Our Constitution was signed in 1787 but it did not originally include some of our fundamental constitutional freedoms. One of them, freedom of the press, is at the core of our modern democracy – – one of the “checks and balances” on our political process.
Four years later, in December of 1791, the first 10 amendments to our Constitution, known as the “Bill of Rights”, went into effect. The First Amendment, in a scant 45 words written by James Madison, provides:
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.
Our news media has come under attack recently by politicians and others who are unhappy with how they and their actions are reported. Journalists are called “scum.” Reporters have been assaulted and jeered at political rallies. So-called “alternative” news sources have cropped up, creating what has come to be known as “fake news”. The future of our free press has never been so challenged.
So why do we need a free press, anyway? One need only look at recent history – McCarthyism in the 1950s, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran Contra scandal, the Iraq WMD scandal, and so on. Our free press exposed each of these scandals to the American people and protected the integrity of our constitutional republic.
When Edward R. Murrow shed light on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s false and reckless accusations of communist infiltration of our government, the Senate was forced to hold hearings which ultimately drove a disgraced McCarthy from the public eye. When Walter Cronkite went on national television and exposed the truth about our adventure in Vietnam, the fate of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency was sealed. The Washington Post exposed and relentlessly pursued the Watergate scandal, forcing the resignation of Richard Nixon and bringing an end to his unlawful authoritarian presidency. The New York Times, among other newspapers, helped to ferret out the arms for hostages scandal known as “Iran Contra”, which tainted Reagan’s second term. And most recently, the Iraq WMD scandal, which included the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003 premised upon false claims that it possessed weapons of mass destruction, was exposed by the international press.
Truth and facts. They are the currency of a free press. Truth is sunshine – the best antiseptic. When you hear a politician attacking the media, be afraid. Some countries, like Russia and China, have a controlled media which reports only what the government sanctions. This was also the case in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. We all know how that ended. . .
– Kevin Palmer