By: Rae Arnett
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” stated Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Currie in 1798; a concept that holds true to this day.
The constitution states:
“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”
The first amendment, as stated above, guarantees, among other freedoms, the freedom of the press. This allows the press to serve as the fourth estate, as a watchdog of all those in power, and a servant to the public instead of the government.
But why is this concept so important?
As Jefferson wrote, the freedom cannot be stifled without being lost. How many times have you found out something positive, or negative, about your community from the press? How often have you learned about this nation we call home?
Think about the news coverage of riots, of protests, of celebrations; how did that information impact your life? I would argue that while news is not always sunshine and light, it does make the public better informed about their surroundings and their fellow Americans.
Our President in Tweet has been complaining about and condemning the leaks from within the government. Although, according to him, the leaks these stories create are “fake news”, which begs the question, why worry about leaks that have no actual sensitive information.
Call me crazy, but I would not be ranting on Twitter about the law being broken by these leakers, or be asking staffers to turn over their cell phones for examination, if there was not some truth to these accusations and articles.
He has condemned the use of unnamed sources in news articles and broadcasts. Yet, those sources speak on the condition of anonymity to protect themselves.
When I think of anonymous sources in the media, I think of Deep Throat. The scandal that surrounded President Richard Nixon and ultimately helped lead to his resignation was unearthed, in part, because of the bravery of FBI Associate Director Mark Felt who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Last week, President Trump’s White House, excluded members of the media from a press gaggle. It was not explicitly stated that the exclusion was a punishment for less than desirous coverage from those outlets; however, Trump has stated that the media is the “enemy of the American people”.
Undermining the “fake news”, as they cover his newly minted presidency and the scandals that seem to plague him, is a good strategy for Trump to use to cover his own ass but will be disastrous for democracy if we allow it to continue.
In the words of Trump’s own Press Secretary Sean Spicer,
“I think we have a respect for the press when it comes to the government that that is something that you can’t ban an entity from… I think that’s what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”