More on First Amendment

Author: David R. Kotok, Post Date: July 8, 2017
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We received many replies after we published my commentary “America’s Birthday” (cumber.com/americas-birthday/). A sampling of readers’ responses follows, and then we will turn to the implications of the First Amendment for markets.

The majority agreed with us and offered “well done” or “thank you for speaking up” and other complimentary words. We thank each of you for those notes.

Some added personal views. Here’s one from Paul: “The only thing I would add is that the NRA’s and its backers’ successful battle to put a firearm in every pocket further abridges my right to free speech since, increasingly, I dare not voice my views for fear of being blown away. Let’s hope that the proven resiliency of American democracy will, eventually, overcome these attacks on our liberty.”

Others took the opposing side and noted that the Second Amendment is as valid in law as the First. They encouraged me to make that point. I thought about this juxtaposition: Don’t we want a free press to report that the highest murder rate in America’s cities is in one where guns are not legal? Don’t we also want news about a young man seized by road rage shooting and killing another driver?”

About one-fourth of our readers took issue with my position. Here is a sample from Barry: ”Pretty much disagree; Trump is the target of phony news put out by the MSM under the cloak of First Amendment protection….”

Bruce, on the other hand, took neither party’s side. Fed up with the media’s role in elections, he asked,

“While I can agree with your complaints about the president, why have we let the so-called free press become so irresponsible as to make us vote for two of the worst candidates in my lifetime? I didn’t vote for either but consider the press the enemy in respect to responsible reporting on our political process. They are the fountainhead of communication to the masses, and what we have now is an irresponsible social media mating up with a no longer functional free press. That is the serious part of the Fourth of July, not just our incompetent president along with both of the two dysfunctional primary political parties.”

One thoughtful reader argued strongly in favor of the present administration’s right to craft communication and the press’s right to report, question, and respond. Here is an excerpt:

“Every administration has had its means of communicating with the public, from speeches to newspaper to fireside chats on radio to television and now social media. It is the right of the administration to craft the message and means of delivery. I believe the administration has every right not to answer a ridiculous question or any question at all. The press has every right to challenge the message and publicize their editorial comment. I see no reason why any administration should be prevented from communicating their message as they see fit and should endeavor to prevent it from being twisted to fit an opposing political agenda.”

He concluded that “It appears to me the current administration is communicating an enormous amount of information, and the free press is rightly being critical. If the messages are being communicated as intended on both sides, the public can make an informed judgment. I see no reason to believe freedom of the press is being curtailed.”

Another David, on the other hand, believes that freedom of the press has been abridged and misused for a long time:

“Regarding your commentary about free speech, I agree that it is critical that we have a free press – if only we had a press that was free of extreme bias, hypocrisy and overt manipulation. We may have a press free of government control, but it is certainly controlled by those that shape the news to fit with their perspective and their attempt to influence others to think the same way as they do. In this regard I fear that we’ve not had a free press for many decades. As the detectives on Dragnet used to say, ‘Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.’ If only we had more of this from the “free press” than what we get today.”
Criticism of the press as a professional failure was a common theme. Here is a sample from Steven: “The press has NEVER been this outright partisan. That changes the overall game when one of the participants changes the rules.”

Many argued that the press is biased and thus invites the attack. Here is Bill’s reply: “Well said! But it is sad when the press abandons its role to inform us and instead pursues its own agendas, thus denying the public what the first amendment tries to guarantee us. But this too will pass. Happy 4th!”

Another point raised about the press came from a longtime friend and foreign journalist. He said: “You’re right; you’re damned right. However, there’s always a partisan press that works for some aim. That may be the aim of the owner, of the creditors of the press, of the advertising men, etc. This may be good or bad, but it can be very powerful. For instance, the French Revolution had a strong driver in the press paid by the bourgeoisie. In fact Louis XVI’s advisers blamed that the king did not ‘buy’ some of the influent journalists. This is a positive example, but there are also negative examples. As a foreigner who just superficially follows American politics, I see a lot of deep bias against Trump. And Trump is moving in a way that is just colorful, and perhaps makes publicity in the press. I do not see any real danger to the press in that.”

The theme was repeated and repeated with emphasis on the difference between investigative journalism versus opinion and hyperbole. I tried to make this point in the original July 4 comments when I argued about fact versus assertion and opinion. Press freedom permits both as long as there is no intentional and fraudulent defamation. At least that was the plan in designing the First Amendment.

Fewer than ten responders were nasty and called me names. Of them, three alleged that I’m not patriotic, and they invoked their personal military service as evidence of their platform perspective. Many readers have served our country, and I know some of them personally. My army time was in the 1960s. What I find interesting is that the many veterans I know who agreed with me about defending the First Amendment did not feel it necessary to invoke their service as a platform for their views. Only the detractors did that.

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