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Insane Musings

This Has Been Bugging Me
Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Free Press
Thomas Jefferson said,
"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."
Indeed, throughout history and strictly before what we today consider Democracy, great thinkers, philosphers and statesmen were adamant on their opinions of the importance of a free press. Take this quote from Junius (I can't find an approximation of its date),
"Let it be impressed upon your minds, let it be instilled into your children, that the liberty of the press is the palladium of all the civil, political, and religious rights."
I agree. Say what you will about the press - that it's overly-liberal; that it's overly-conservative; that it's overly-commercial. But a free press and the struggle for freedom to report, discover and account has been at the heart of many a revolution and movement and has signaled great changes throughout the history of the available printed word. It causes accountability across the board. A reporter may hold a public official accountable through the press. The reporter herself may be held accountable for incorrect or unsubstantiated reporting. But an accounting is demanded and met through a free and unfettered press.

Our founding fathers understood this. They had seen and experienced repressions and controls that taught them what was non-negotiable, and freedom of the press was one of these. I am deeply troubled by the juxtaposition of a variety of seeming smaller issues occurring today. The first would be the possibility that two reporters, Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine, will be forced to reveal their sources in the Valerie Plame issue or face jail time. A reporter's source is their stock-in-trade. The Watergate scandal would have never been brought to light without confidential sources. It doesn't matter that we don't like what we find - the point is that, through the press, we can peel back the layers and find what we don't like. To compel journalists, legitimate journalists, to reveal their sources or face jail time is a deliberate attempt to erode the power of a free press.

The second issue I raised in my earlier post and it regards Jeff Gannon, the White House Correspondent to the newly-created Talon News. The real issue with that is the security breach. But an equally important issue is the question of whether or not Mr. Gannon was planted, or at least allowed access that should have been denied due to his likelihood to ask "softball" questions. Now think about the President's capaign events throughout the 2004 Presidential campaign: tightly controlled as to access, structure, who would ask questions, whether or not questions would be approved prior to their asking, etc. All carefully controlled and staged. Add to that revelations that radio talk show host Armstrong Williams acknowledges having accepted money from the Department of Education to promote "No Child Left Behind".

It seems to me that this Administration sees the free press as a nuisance, not a treasure. They miss the larger point, I think, in being hesitant to allow uncomfortable questions to be posed. There would be no Presidency or Democracy without the integral role of those who told the truth and spread it through reporting. It keeps people honest and accountable and, although there's a lot of trash out there, any one of us can check for ourselves and form our own opinions, thanks to our free press.

I don't know what worries me more - the Administration's seeming willingness to cast this aside, or the press' relative lack of outrage at these increasingly regular attempts at manipulation, control, and supression.

posted by RenaRF @ 12:34 AM,


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