Original intent is an issue often argued in matters regarding the Constitution. Usually it is in regards to the Second Amendment. But today we face a more serious challenge.
One that strikes at the very heart of our freedom; Governmental intrusion on Freedom of the Press and misunderstanding the faith of the founding fathers in the ability and obligation of the public to be trusted with the power of a free press.
What was their intent with Freedom of the Press and how does it apply in the world of instant, continuous news cycle and social media networks? Therein lies the brilliance of their genius, it still applies without any modification or caution.
One of the most powerful forces propelling the success of our form of capitalism is the free market. If there is a need, someone will fill it. When Congress, under the pretext of seeking fairness and impartiality in the press, deigns to intervene in what a media outlet publishes or withholds, it should give us all pause.
Congress often finds ways to intervene in matters best left to individual choices and when they do the results are almost always disastrous. In their attempt at forcing the hand of sites like Facebook, Twitter, and others on what they should publish or restrict, they’re are setting the groundwork for Big Brother control of the press and social media.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et.al., are not government agencies. They can, and should, be able to make their own determination on what they allow or deny on their sites. Let the market decide if it will support such policies, not the partisan, agenda-driven politics of ambitious members of Congress,
I wonder if Congress would be holding hearing on forcing social media to post recipes for bombs and manifestos calling for their use on the Capitol? Likewise, they have no business making any determination or inquiries absent clear violations of the law. And even then it is a matter for the FBI or local authorities.
That some media outlets lean one way or the other is irrelevant. Nor should the choices of what to publish or what to eliminate, except in the most extreme of circumstances, ever be the concern of the Government.
I think the founding fathers were clear in their intent that government has no place in regulating the press. We as a people value more an unrestricted press than any perceived harm such freedom may pose. Secrets are never more important than what they may seek to protect, no matter how well intentioned.
That one social media site chooses, for whatever reason, to restrict certain items from their site in no way prevents some other site from filling that need. Such questions are best left to the market demand.
But it does raise issues of credibility, verification of material, and trustworthiness of sources. In the matter of the Hunter Biden laptop, a prudent publisher might rightfully be concerned with spreading unverified allegations. And such decisions should be left to the publisher themselves and the demand of the market. Another site might see an obligation to present such material and let those who see it decide.
In either case, the government should have no say.
Once the government starts to determine what you must publish, it is a short jump to their telling you what you cannot publish. And therein lies great danger.
And to those who fail to see the danger in any government interference with freedom of the press, history offers a valuable lesson. Here’s a most applicable warning from someone who understood well the need to eliminate such freedom and went on to do so;
“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.”
― Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
But this freedom of the press, like the other rights guaranteed by the Constitution, comes with responsibilities. Just like one cannot yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater, one must educate oneself to recognize the elements of truth or the veil of lies often hidden within published material.
Let’s take, for example, satire. That someone is so ignorant or blind as to fail to recognize satire does not render the publication of such material unlawful, nor should it trigger governmental intrusion.
Jonathan Swift, in his A Modest Proposal, suggested using the children of the poor as a source of food for the wealthy and income for the destitute as a satirical criticism of the wretched state of many of his fellow Irishman. Just because some might fail to see the satire doesn’t justify government prohibiting it’s publication. Particularly when the criticism was directed at the government.
The founding fathers put absolute faith in the ability of the American people to recognize the truth from the lies. They believed literate Americans, who were almost exclusively white and male, could be trusted.
We’ve become more inclusive, a good thing, and better educated, also a good thing, but I wonder if we would instill the same confidence in the founding fathers. It would seem many, if not most, of our fellow Americans are blinded by confirmation bias, incapable of seeking a balanced perspective.
And that may well be our demise.
The intent of the founding fathers cannot be expressed better than in their own words…
I am… for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.Thomas Jefferson
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.James Madison
As unbalanced parties of every description can never tolerate a free inquiry of any kind, when employed against themselves, the license, and even the most temperate freedom of the press, soon excite resentment and revenge.John Adams
The freedom of the press should be inviolate.John Quincy Adams
Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.Thomas Jefferson
This last quote by Jefferson is the most insightful, and illustrative, of all. When the founding fathers spoke of freedom of the press they were addressing its necessity to Americans who could understand, evaluate, and measure the words they read, and the importance of making sure all had the capabilities to do so.
While Jefferson, and many others of his generation, would have denied such literacy to blacks, both slave and free, and women, I believe, were they among us today, they would champion literacy for all. Jefferson and the others trusted the public to be deliberate in their reading and to separate the sensational and provocative falsehoods from the truth.
This required some level of education, some level beyond mere literacy, rising to the level of reason and intelligence. Such understanding arises only when one is able and willing to look at issues from all perspectives.
The courts have also recognized the primacy of a free and unfettered press.
Without a free press there can be no free society. That is axiomatic. However, freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of a free society. The scope and nature of the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of the press are to be viewed and applied in that light.Felix Frankfurter
Many distinguished lawyers also argue the necessity for protecting such freedoms from all attempts to silence or limit them.
We don’t have an Official Secrets Act in the United States, as other countries do. Under the First Amendment, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of association are more important than protecting secrets.Alan Dershowitz
With this powerful history of support for a free and unencumbered press comes our responsibility to defend such freedom.
We should never accept, carte blanche, assertions in print, online, or in any other media format simply because they concord with our opinions or beliefs. It is incumbent on us all to recognize it is the diversity of our opinions and perspectives that make us great and to endeavor to understand opposing positions.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”Evelyn Beatrice Hall in The Friends of Voltaire (often misattributed to Voltaire himself)
We should never sit idly by while Congress, for questionable partisan motivations, moves in any way, shape, or form to limit the media or insist on any control over the content thereof.
No one side has all the right answers and the only way to insure all perspectives are expressed is through a free press protected from any governmental intrusion.
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