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The Federal Government Has Forgotten Freedom of the Press

Slowly but surely, our government is infringing upon the rights of the media, and eating away at freedom of the press.

(Image: Unfree press via Shutterstock)

Pastor Martin Niemoller warned us of the importance of speaking out when we see our rights eroding. He famously wrote about his time in the Dachau Concentration Camp:

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

He reminds us of the dangers of not recognizing creeping incrementalism, when small steps are being taken to abridge our rights, laying the foundation for larger steps that take away all of our rights.

Which brings us to what’s happening right now with the media in America.

When our founders formed our nation, they only named one industry in the Constitution.

They didn’t argue that the shipbuilding industry needed to be protected at all costs, or the agriculture industry, or even the arms industry.

They didn’t even think the legislative branch was that important.

But, in the First Amendment to the Constitution, our founders wrote that, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….”

Our founders wanted to protect the press. They realized that freedom of the press was essential. They recognized that a nation could not be strong without a press able to operate outside of the realm of government oversight and control.

In fact, Thomas Jefferson once famously said that, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

But times have changed since our Constitution was written, and today, what is supposed to be a free press is under attack from the government.

Slowly but surely, our government is infringing upon the rights of the media, and eating away at freedom of the press.

Nowhere is there more evident than with the ongoing AP leaks scandal, and with the new revelation that Fox News reporter James Rosen was investigated by the Department of Justice for his coverage of the State Department and North Korea.

In both of these cases, the federal government subpoenaed hundreds of emails and phone call records under the guise of national security.

But what the federal government seems to have forgotten is that freedom of the press, if it is to work, must be nearly absolute, that there should be no boundaries to the protection of that right.

It’s a sad commentary on our times when I find myself agreeing with Brit Hume over at Fox News, but last night, he was right on point about the federal government’s recent intrusion into the workings of the press.

On Fox News’ “Special Report” last night, Hume said that, “The government has a right indeed, arguably, a duty to protect the nation’s secrets, some of which are more secret than they ought to be. But that aside, there are legitimate national security secrets that it’s the government’s job to protect. And when they leak out, the government has a right and a duty to investigate. But what the government has traditionally done in the past is to investigate the leaker and not, if you will, the leakee. That provides the balance between the government’s job to find out what happened and the press’ right to pursue information. That’s the way it’s been done before. That’s the way it seemed to have been going up until now.”

Traditionally, when there were leaks to the press, the government has investigated, but it has investigated the source of the leak. It has not gone directly after the journalist or reporter who reported on the leak.

But now, it appears that our government is going after both the source of the leak, and the members of the media reporting on it, and not only is that unprecedented, it’s unconstitutional.

This should concern us all.

I don’t want to end up channeling Pastor Niemoller and saying something like, “First they came for the AP and Fox News’ James Rosen, but I wasn’t a part of the AP, and I didn’t like Fox News, so I didn’t speak up.”

So I’m speaking up now.

Freedom of the press needed to be protected in 1787, and it needs to be protected today.

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