Thursday, July 06, 2006

THE WAR ON THE FREE PRESS: HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

In June, 1917 during the height of the frenzy over World War I, the United States Congress, in an effort to suppress opposition to the war, passed one of the most repressive, undemocratic pieces of legislation in the history of the United States:  the so called "Espionage Act," which imposed a fine of $10,000 and a penalty of (twenty years) imprisonment on any individual who aided the enemy, spoke out against or obstructed the draft, or who encouraged dissent in the military.   The Espionage Act also censored political opinions by endowing the Post Master General with the power to ban written or printed material that criticized the United States government.
-----Censorship got another shot in the arm in October, 1917 in the form of the "Trading-With-the-Enemy Act, which, in addition to preventing American supplies from reaching Germany, also restricted the publication of foreign language magazines and newspapers--a counterproductive move which censored both, dissenting and pro war expression.
-----Still eager to censor, the Congress then passed the Sedition Act in May, 1918.  This abomination imposed fines and terms of imprisonment on those who disagreed with the sale of war bonds.   It also prohibited disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the government, the flag, the Constitution, or the uniform of the Army or Navy.   in other words, it deliberately censored any expression which might have challenged the policies and politicians of the era.
-----Now fast forward to the 21st Century,   In 2006 we have a megalomaniacal president (some might say "a dictator") who has trampled on the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, and who claims the right to ignore the will of Congress as he appends moronic signing statements to 750 pieces of legislation, essentially claiming that he is not only above the law, but that he is the very embodiment of the law itself.  
-----I'm not saying that the following scenario will happen, but I'm not going to say that it will not happen either.   Bush and his cronies have been energizing the radical GOP base with imbecilic doublespeak about charging  the supposedly "traitorous" New York Times with treason under hackneyed provisions that were imposed during the First World War. It seems as if the regime in Washington and it's pseudo-American base have as little respect for the First Amendment as they do for the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments--not to mention the rule of law on which this country has operated since the Constitution was ratified. Considering this (mis)administration's craving for power and its visceral contempt for criticism, I would not be surprised if at some point in the near future we will see a fascist style crackdown on the press, beginning with the New York Times and then extending to any outlet which dares to disagree with the Bush Crime Syndicate. 
-----The New York Times, after all, is a national newspaper.  If the proto-fascists in Washington want to limit First Amendment guarantees of a free press, they can easily go jurisdiction shopping in a red state (where words like freedom and liberty are synonymous for racism and homophobia), call a grand jury, and seek indictment under one or all of the above-mentioned pieces of legislation from World War I.   Assuming that at some point, the Times might be convicted and the case might eventually crawl its way up to the Extreme Court, there's a distinct possibility that five totalitarian judges might actually allow such a conviction to stand.   Of course there's also a possibility that they might actually chastise our power-addicted (p)resident and overturn the conviction--in which case King George III might well ignore the ruling and do what he wants anyhow, again operating under the premise that he is the embodiment of the law itself.
-----Someone really needs to tell this (mis)administration that freedom of the press means a press that is unmolested by any unit of government.   Through the First Amendment guarantee of a free press, and by extension, through the 14th Amendment, we have a right to media that are free to keep the various levels of government in check.  And if the various levels of government don't like the fact that the press is actively reporting on illegal, immoral,or  unconstitutional activities, then I would strongly suggest that the government needs to stop the undesirable behavior, get its act together, and quit scapegoating the press which is only doing what the Founding Fathers had intended.
-----The press is the only private enterprise that the Framers chose to mention by name in the United States Constitution.  It is the one profession that they considered important enough to single out for specific protection.  And if Bush and his cronies don't get that, then maybe Bush himself should be charged under the 1918 Sedition Act for both, referring to the Constitution as a "goddamn piece of paper," and for undermining the very provisions of the framing document itself.

2 comments:

Kate said...

You know...I think Bushie has been watching reruns of "Walker, Texas Ranger" again and getting confused...

Advocate1 said...

That is so true!