly free press.
We’ll be exploring these questions on the CAFE Insider podcast, in this newsletter, on Stay Tuned, and over texts and calls.
Thank you for joining the CAFE Insider community, and I look forward to your questions and feedback.
LISTEN: JFK’S “THE PRESIDENT AND THE PRESS” SPEECH
Delivered before the American Newspaper Publishers Association at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on April 27, 1961.
Nearly every president has had a fraught relationship with the media, but complaining about negative coverage is different from declaring the news media “the enemy of the people.” Discontent with the coverage of the Bay of Pigs incident, JFK uses the speech to make his displeasure known. He says there is a need for both “far greater public information” and “far greater official secrecy.” But President Kennedy also says this:
“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed – and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment – the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution – not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants” – but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”
Undermining the credibility of the press and muddying facts so that people can no longer tell what is true, or whom to believe, threatens the news media’s function of serving as a check on the government. The press isn’t perfect, but its role as an independent watchdog is crucial to our democracy. Thank goodness for our robust Fourth Estate.
Listen to “The President and the Press” speech, and for a discussion of Free Speech in the Age of Trump, dip into the Stay Tuned archive and listen to Preet’s interview with acclaimed First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams.
SNEAK PEEK: BOB BAUER IS THIS WEEK’S GUEST ON STAY TUNED
Bob Bauer served as White House Counsel to President Barack Obama, and as general counsel to Obama for America, the president’s campaign organization, in 2008 and 2012. He also co-chaired the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2014 and served as the first outside counsel to Democrats during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
The conversation with Bauer covers a wide range of subjects, including the orbit of lawyers that surround the president and their roles, Mueller’s investigation, and issues around elections and voting.
Here’s some of what you’ll hear:
[Below Q&A has been condensed and edited for clarity]
Why did Don McGahn write a memo advising President Trump not to investigate his political opponents?
“I would probably be very reluctant to leave anything in writing that memorializes that the request was made in the first place. … You might write it for reasons of self-preservation. You might write it also because it’s the baseball bat that you hit the president over the head with. You yell at him, he yells back at you, the two of you are in a disagreement, and you tell him, ‘I’m so serious about this, I’m actually going to create a record.’”
Thoughts on Matthew Whitaker’s appointment as Acting Attorney General?
“Nothing could have served the president less well than this appointment. This was a bad judgment across the board. It’s not going to get him what he wants as far as I can tell. It has continued to deplete his political capital and credibility on these issues. And any White House counsel would have told him, I would think, ‘What in the world are you doing?’”
Listen to the interview on Stay Tuned this Thursday, and don’t miss the special Stay Tuned bonus for Insider members where Bauer addresses Paul Manafort’s breach of his plea deal with Mueller and Chief Justice John Roberts’s rebuke of President Trump.
SOMEONE TO FOLLOW
The University of Texas School of Law Professor Steve Vladeck’s Twitter feed is a great source for fact-checking the President. Follow him @steve_vladeck.
LATEST EPISODE OF THE CAFE INSIDER PODCAST
In Episode 3 of the CAFE Insider podcast, Preet and Anne break down the latest headlines. If you haven’t heard it, listen now to Justice Roberts’s Rebuke and The Politics of Comey.
Please email us at [email protected] with your questions for Preet and Anne. Thank you again for joining the Insider community.
– Preet and the CAFE Insider Team