Do We Really Have A Free Press?

Posted on Sun 07/25/2010 by

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From The Editor At Family Security Matters (FSM)

By its very nature, this is a long post, and very well worth your while reading it…..TonyfromOz.

AN ETHICAL PRESS?

Scandals connected with the behavior of journalists who subscribed to the now-defunct “Journolist” private web forum have once again opened up the debate about what role the press is meant to serve in a democratic society.

Originally, notions of “Freedom of the Press” concerned themselves with protecting the press from the interference and forcible control by the state or other authorities, but the Journolist scandal showed that the press was attempting to directly interfere with the political system.

The Journolist scandal showed that so-called “progressives” were conspiring amongst themselves to use the media to influence the course of politics, attempting to “direct” the voting public in favor of one party and against another. In web discussions, journalists on the listserv discussed how to sabotage and undermine critics of the Democrat party – with one national security reporter and blogger declaring “Call them racists” – and then went on to discuss how to undermine the Republican party, with suggestions made on the best way to smear Sarah Palin. Some even discussed how to present her as a “bad mother” to her child with Down’s Syndrome – merely because she was on the campaign trail as a politician.

The revelations by a mole who leaked much of the Journolist information to the Daily Caller proved what many had suspected all along – that there is an obvious bias from journalists not only in the American press, but also in other organs like Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Though many of the journalists involved in the scandal have been named, none seem to have been sanctioned by their employers.

The mainstream media, which is usually thought to be “free” has remained curiously silent about the scandal of Journolist. Burying or ignoring news stories which may be politically uncomfortable is another hallmark of the means by which the media is showing its open bias. When so many mainstream media journalists and the proprietors of “reputable” newspapers are behaving in this manner, it is surely time to question the current role of press freedom.

Since democracy was invented, there have been those who seek to influence election outcomes and the press has been the easiest medium to influence. In living memory (for some of us) a crucial American election was affected by a malicious press campaign.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was fighting against Barry Goldwater for the role of president. Supporters of Johnson came up with a brilliant but ethically disgraceful campaign. 12,356 psychiatrists had been polled for their “medical” opinion on Goldwater by FACT magazine. 2,417 replied, and of these, 1,189 maintained that Goldwater was an unstable, paranoid individual who was unfit to be president. FACT magazine published the “report” entitled ‘The Unconscious of a Conservative: A special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater’, a month before the election. At that time, psychiatrists were held in far higher esteem than they are now, and the report was seen by many who read it to be “damning”.

Six years later, after petitioning the Supreme Court, Goldwater won his case against FACT magazine and its publisher, Ralph Ginzburg. The damage had been done, and the election had gone to Johnson.

What is a Free Press?

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1950) wrote a book entitled The Free Press. Belloc himself had some questionable views, and much of the work considered the lack of a Free Press at a time of war (WWI). In an introduction to this work, dated October 14, 1917 Belloc gave a brief description of how the press works:

Opinions, above all, we judge by the personalities of those who deliver them: by voice, tone, expression, and known character. The Press eliminates three-quarters of all by which opinion may be judged. And yet it presents the opinion with the more force. The idea is presented in a sort of impersonal manner that impresses with peculiar power because it bears a sort of detachment, as though it came from some authority too secure and superior to be questioned. It is suddenly communicated to thousands. It goes unchallenged, unless by some accident another controller of such machines will contradict it and can get his contradiction read by the same men as have read the first statement.

These general characters were present in the Press even in its infancy, when each news-sheet still covered but a comparatively small circle; when distribution was difficult, and when the audience addressed was also select and in some measure able to criticize whatever was presented to it.

Freedom of the Press is often evidenced more by its omission rather than its commission. Censorship of the press has usually been the preserve of the state.

In Britain in the 16th century, the Crown officially controlled all printing presses until 1641, when the Star Chamber was abolished. Censorship continued. On June 16th, 1643, parliament introduced a Licensing Order introducing official government censors.

The poet John Milton – famous for Paradise Lost – responded to this action by presenting an appeal to the parliament called the Areopagitica, in which he railed at the presumption off those who decided what could be produced or written:

… books were ever as freely admitted into the world as any other birth; the issue of the brain was no more stifled than the issue of the womb: no envious Juno sat cross-legged over the nativity of any man’s intellectual offspring; but if it proved a monster, who denies, but that it was justly burnt, or sunk into the sea? But that a book, in worse condition than a peccant soul, should be to stand before a jury ere it be born to the world, and undergo yet in darkness the judgment of Radamanth and his colleagues, ere it can pass the ferry backward into light, was never heard before, till that mysterious iniquity, provoked and troubled at the first entrance of Reformation, sought out new limbos and new hells wherein they might include our books also within the number of their damned.

The speech contains other memorable quotes, such as:

Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.

The speech was subsequently published as a pamphlet in the same year. Milton had succeeded in his aims. Soon, pamphlets appeared on all subjects, and many of these are of a scurrilous nature. In America less than a century later, one of those who would make a good living through publishing was Benjamin Franklin, discussed here and here.

The First Amendment

Benjamin Franklin signed both the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the Constitution of 1787. Franklin had helped to formulate the Constitution. Though Benjamin Franklin had been involved with the Constitution, he had died by the time the Bill of Rights was accepted.
Procedures for writing the Constitution began in Philadelphia State House in May 1787. The first draft of the Constitution was completed on Monday August 6, 1787. So many arguments followed that on August 31, George Mason of Virginia reportedly exclaimed that he would “sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands. Mason would leave the convention, angered that it contained no Bill of Rights.

George Mason had been instrumental in the formulation of both the Constitution and the subsequent Bill of Rights. He had written a clear, listed document of rights for the state of Virginia. This had been published on June 12, 1776 as the Virginia Bill of Rights.

The Virginia Bill of Rights had 16 clauses. The 12th of these clauses was:

12. That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotick governments.

Many other elements that would later reappear in the 1791 Bill of Rights had their origins in Mason’s Virginia Bill of Rights, such as the Second Amendment, whose origins can be clearly seen in Mason’s bill of 1776:

13. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

In an early draft of the Bill of Rights, produced on Wednesday, March 4, 1789 the “first amendment” was the third article, and the amendment we now know as the “second” was originally the fourth. The first two articles of this draft were never ratified. The Bill of Rights was officially proposed before Congress on September 25, 1789. The Bill of Rights was finally ratified on December 15, 1791.

The First Amendment reads:

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.

Whether or not the principles of “freedom of the press” considered by Congress at the end of the 18th century have been consistently maintained throughout the history of America is a subject for debate.

We are living in a period where the freedom of the press appears to be undermined by the press itself a press that is failing to provide an adequate counterbalance to the government in power. Democracy is never secure when the press becomes an unofficial organ of the state. Over the last four centuries, countless tyrannies and authoritarian societies throughout the world have demonstrated the undemocratic nature of presses that dare not question the powers-that-be.

In America, the pendulum seems to have swung from a position where the government protected the liberty of the press to one where the press now protects the government.

NBPP and DOJ in MSM

“Minister King Samir Shabbaz” - Maurice Heath

The issue of the New Black Panthers and voter obstruction has been covered by the new media in great depth, but initially it was hardly been touched by the mainstream media as it is seen as not important enough to cover. However, after revelations by a former DOJ employee, some in the new media considered the MSM’s lack of coverage of the story derived from another reason: it was seen to be too much of a political “hot potato” for a press in thrall to the administration. Fox led on the story for weeks before the MSM decided to report on it.

The DOJ was alleged by one of its attorneys, J. Christian Adams, to have ordered the case to be dropped, for reasons of political/racial bias. There have been fears that the decision may have been made by the Attorney General, Eric Holder, who famously said that America has been a “nation of cowards” over issues of race.

The first time that the Washington Post decided to write a full article on the subject of the National Black Panther Party (NBPP) voter intimidation issue was on Thursday July 15 last week. The ombudsman of the Washington Post, Andrew Alexander, has admitted that:

The Post should never base coverage decisions on ideology, nor should it feel obligated to order stories simply because of blogosphere chatter from the right or the left.

But in this case, coverage is justified because it’s a controversy that screams for clarity that The Post should provide. If Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his department are not colorblind in enforcing civil rights laws, they should be nailed. If the Commission on Civil Rights’ investigation is purely partisan, that should be revealed. If Adams is pursuing a right-wing agenda, he should be exposed.

National Editor Kevin Merida, who termed the controversy “significant,” said he wished The Post had written about it sooner. The delay was a result of limited staffing and a heavy volume of other news on the Justice Department beat, he said.

Having insufficient staff is no excuse to selectively ignore such an important story, and I cannot believe Kevin Merida could not provide one decent journalist to at least assess the hysteria in the media surrounding the case.

Fox News has been leading the way in providing “news” not because it is more skilled than other news corporations, but because the rest of the mainstream media has been deliberately apathetic, putting support for the administration above concerns of the public. When the organs of the mainstream press are technically free to publish material on almost any subject, but merely choose to limit their output to maintaining a political status quo, there is a severe problem.

In such an environment, when the widest-read and most-viewed parts of the media should be analyzing serious events, a deliberate dereliction of that duty in relation to the NBPP case (and others) indicates that there is NOT a truly free press in America.

Without a free press, there is no true democracy, and the terms of the Constitution are being eroded. There are only so many stories involving cats stuck up trees, or the dreary histrionics of self-indulgent celebrities that can pass as the staples of a “free press”.

Journolist

The journalists who contributed to the Journolist web forum have disgraced the notion of what journalism is about. Jeremiah Wright made headlines in the run-up to the 2008 elections, with his claims that America deserved 9/11 and more. But there were many journalists who deliberately attempted to sabotage stories concerning the controversial figure who had been pastor to a presidential candidate. In April 2008, after ABC anchors savagely confronted Obama with questions about his associations with Jeremiah Wright, leftist/liberal journalists from mainstream outlets, including Time, Politico and the Baltimore Sun, decided collectively how to mount a counter-attack.

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent had urged taking any one of the critics of the Democratic presidential candidate, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

The problem was not confined to journalists in America. As reported in the Daily Caller, Michael Tomasky from the Guardian newspaper (which has previously published articles I have written), stated:

“Listen folks–in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have. This isn’t about defending Obama. This is about how the [mainstream media] kills any chance of discourse that actually serves the people.”

The behavior of the listserv chatterati would have an effect on their reading (and voting) public and they knew it. These journalists were planning a political propaganda campaign, and taking the free press to its lowest point since the days of McCarthyism or perhaps 1964.

It has only been very recently that the Journolist conversations have been leaked. Journolist was started by Ezra Klein, who blogs at the Washington Post. David Weigel was one Washington Post journalist who appeared to be rightist in outlook. In private he was a particularly virulent critic of those on the right, when he was safe within the closed world of the Journolist subscriber-only forum. According to Cliff Kincaid:

Filled with profanity, emails from Weigel were leaked and publicized showing that he said Matt Drudge of Drudge Report fame ought to set himself on fire, ridiculed the first-rate reporting of Byron York of the Washington Examiner, called conservatives racist, suggested Tea Party members were stupid, and expressed the hope that Rush Limbaugh would die from heart problems.

The dirty laundry of journalists should not be news, but when they collectively conspire to suppress stories, one now has to be seriously questioning what has been going on at America’s mainstream newspapers, and also in the broadcast media.

The Other Side of the New Media

There are further threats to the freedom of the press created by the digitized press. There are now web “sources” that set themselves up as informative “Wiki-“styled pages. People find such websites which claim to be authoritative, though there is often a bias within their content, and anything “positive” about certain characters is not presented.

There is one main conservative website of this nature, called “Conservapedia,” which deals mainly with issues of interest to American readers. It is counterbalanced by at least four extreme left and pro-Islamist websites which are inter-connected, and freely share information with each other.

These Orwellian groups (Spinwatch, SourceWatch, LoonWatch etc) have deliberately attacked bloggers. Their targets include bloggers who work for no pay but expresss opinions that these new “guardians” against Islamophobia and “neoconservatism” dislike.

Spinwatch is based at the Faculty of Geography and Sociology at University of Strathclyde in Scotland with money from sponsors who have included the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It has links to Macquarie University in New South Wales Australia, and feeds information to SourceWatch in America. It is run by Professor David Miller, who claims to be a specialist in propaganda, but is now using propaganda to smear others.

In such a climate, where even bloggers who operate for no money are demonized and held up as agents of a vast rightwing conspiracy, the hysteria is being ratcheted up.
In Europe, in response the character-smearing influence of the leftist “Source” and “Watch” sites, many bloggers on the right have begun to pool their own information and converse in secret, in manners not dissimilar to those employed by the “progressives” on Journolist.

And so it goes on – attack, smear, innuendo, followed by counterattack.

Agents of Foreign Powers

In Britain, Russia used to sponsor a daily newspaper called the “Morning Star”, which claimed to be representing the views of the “working man”. In practice, Morning Star was a laughable exercise in amateurish propaganda from the Soviet Union, but in the 1960s and 1970s it could still have an audience who were involved in worker’s unions and could help to influence their political activities.

Nowadays, the influence is coming from Islamist organizations. In European nations there is a worrying official disregard for the potentially pernicious influence of Islamist media. In Britain, PressTV operates from a building in West London. This is a Khomeinist media outlet, which is directly linked to the Iranian state media – IRIB.

Satellite and internet broadcasts are made from London by a group calling itself Islam TV, and there is another Islamist TV station which operates similarly, called Peace TV. Islam TV is run by a man who has an Interpol Red Notice out on him for terrorism, but in Britain he is allowed to freely enter and leave the country and work without interference. Islam TV is closely connected to Salafists based in Texas and Canada, as reported here.

There is always a danger that newspaper and media magnates (such as Robert Maxwell or Conrad Black, (who has recently spent his first night out of jail after being convicted of three counts of fraud and one of obstruction of justice) would use their newspapers to promote themselves and their businesses. But with Islamism, merely providing money can be influential: “He who pays the piper calls the tune”.

In the United States the Saudis have not yet been shown to have influenced the press. They have limited themselves to supplying hate-filled religious pamphlets and books at mosques and Islamic centers, as exposed by Freedom House in 2005. But this is not for a want of trying.

A report from Arab News from September 16, 2006 stated:

Muslim businessmen should buy into global media outlets to help change anti-Muslim attitudes around the world, said information ministers from Muslim countries at a conference that began at Jeddah Conference Palace yesterday….

… “We need to come up with a joint action to face up to the challenges of our time, especially with the rise of hate crimes and Islamophobia in the West and the confusion resulting from the unfortunate mixing up of Islam with terrorism,” said OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

“Muslim investors must invest in the large media institutions of the world, which generally make considerable profits, so that they have the ability to affect their policies via their administrative boards,” he said. “This would benefit us in terms of correcting the image of Islam worldwide.”

In late 2005, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia bought shares in Rupert Murdoch’s News International company, where he apparently tried to have editorial influence. However, where his donations to universities are made, there is a possibility that the courses could be compromised. Alwaleed sponsors a department at Georgetown University in Maryland, run by George Esposito, a man who seems entirely unable to provide any objective criticism of Islam.

Robin Simcox has shown that in many universities in the UK, where Iranian or Saudi donors fund courses, then criticism of Islam/Islamism is limited. This was never what universities were set up to achieve. A copy of his report, entitled “A Degree of Influence: The Funding of Strategically Important Subjects in UK Universities” can be obtained from the Center for Social Cohesion.

In a climate where the mainstream media refuses to deal with issues of constitutional concern, and the extremes of the left and the right are so enraged by each other’s existence, the need for a secure and balanced free press is vital.

A free press is not about the press having the freedom to smear the integrity of others without evidence, nor is it about manipulating the media to decide the outcome of elections, nor is it about failing to report issues of genuine concern, or invading the privacy of individuals. A free press is about having the independence, and duty, to question and challenge, to inspect all aspects of government and places of influence, and above all, to deliver the truth to the people.

We need a free press and we need it fast. More importantly, we need an ethical and free press, not an ethics-free press.

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