by Dena Leichnitz
What people do not understand about the First Amendment could fill up the Grand Canyon and what the current administration doesn’t understand about it could fill up to infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear used to say. I wrote this statement about a Bill of Rights I wrote for my school, but it holds even more truth for the actual Bill of Rights:
No one fights for words on a page, they fight for ideals, they fight for what is right, it has to mean something. So yes, the Bill of Rights is mine…will always be mine. And that is what he doesn’t understand.
I wrote that in 2012, but it has taken on a much more pertinent and urgent meaning today. Back then, the person who didn’t understand was just some student at a community college; today it could refer to the President of the United States. That is a very frightening thought.
So let’s breakdown what the First amendment really is. There are five parts to the first amendment. Yes, five. Not three like most people think. So we will list them all.
- The right to religion: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,
- Freedom of speech: or abridging the freedom of speech
- Freedom of the press: or of the press,
- The right to protest: or the right of the people peaceably to assemble
- The right to redress the government: petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This article will take a look at the freedom of the press portion of the first amendment, how the current administration seems to be threatening the protection of the press, and how people who don’t understand the Constitution are allowing it to happen.
Let’s make one thing clear: The first amendment deals with political speech, not ordinary speech. For instance, you have no first amendment right to call me a *female dog* and I don’t have a first amendment right to attack you verbally either. That is not what the first amendment is about. In terms of press, it is also not absolute. They don’t have the right to lie, for instance. While our Founding Fathers originally fought to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, when it was finally agreed upon that we would indeed pen one, freedom of the press was included in the first amendment because it was considered vitally important to securing our liberties as a new nation.
The duty of the press is the be the “watchdog” of the government. They are to make sure the government is being held accountable for its actions with regard to the citizenry of the country. Kenneth Auletta of Frontline is quoted as saying: The framers had in mind the First Amendment, basically. … They gave the First Amendment as a way of giving a fourth branch of government — in fact, the press — an ability to question those in power in any of those three branches of government. The press was never supposed to be about tracking down movie stars or how to make the best tuna casserole, but instead about making sure we were being told the truth about legislation that was being passed down.
Yet in recent years, those who are responsible for securing our freedom in the press have sort of put that duty on the backburner. Instead they have concentrated on consumerism. With Donald Trump yelling about “fake news” on a constant basis, more constituents have flung their nose at the press. There are those who think that Trump’s dismissal of the press has a “darker” purpose:
“The evidence is overwhelming that Trump is engaged in something more substantial and more troubling than his predecessors,” [RonNell Anderson] Jones [a law professor at the University of Utah] wrote in the study. “Because he appears to be on the path toward eliminating important protections for the press, we think this issue absolutely demands careful public attention.”
Jones goes on to say that Trump has made the media “the enemy.”
“President Trump’s rhetoric positioning the press as an “enemy of the American people” comes at a time when the media is weakened by dwindling financial support and reputation, making it more vulnerable to attack, they point out. It also may further other agendas, such as defining and unifying a political community and potential allies by refocusing discussion away from divisive social problems and internal conflicts; creating a litmus test for other potential allies and enemies; and providing convenient scapegoats for existing social problems or future policy failures.”
People might argue that the fact that this study was even done and is going to be published is proof that our freedom of the press is still firmly intact. While that might be true for now, we need to take care that we keep our freedom of the press lest we end up like Venezuela, a country where there is more propaganda than truth.
“The late President Hugo Chavez nationalized several television stations by buying shares or failing to renew their licenses. The last to fall was the influential Caracas channel Globovision, which government-affiliated officials turned into a mouthpiece in 2013. Since then, Venezuela’s newspapers have been its last bastion of free reporting. But that, too, is crumbling visibly.”
We don’t want that oppression in our country, so we must be mindful and hold the government accountable as well. For if we don’t, we are going to lose not only our press, but the other four assemblages as well. Once the first amendment goes, so do all the others. God bless the Bill of Rights.