Tuesday, April 27, 2010

4. Our First amendment, regarding freedom of the press.

That amendment seems to be in danger, with considerable and fierce forces encroaching on it today. That amendment identifies our rights of free speech, to a free press, of freedom from religion and of religion. Many today understand that we can individually say what we wish generally without recourse against ourselves. Still, our Supreme Court has specified a few limits on speech, a famous one being that we cannot falsely shout “fire” in a crowded room.

However, one major impediment to the exercise of the first Amendment is the current tendency of our press to avoid controversy, angst, or disagreement concerning President Obama. During Senator Obama’s nomination in 2008, it was reported without shame that about 2,000 reporters stood and cheered Obama. One reporter interviewed during that campaign claimed that watching Senator Obama speak was thrilling, another claimed that a “thrill went up” his leg.

An alternative form of press media has sprung up, the internet, with little apparent real impact on the older traditional print or broadcast media.

Traditionally, newspaper articles had been separated between whether news was being reported or an editorial opinion expressed. Current practice as demonstrated in newspaper articles today is that opinion is combined with some news reporting. Accuracy in reporting, what is that?

One of our older sayings was that we should be skeptical of what we read in the newspaper or hear reported. That is much truer today than ever thought previously. Newspapers back during the time of FDR were categorized as being Republican or being Democrat Party oriented. Yet, in many instances, the news reporting was somewhat straight forward. Exceptions like the Chicago Tribune’s wiliness to expose national security secrets during World War II caused a scandal, perhaps the paper did it to embarrass FDR; that failed.

Currently many newspapers have falling readership, reduced revenues, and suffer employee cutbacks. One guess is that newspapers might not now be the most favorable place to seek either employment or profit. Long ago, Benjamin Franklin found his newspaper to be profitable and a good means of supporting his family. If Mr. Franklin had experienced our current press economic conditions, he might have considered another line of work.

Press conferences today are timid affairs, reporters perhaps shouting out questions with few demands that those questions be answered. Sometimes it appears that the questions are screened in advance, as it’s also known who’ll be asking the questions. The timidity of reporters today, with a few exceptions and remarkably from some that wouldn’t be expected to be assertive, is complemented by an over abundance of articles praising the Obama administration and his presidency. Those articles about the president or about his administration often contain high praise indeed, even when few facts in support of those claims are known; nuclear security anyone? Reporter timidity allows government press minders to provide a short bit of an answer and then say that “they’ll” get back to the questioner. Press reporters also reminded that they should, or perhaps should not, follow up on certain subjects. Just recently, the press was suddenly excused from important meetings where sensitive topics seem most unlikely to be discussed, few grumble while they leave.

Certain comments, otherwise seemly innocuous, are now identified as being “racist” or inflammatory. Yet President Obama’s administration is presumed to be “post racial.” The president is, of course, the first African-American elected to that high office. So, our press now says that comments that the president is a good athlete are “racist.” Also, the press says that comments that his policies are not well liked are “racist” too. Other comments, especially as expressed by his vice-president, about how articulate Obama is are now considered acceptable even though they seem racist to many. So, perhaps we reduce the freedom of the press by abusing it, misusing it, and mostly by not using it.

Now, when Obama says the press must leave the room, as at the recent Nuclear Summit, or not able to accompany him as on a recent outing, the press leaves with some low murmuring. Otherwise so-called fierce believers in the sanctity of the freedom of the press are quiet, acquiescing in this reduction of freedom. Do they realize this reduction affects all of us; that tomorrow might bring a totally different, darker day, perhaps soon?

Reducing freedom of the press reduces our freedom of speech, of religion, and then perhaps what we might think. Or, does our own thought remain free and inviolate? We ordinary citizens may still say what we like, or not like, in spite of severe media disdain, while the press exerts its right to be a meek, mild animal, mostly admiring of Obama and his political pals, even of those who are serial philanders.

It seems that only by the country electing a conservative party government will our press awaken from its current nap. Maybe then our press might just pursue its goal of producing a “better world” even as it severely criticizes that new administration.

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