The Amendments Series: The Free Press


“Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.”

This quote by James Madison underscores the extreme importance of the First and Second Amendments to preserving liberty.

Our right to arm ourselves is essential. But I am rounding out this small series on the First Amendment this week before moving on to the Second Amendment next week. Madison says, an enslaved press is necessary for oppressors to tyrannize. And it is this point that I will touch on in this post.

An enslaved press, does not necessarily entail a press enslaved by government.

The Amendment

A free press is essential to preserving liberty. Thomas Jefferson said, “Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe”.


The First Amendment addresses a free press by saying: “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging … the freedom of the press.”

In other words, Congress cannot make a law that in any way prohibits or abridges the freedom of the press.

The founders wanted a free press because they knew how important an objective and unattached press was to maintaining a free and informed citizenry. It is the citizen’s job to check their government and make sure the government is not acting unlawfully or against the Constitution. A free press allows for this to happen. If the government is entangled in the press or the press in the government, there is no actual accountability. If government controls the media, government controls the agenda and therefore the minds of the people.

The concern is the control over the minds of people. If the people are not given a clear and objective picture of government and policy, they cannot make any clear judgments on the government.

And this is what I want to address. When Trump calls out the media and labels them “fake new”, it is the lack of objectivity that he is addressing. Many on the right, and the left, call him or others in the government out for their “attacks” on the media.

The organization of our press has truly been a success. Our law concerning the press is such that divergences of opinion between members of the government are no longer an occasion for public exhibitions, which are not the newspapers’ business. We’ve eliminated that conception of political freedom which holds that everybody has the right to say whatever comes into his head.

— Adolf Hitler

The press must be free, yes.

But the point of a free press is to allow for and encourage a well informed and educated citizenry.

A Word From George Orwell

A “free” press that effectively operates as the arm of one side of the political spectrum is not a free press. If the press lies, manipulates and attempts to coerce the people into responding to government in a particular way, it is not a free press.

The heart of the First Amendment has been lost. What to do about it is another matter entirely, but please do not compare what Trump or others are doing when calling out the press to what Hitler or Lenin did when they moved to control the press for their gain.


Controlling the press and the agenda can be done with little to no legal help.

Consider America’s press today as you read this lengthy quote from Orwell.

“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.

So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio.

At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady.

Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

Sound familiar?


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Conclusion

The founders specifically ordered—via the First Amendment—Congress to make no law that abridges a free press in order to make sure that no one idea silences or suffocates others.

So, with this understanding in mind, would you say that America has a free press today, or do we have a press that promotes one idea and attempts to silence and suffocate any opposing ideas?

Your answer to this question should tell you everything.

The Liberty Belle

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