Freedom of the Press is for All of Us
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
Hattip to Instapundit. Josh Stearns at Huffington Post reports on the fact that the media in the US isn’t quite as free as it used to be.
According to a new report from Reporters Without Borders, there was a profound erosion of press freedom in the United States in 2013.
After a year of attacks on whistleblowers and digital journalists and revelations about mass surveillance, the United States plunged 13 spots in the group’s global press freedom rankings to number 46.
Reporters Without Borders writes that the U.S. faced “one of the most significant declines” in the world last year. Even the United Kingdom, whose sustained campaign to criminalize the Guardian’s reporters and intimidate journalists has made headlines around the world, dropped only three spots, to number 33. The U.S. fell as many spots as Paraguay, where “the pressure on journalists to censor themselves keeps on mounting.”
Citing the Justice Department’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers, including its secret seizure of Associated Press phone records, the authors write that “freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.”
The threats facing newsgathering in the U.S. are felt by both longstanding journalists like New York Times national security reporter James Risen, who may serve jail time for refusing to reveal a source, and non-traditional digital journalists like Barrett Brown.
Brown is a freelance journalist who has reported extensively on private intelligence firms and government contractors. He now faces more than 100 years in jail for linking to stolen documents as part of his reporting, even though he had no involvement in the actual theft.
Go here to Huffington Post to read the rest. Of course most of the media have no one to blame but themselves. They have been slavish sycophants to the current regime and have been utterly silent as it amasses more and more power and only squawk when the power of the government is turned against them. However the ringing words of the First Amendment Are not meant for them alone. It protects all of us who convey our messages through any medium.
The issue of the extent of First Amendment freedom of the press protection was long ago decided by the Supreme Court in Lovell v. City of Griffin (1938). In that case, for a unanimous court, except for Benjamin Cardozo who recused himself, Chief Justice Hughes wrote:
The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press, in its historic connotation, comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. What we have had recent occasion to say with respect to the vital importance of protecting this essential liberty from every sort of infringement need not be repeated. Near v. Minnesota, supra; Grosjean v. American Press Co., supra; De Jonge v. Oregon, supra.
This is in complete accord with the intention of the Founders. In their time news sheets were small affairs, put out by printers to supplement their income through advertising. In effect they were the equivalent of bloggers who have adds running on their blogs. Pamphlets and handbills were commonly printed at private expense by any person or group who wished to communicate ideas to the public. In the years leading up to the Revolution, patriots had organized Committees of Correspondence to inform the public of the dangers from British encroachment on American liberties. The Founding Fathers would have been the very last to restrict freedom of the press to professional, or paid, journalists, who in any case were very few in number in their day.
The First Amendment freedom of the press is for all of us, and not just the toadies who currently control most of the mainstream media. It is for us to protect it, along with all of our other precious liberties.
The First Amendment, memorize it and live it:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.