On a free press

It’s astounding to me that the current President of the United States continues to wage his one-man (or one-party?) war on the press after any and all criticism or negative press is lobbed his way.

Given that a free press is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, I wonder if our Commander in Chief’s attention waned given that it extends beyond 140 characters:

Amendment I

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.

I’ve emphasised the text he might be most interested in. He’s a busy guy, you know. I’ll also give him the benefit of the doubt. It takes a huge amount of time to tweet his own discontent with Senator Corker, various football players and members of the NFL as well as Kim Jong-Un. But, perhaps he’d like to know the thoughts of a few others regarding a free and independent press uninfluenced or uncontrolled by the state.

Perhaps the words of Thomas Jefferson might resonate with him, since they’ve shared the same job title albeit at very different times in our short history:

‘If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe. ― from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, Volume 9: 1 September 1815 to 30 April 1816

If Mr Jefferson doesn’t help, perhaps he assumes that this is something that can be simply reversed by whomever at a later date:

A freedom given up is not so easily regained.’ ― Rivera Sun, Steam Drills, Treadmills and Shooting Stars – a story of our times

Perhaps he doesn’t understand the potential power of fact-checking or allowing individuals to decide which writers to trust:

‘Let every writer tell his own lies. That’s freedom of the press.’ ― Norman Mailer, Deaths For The Ladies

Or, perhaps he simply can’t tolerate criticism or opposition:

‘Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticise and oppose’ ― George Orwell

We’re hurtling down an incredibly slippery slope it would seem. And, whilst comparisons to Hitler are insanely cliche, the reality of that slope becomes increasingly chilling:

‘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

More than anything, someone needs a reality check. If only the current reality wasn’t quite so terrifying for the rest of us.

On ‘Nobody Speak’

It’s rather fitting that my husband chose yesterday to suggest we watch the Netflix documentary, ‘Nobody Speak‘.

It’s frightening to me that large swaths of the United States simply don’t think about the news that they consume. Or demonise all news and media outlets as biased and therefore not worthy of their attention. To my mind, this results in an electorate largely ignorant of what is happening in their own country let alone the world, let alone the complexity of various policy issues affecting their own communities and beyond.

Forget Gawker. What about other media outlets? And, what does the Gawker case tell us about the position of the freedom of the press in the era of Trump?

And, it’s unconscionable that our current president has such a flagrant disdain for the media, and is not only hostile towards specific journalists but actively harasses them. We have a sitting president who actively and as recently as this weekend publicly vilifies journalists who dare question him, never mind any sort of criticism. Parallels to Nixon aside, I find it chilling to witness and more than a little frightening having lived in a country where freedom of the press wasn’t exactly acceptable.

Journalists’ jobs require them to ask questions, even if the individual being questioned doesn’t like it. We, who cherish our first amendment, now have billionaires either bankrolling lawsuits to bankrupt media outlets that write stories they don’t like (e.g., the role of Peter Thiel in Gawker’s demise) or purchasing newspapers and pressuring journalists and reports to not write stories that may put the owners in a less favourable light (Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal).

Gawker was annoying at times, and could be completely disgusting, if you ask me. But, in a free society, I had the option to not click on their links. And, most of the time, I didn’t. (I honestly didn’t know there was a Hulk Hogan sex tape—it’s not really something I’d care about at all.) Regardless of my personal opinion as a consumer of news of Gawker , I defend their right to publish stories. I find their intended and orchestrated demise not only tragic but dangerous. Furthermore, I find the pigeon-holing of ‘all who disagree with me as fake news’ trend gut-wrenching, and potentially destructive of that sacred First Amendment I personally feel trumps all others. I have the option to not tune in to sources like Fox News and InfoWars. I’d like that option to remain.

Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the champion of the freedom of the press, clearly understood the importance of a well-informed electorate. As infuriating as it can be to read or consume the news on any one day in this current climate, freedom of the press and its independence from the government as well as its ability to continue asking questions that matter and reporting on stories that we need to know remain paramount. Because, as Jefferson stated,

‘Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.’

NB: For a list of media outlets which focus on news rather than peddling ‘alternative facts’, Forbes put out this list, which I find rather balanced and reliable.