Sunday, March 18, 2018

Free Press Depends on Intellectual Freedom

In a letter-to-the-editor published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger shortly after Trump took office, “A free press is vital to democracy,” JoAnn D. Claps of Randolph, NJ wrote, in part:

Our Founding Fathers knew how essential a free press was to democracy; that’s why they protected it in the First Amendment. Our president lies repeatedly and has a willing cohort of supporters who will lie along with him in order to retain power. His authoritarian ways should alarm everyone and we should be grateful to and support the free press that reveals facts to us so that we can fulfill our rights as citizens: to make our voices heard.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

Repeated lies? Authoritarian? A lust for power? At first reading, I thought Claps was confused, still thinking that the Obama Administration was still in office. The only evidence that Clap is referring to President Trump is a prior reference in her letter’s opening sentence to another letter published a few days earlier, Star-Ledger disrespects the White House, critical of the Star-Ledger’s coverage and commentary of the Trump Administration.

Yes, “Our Founding Fathers knew how essential a free press was to democracy.” But the Founders sought to build a free, constitutionally limited democratic republic, not an absolute democracy. In keeping with the principles of a free republic, the First Amendment they crafted protects intellectual freedom broadly, and a free press must be considered in this broader context. While a free press is essential to the democratic process in a free republic, intellectual freedom more broadly is essential to a free society. Intellectual freedom encompasses not just freedom of the press, but also freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom to criticize the government, and freedom to express dissenting opinions, and so on, all without fear of legal reprisals.

How is repeatedly promising that “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it” just before outlawing millions of policies under ObamaCare not lying? How is the IRS targeting of private associations for their conservative ideological views; opposition to Citizens United and McCutcheon, two of the most pro-free speech SCOTUS decisions; laws imposing birth control mandates on Christian businesses, or laws forcing Christian businesses to provide services that conflict with their conscientious beliefs; and the AGs United for Clean Power coalition’s fascist-like prosecutorial assault on climate change dissenters consistent with intellectual freedom? They’re not. All of these initiatives have been orchestrated by the Democrats.

It’s true that Trump’s direct attacks on media outlets—which would be ok as a private citizen but not as president, the leading representative of the federal executive branch—implies a disturbing threat toward the press. It’s also true that hostility toward freedom of speech is not a monopoly of the political Left. And it’s true that Trump has an authoritarian streak. But Trump’s hostility toward the press pales next to the Democrats broader assault on intellectual freedom. We need not excuse Trump’s attacks on the press to realize that intellectual freedom is under attack from many sides, including from the Democratic Left. Generally speaking, whataboutism is not a counter-argument, and I do not like to use it. My point in using it here is to point out the futility of non-objectivity. True First Amendment defenders should fight all threats to this vital part of the Constitution, wherever those threats originate, regardless of political loyalties.

Related Reading:

Real vs. Pseudo-Censorship

Linda Stamato Smears (and Fears?) the Koch Brothers

Stamato vs. the Koch Brothers: Campaign Finance and the First Amendment

If Removing Cop Killer’s Memorial Violates Free Speech, What About Dem’s Amendment?

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

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