Tag Archives: First Amendment

‘The Post’ reminds one of how it used to be

I saw “The Post.” This won’t be a review of the film, except that I simply want to say it was gripping to the maximum degree.

It reminds me of how it used to be in daily print journalism.

I had some trepidation about seeing it. Some of my fellow travelers in the journalism craft had expressed dismay at seeing the film and lamenting what has become of a proud profession. I had a glint of fear that I might share their gloom. I mean, look at what has happened to newspapers all across the nation. They’re shrinking and withering before our eyes as publishers grapple against forces that are overwhelming them: the Internet, the plethora of “news” sources, cable television.

That fear never hit me. Instead, I reveled in the story it told and rejoiced in the victory that The Washington Post scored in the effort to censor it, preventing the government from invoking a prior restraint on a free and unfettered press.

“The Post” tells the story of the paper’s effort to publish the Pentagon Papers, a report written during the Vietnam War. The Papers told of the deception perpetrated on the public by several presidential administrations: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Officials all told of supposed “progress” in the fight against the communists in Vietnam. They lied to the nation. The Pentagon Papers revealed the lie.

The New York Times obtained the papers from Daniel Ellsberg. It got the story out first, then the Nixon administration persuaded a judge to prohibit further publication of the Papers, citing national security concerns.

Post editor Ben Bradlee didn’t see it that way. He eventually guaranteed publisher Katherine Graham that no American fighting man would be harmed if the Post published the rest of the damning document.

The matter ended up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which then ruled 6-3 against the Nixon administration — and in favor of the First Amendment guarantee of a free press.

The film tells that story in gripping fashion.

In a larger sense, though, the film reminds us of the value of press freedom and the good that the freedom brings to a public that needs to know the truth about the government that works for us.

It also reminds us of journalism’s value to a nation that promotes liberty. Indeed, given the current climate and the fomenting of hatred against the press that’s coming from the current presidential administration, “The Post” comes across as profoundly topical and relevant.

I cheered during the film when Graham gave the go-ahead to publish the Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post. The sight of presses turning over brought a lump to my throat.

I worked proudly in that craft for nearly 37 years. I never had the opportunity to cover a story of the magnitude of the Pentagon Papers. I did, though, have my share of thrills about getting a story into print and feeling the impact of that story on the community our newspaper served. I would derive the same satisfaction as I gravitated to opinion journalism and wrote editorials or signed columns that challenged the sources of power in our community.

“The Post,” therefore, didn’t sadden me.

It made me proud to have taken the career path I chose.

Weaken libel laws? No can do, Mr. President

Donald John Trump wants to make it easier to sue publications for libel. The president vowed to change laws he called a “sham” and a “disgrace.”

Really, Mr. President?

He made the vow at the start of a Cabinet meeting in the White House.

Where can I start? I’ll give it a shot.

Trump said journalists cannot write stories that are knowingly false and then smile while they count their money as it pours into their bank account.

True enough, Mr. President. Except that current libel laws ensure that those who publish “knowingly false” stories are punished.

As for whether the federal government can rewrite the law, I need to remind Donald Trump that the U.S. Constitution declares in the First Amendment that there should be a “free press” that is allowed to do its job without government interference.

The founders wanted to ensure that a free press could function without fear of intimidation and, thus, established a high bar for public officials to clear if they decide to sue for libel.

The object of Trump’s tirade clearly is the publication of “Fire and Fury,” the highly controversial book written by journalist Michael Wolff, who reports some mighty scathing remarks from former and current White House staffers who had some disparaging things to say about Donald Trump. The president calls it all fiction; Wolff, of course, stands by his reporting in the book.

National Public Radio reports: And this is hardly the first time Trump has railed against libel laws, which as a matter of practice are made by the states and backed by a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that sets a high bar for public figures wanting to prove libel.

So, what is left for Trump to do? He can nominate Supreme Court justices who are willing to water down the First Amendment. However, he then sets up a proverbial “litmus test” for potential appointees.

Would he dare ask them prior to selecting them whether they would pledge a sort of loyalty to the president by agreeing beforehand to rule favorably on a libel case that comes before the nation’s highest court?

Now that I think about it, I believe he would … to his shame!

Trump’s war on the media keeps getting hotter.

Frightening … and dangerous.

Free press: enemy of dictators, not the ‘people’

John McCain speaks with authority when he discusses freedom, the media, authoritarian regimes and liberty.

He lost more than five years of freedom at the hands of captors who held him in bondage during the Vietnam War.

He came home and stayed in service to his country, entering politics. He now serves in the U.S. Senate; he ran twice unsuccessfully for president of the United States. He now is held in high regard for his wartime heroism, his principled public service and his brave battle against cancer.

Comments he made earlier this year were rebroadcast today. He told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd that Donald Trump’s assaults on the media are destructive to our democratic system and they undermine one of the principles on which this country was founded.

Sen. McCain noted that the president’s bullying of the media and his habit of calling out individual journalists is counterproductive in the extreme.

He joked with Todd that he might “hate you,” but the country needs the media to be free of intimidation and it must be allowed to do its job without the kind of bullying that’s coming repeatedly from the president and his White House team.

Yet, the president insists on attacking the media. He continues to curry favor with the Fox News Channel while condemning the work being done by other media. Why? It’s obvious that Fox tilts toward the president and declines to ascribe much critical analysis of his policies. The network appears to many eyes — mine included — to be fulfilling Trump’s insatiable desire to be complimented, to be admired.

That’s not the role the media are supposed to play. The nation’s founders said a “free press” must not be controlled by the government in any fashion. They wrote it down, codifying it in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This independence enables the media to do their job. It allows them to hold public officials at all levels accountable. If they speak untruths, the media are compelled to call them on it.

Finally, they cannot be coerced into shying away from their responsibility because politicians — even the president — like to label them as “fake news.”

John McCain is far from the only contemporary politician who understands this tenet. The problem is that the country’s most powerful politician — the president — is poisoning the political process by trying to intimidate the media, which must remain free of such pressure.

As Sen. McCain told Todd: Trump’s bullying of the media is the conduct of a dictator.

POTUS declares war on media

It’s been on-going ever since Donald John Trump declared his presidential candidacy in June 2015.

He’s been at war with the media that seek to report the news relevant to his campaign and now, his presidency.

As Steve Schmidt, a longtime Republican Party political activist, has noted: Trump now has all but declared Fox News to be the state’s official news medium. Why is that? Because Trump just relishes the network’s obvious bias in his favor.

Other media outlets? They’re all the “enemy of the American people.” The president, with his alarming and frightening petulance toward the rest of the media, has broken with a couple centuries’ worth of tradition involving presidential relationships with a free press.

Consider, too, the words of a longtime public servant who now works as a “contributor” to CNN. Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden — the former head of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency — laid it on the line.

Hayden fires back at Trump

Hayden wrote this on Twitter: “Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”

Think not just of what Gen. Hayden said, but also consider that this man would say it. Michael Hayden served with distinction and honor under presidential administrations of both major political parties.

Hayden was responding to this tweet from Trump: “Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly.”

I get that Trump gored Hayden’s proverbial ox with that ridiculous message. However, I believe Hayden’s description of Trump’s view of the media is correct. He is conducting an “outrageous assault on truth, a free press” and, yes, on the First Amendment.

This individual, the president of the United States, is a disgrace to the high office he occupies.

Giving thanks on this special day … and always

My family members know I love all of them beyond measure. They know I am grateful for the love they give me in return.

I am grateful and thankful for the friends I have acquired over many decades of living. I believe they know of — and appreciate — my love for them, too.

Now the rest of you know what they know and understand the gratitude I am expressing to them today and every day.

I feel moved to express my thankfulness and gratitude for my country. And for the system of government under which we Americans live.

You see, I am grateful in the extreme that my government allows me to write this blog. I put these musings out there multiple times each day. I use it to vent my frustration with the government, and with many of the people who operate the government. These people are responsible for making the laws under which we live and for administering them in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.

The framers of the Constitution established the Bill of Rights, which are contained in the first 10 amendments to that document. The First Amendment lays out freedom to worship, freedom of the press and freedom to seek redress of grievances. This blog, thus, is protected by at least two of those First Amendment clauses.

My retirement status has given me the freedom to speak only for myself. I do not shy away from that. I’ll keep pounding away for as long as I am able to maintain a cogent thought in my noggin and string sentences together that make a semblance of sense.

Some people in power who happen to read what I write won’t like what they read. That’s too bad — for them!

For me? I will just keep giving thanks for the opportunity to speak my mind.

Is the man recanting his oath?

You go, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse!

The young Nebraska Republican —  a freshman member of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” — has asked a pertinent question of the president of the United States.

Is Donald J. Trump “recanting” the oath of office he took in January?

Trump, you see, is ratcheting up his battle with the news media. He is suggesting that television networks are “disgusting” him by reporting negative news. He calls it “fake news,” of course. Trump is suggesting also that networks could have their licenses revoked because of their reporting.

But wait! He took an oath to protect the Constitution, which allows the media to do their job without government interference or pressure.

Sasse writes: “Mr. President: Words spoken by the President of the United States matter,” the Republican senator wrote in a statement. “Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?”

Fascinating, yes? Sasse is a Republican, just like the president. Oh, but the president keeps yapping that all this negative stuff is being fueled by Democrats.

Now he is seeming to imply that the Constitution’s guarantees of press freedom in the First Amendment don’t matter.

I’ll give the president “credit,” though, for this. He has “united” partisans on both sides of the aisle in condemning his ridiculous notion of censoring news outlets.

Answer to your question is easy, Mr. POTUS

Donald John Trump fired off another in an endless string of tweets.

He writes: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

I can answer that one, Mr. President. It’s never appropriate! Especially not from someone in your position!

NBC News reported that Trump wants to increase the nation’s nuclear stockpile, apparently in response to growing threats from North Korea. The president denies it. NBC stands by its story.

POTUS goes on the attack

Trump calls it “fake news,” which has become his favorite throwaway line to disparage anything he deems negative.

What is “bad for country” is for the president to bully the media, to seek to push reporters, editors and assorted news executives around with threats against their profession.

The president needs to layer on some additional skin. It’s tough out there, man. You ought to know that. Moreover, you ought to accept critical reporting as being part of your job.

Hey, Mr. POTUS, the Constitution allows it!

I beg your pardon, Mr. President?

You, Donald J. Trump, need to acquaint yourself with the document you took an oath to defend and protect. Then again, you’ve heard that call already from many of your critics.

And yet your supporters seem to give you a pass for the ignoramus-sounding statements you keep making while you bitch about the media doing their job.

Your statement about being “disgusted” that the media can report certain things is utterly, completely and profoundly ignorant. How’s that? Well, that silly ol’ First Amendment allows a “free press” to report without any government interference, bullying or coercion.

It’s in there. Honest, Mr. President.

Loosen libel laws?

And what’s with this nutty notion of wanting to loosen libel laws, to make it easier for people on whom the media report to sue the media for damages. Most states make it difficult to prove libel for a reason. They establish truth as an absolute defense for those being sued.

The press can write “whatever it wants,” Mr. President? That’s what disgusts you? The media do a pretty good job of policing themselves already. They have “outed” many reporters over many years who have reported falsely. Do the names Jason Blair and Janet Cooke, to name just two, ring a bell with you? They were caught reporting bogus news stories and essentially booted from the profession.

I write all this, Mr. President, as someone who toiled as a journalist for nearly 37 years. I didn’t get to cover the presidency directly. I harvested my share of hard feelings, though, from public officials I’ve reported on or offered commentary regarding their activities. I’ve managed to remain humble enough over the years, never taking myself more seriously than my craft.

Many other journalists fall into the same category of individuals who seek to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

They don’t need any bullying from the president of the United States. In fact, the Constitution of the United States would appear to prohibit you from doing what you are trying to do.

So, with all due respect, Mr. President … knock it off!

‘Even the loons’ deserve to have guns?

Bill O’Reilly isn’t on TV much these days but he still has quite a following around the nation.

I feel the need, therefore, to challenge an assertion that the former TV host made in a blog post he wrote about the Second Amendment, the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of Americans to “keep and bear arms.” He said the Las Vegas massacre this weekend is the “price of freedom” and said the “Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.”

Even the loons?

No, Bill. The loons might have that right currently, but they do not deserve the same rights to own firearms for protection.

This cuts pretty close to the heart of a debate that’s going to rage across the nation in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre that killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others. The gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel onto a floor filled with concert goers who were listening to a concert performance by country music star Jason Aldean.

The debate over the Second Amendment has commenced, despite what White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said today about it being “too early” to have this national discussion.

Price of freedom?

I have no specific answers to the changing the status quo. I do believe in the Second Amendment. I believe Americans’ right to own firearms should remain. However, I continue to believe that there must be some additional controls placed on those who purchase firearms to do something to keep them out of the hands of people like the Las Vegas gunman.

There are limits on certain elements of the First Amendment; you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theater, nor can you slander or libel someone. Yet, there are those who contend that the Second Amendment must remain untouched from what the founders wrote in the 18th century. 

I won’t accept that notion. Surely there can be a way to craft reasonable restrictions on the purchase of firearms that seek to keep them from nut jobs like the guy who opened fire in Las Vegas.

And, no, I am acutely aware that no additional law is going to deter every single monster from obtaining a weapon, just as laws against murder haven’t eliminated that crime from occurring.

As we move forward with this discussion, my hope is that we can find a way to keep this debate as calm as possible and look as dispassionately as we can at alternatives to the status quo.

Mr. President, there’s that First Amendment thing

Donald Trump has weighed in on professional football players’ conduct while listening to the National Anthem being played before the start of NFL games.

Fire ’em if they sit or kneel while “The Star Spangled Banner” is being played, he said at a Huntsville, Ala., political rally this week.

According to CNN: Trump said NFL owners should respond to the players by saying, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” 

Well …

This whole discussion began a year ago when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the Anthem to protest the country’s treatment of African-American citizens.

Count me as one American who was appalled at Kaepernick’s disrespectful display. I thought he acted stupidly at the time. He is free to express his political views, but I just didn’t like the manner in which he chose to do it.

However, what he did was legal. Not only that, it’s guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to protest in any peaceful manner they wish. If they want to burn Old Glory in the town square as a form of political speech, that’s allowed, too. Just don’t do it in my presence.

The president’s urging of NFL owners to fire players who sit during the Anthem ignores the First Amendment guarantee of a cherished civil right.

I could argue that the president simply should keep his trap shut when it concerns such matters, except that the First Amendment damn sure gives him the right to speak his piece, too.

Then again, Donald Trump isn’t just your average Joe. He is the president of the United States of America, which gives his words a lot more weight than those that come from some shmuck blogger out here in Flyover Country.

Oh, the price of living in a free society.