Running a business is hard enough thanks to the aggressive regulatory state. It’s even harder when the government targets your company for retribution based on your political views.
Last weekend, The Washington Post published a story that reported President Donald Trump was privately fuming over the lack of progress in disarming North Korea. The piece relied on anonymous sources to make its most explosive claims and provide behind-the-scenes details of the thinking of administration officials.
Predictably, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to trash the story. “The Fake News is saying, without ever asking me (always anonymous sources), that I am angry because it is not going fast enough,” tweeted the president. “Wrong, very happy!”
Mr. Trump isn’t the first elected official to criticize the news media, and he won’t be the last. In 2009, Barack Obama’s communications director, Stephanie Cutter, said Fox News was a “wing of the Republican Party.” She even said the administration was going to stop recognizing it as a “news network.”
Put in today’s lingo, the Obama administration tried to convince the public that Fox was fake news.
The press, of course, should never be immune to criticism. Nor should any public institution. Mr. Trump has every right to challenge news reports he finds objectionable. But, as usual, he can’t resist the urge to go overboard.
“The Amazon Washington Post has gone crazy against me ever since they lost the Internet Tax Case in the U.S. Supreme Court two months ago. Next up is the U.S. Post Office which they use, at a fraction of real cost, as their ‘delivery boy’ for a BIG percentage of their packages,” he tweeted about the newspaper, purchased in 2013 by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon,com. “In my opinion the Washington Post is nothing more than an expensive (the paper loses a fortune) lobbyist for Amazon. Is it used as protection against antitrust claims which many feel should be brought?”
That was enough to spook the market. The following day, Amazon shares dropped 2.4 percent before rebounding.
Mr. Trump is hinting that he might sic government lawyers on Amazon because he doesn’t like how Mr. Bezos is running The Washington Post. This is wholly inappropriate. The rule of law exists precisely to stop these types of abuses. One of the Obama administration’s biggest scandals was using the IRS to target conservative nonprofits based on their policy positions. IRS officials eventually admitted to giving those groups “heightened scrutiny” and subjecting them to “inordinate delays.”
Deploying the vast power of government to bring retribution upon your political enemies may be a bipartisan temptation, but it’s an outrageous abuse of authority no matter who does it.