Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Free Press, And Worth Every Penny Of The Price

     It's no secret that I moderate comments.  There are a lot of divisive issues floating around these days and this is my blog, not a debating society.

     I tend to shelve comments that will only lead to a spiral of unresolvable differences: this is the Internet, soap-boxes are cheap, and shouting past one another isn't nearly as useful as shouting on one's own patch to willing listeners.  It's a big country and a big Internet.  There's room for everyone.

     My observations on the Press did prompt a response that was interesting and a little sad--  But first, let's start with this thing called the Press, which the Bill of Rights tells us is supposed to be free of government meddling.  What is it?

     "The Press" is a common noun hiding a bunch of verbs: observing, collating, writing, editing, reporting, publishing.  It is these acts that the first Amendment protects.  Not reporters or editors or publishers, who are, like the President or the police, Just Some Guys.  Just some guys who happen to be performing vital jobs.

     So when a comment claiming, "Journalists have no special protection.  If the crowd is told to disperse, they are part of the crowd.  Citizens like everyone else. Same protections but no more," showed up, the complete lack of understanding of the underlying principles saddened me.

     Let's take it a piece at a time:

     "Journalists have no special protection."  Dead wrong.  Journalism is a specifically protected activity, called out by name in the first article of the Bill of Rights.

     "If the crowd is told to disperse..."  By whom, and under what circumstances?  Police?  They do not have blanket authority to tell any peaceably-assembled crowd to disperse (that pesky First Amendment again).  The police are not your masters; they are public servants.  But wait, there's another mistake:

     "...they are part of the crowd."  Nope.  Wrong.  Journalists are observing the crowd.*  They're not participants in it and are often not even among the people assembled, but off to one side or behind police lines.  Where, in recent weeks, they have been shoved, gassed, pepperballed, had cameras smashed, been detained, handcuffed and arrested.  But not, interestingly enough, charged -- because the higher-up police officials, not to mention prosecutors and judges, know that journalism is not a crime.

     "Citizens like everyone else."  Yes, they are -- and so are protesters, police, judges, legislators and Presidents.  Some of them, from time to time, engage in Constitutionally-protected activities, like practicing their religion, functioning as members of the free Press, peaceably assembling, keeping and bearing arms, speaking freely, enjoying security "in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," and so on.

     "Same protections but no more."  Yes, precisely -- spelled out right there in the highest law of the land.

     Many journalists -- many people, including protesters, police, etc. -- are jerks, fools or just annoying.  They often have opinions that strike others as ignorant or distasteful.  Nevertheless, even they are protected from government force by the Bill of Rights, especially when engaging in those activities the Feds are supposed to steer clear of limiting.  In my lifetime, I've seen the government get pushed back from many infringements and it has been a good thing.

     The police are not the boss of me -- or of you.  They're damn sure not the boss of the free Press.
* A clearer example: a war correspondent embedded with troops is nevertheless a reporter, not a soldier.   He or she is not a combatant.  A reporter among protesters remains a reporter.


Paul said...

At the risk of being banned, I would like to point the original book of laws only had ten

We have mostly lawyered that beyond belief.

Too many Yeah buts

Roberta X said...

Banned? Unlikely. But which "original book of (ten) laws" do you refer to? The ten listed in the Bill of Rights, or the Biblical Ten Commandments?

The former are laws that apply to the Federal government's actions and, thanks to later amendments and the courts, actions of State governments.

The latter, well-- Among the various sects, there is minor disagreement on the details of the ten; they are greatly expanded even in the Old Testament, and they were not the first -- the Code of Hammurabi is one of the best-attested older sets of laws, though, boringly, roughly half of it is about contracts. Codified law is probably about as old as writing. Pettifogging lawyers and looking for loopholes may be older still.

My post was referring to relatively recent law: the at the time unique and still very valuable Bill of Rights amending the U. S. Constitution, with one of the earliest and strongest protections of freedom of the Press -- and of freedom of religious belief, public assembly and the petitioning of government for redress, no small amount of which has been showing up on your TV screen and computer screen in recent weeks.

Antibubba said...

I'm chagrined by how many self-proclaimed libertarians cheer the on the police when they are attacking journalists. It's always good to hear your clear voice of reason.

B said...

So you only allow comments that agree with what you post?

You used to be so much better than that.

Roberta X said...

I "used to be so much better than that?" Tellya what, so did everyone else. When *everybody* decided they were entitled to their own facts, and that whatever didn't agree with their opinions was "fake news," rational discussion became impossible on many issues.

When people tell me, in utter seriousness, that a global pandemic with an appalling death toll has been faked up in an attempt to unseat the President of the U.S., there's no point in debating that fantasy.

I will allow comments that disagree with my opinions. I will not allow counterfactual comments, and if, on reading a comment, I decide the notions it addresses cannot be resolved, it doesn't get posted -- because there is no point in having an argument that can only end in an impasse. (I just dead-ended one that involved an unproveable religious assumption, in fact.)

The right wing in this country has gone clean off the rails. I guess the Left looked so happy and comfy in that condition that they just had to follow suit. I started out way up in the "libertarian" corner of the Nolan chart and I am still there, centered on the Left-Right axis and as far from the authoritarian pole as you can get. It is increasingly lonely territory but I don't mind that. I do mind that just about everybody else, Left and Right, has decided to mind other people's business and stick their oars in where they were never invited and don't belong.

I am increasingly weary of the way everyone has decided to groove on outrage. Those brain chemicals are addictive drugs. Constant wallowing in them does no one any good. There comes a time to grow up, do what you can to keep ol' Western Civilization patched up, and move the hell on.

Tomorrow's blog post is probably going to make smoke come out your ears. You're welcome!