A government against liberty
“It's a culture of cover-ups and intimidation that is giving the administration so much trouble,” asserted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Judiciary Committee, referring to the Justice Department's covert seizure of phone records at The Associated Press.
Charging that “our constitutional rights have been violated,” AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government's surreptitious monitoring of reporters already has had a chilling effect on news-gathering operations.
News sources, understandably, are more likely to be reluctant to call reporters if they think the government is on the line, and that's especially true if the disclosure is about government transgressions.
“Under their own rules, they are required to narrow this request as narrowly as possible so as to not tread upon the First Amendment,” explained Pruitt on CBS' “Face the Nation,” referring to the phone monitoring.
“And yet they had a broad, sweeping collection, and they did it secretly,” said Pruitt. “Their rules require them to come to us first, but in this case they didn't, claiming an exception, saying that would have posed a substantial threat to their investigation. But they have not explained why it would and we can't understand why it would.”
The result of this increased monitoring and harassment of the press is that the government becomes even more insulated from public scrutiny, more heavy-handed and inept, and more shielded from reform.
Once the government is successful in restricting the news-gathering operations of the press, warned Pruitt, “the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know and that's not what the Framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.”
Pruitt has it right about that philosophy, as demonstrated in the letters of Thomas Jefferson.
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” asserted Jefferson in a Jan. 28, 1786, letter to James Currie (1745-1807), a Virginia physician and frequent correspondent during Jefferson's residence in France.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” wrote Jefferson in 1787 to Edward Carrington, a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788.
“Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe,” stated Jefferson in 1816 in a letter to Col. Charles Yancey, a commanding officer in the Virginia Militia during the War of 1812.
And regarding those who seek to restrict the freedom of the press, Jefferson wrote this in 1804 to Judge John Tyler on the U.S. Circuit Court in Richmond: “No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”
Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party, 1953 to 1964, also understood the importance of the press. “The press,” he proclaimed, “is our chief ideological weapon.”
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pens get physical, trade Goc for Blues’ Lapierre
- Pirates trade Snider to Orioles for minor league pitcher
- Now a Patriot, RB Blount’s thrilled to have moved on from Steelers
- Medicare payments to tie doctor, hospital payments to quality rather than volume of care
- No cross-checking here: Penguins misspell ‘Sidney’
- Letang produces 5 assists in return as Penguins defeat Jets, 5-3
- Winfield man is one of a few to attend all 49 Super Bowl games
- Pennsylvania shale gas producers received hundreds of environmental citations in 4 years, PennEnvironment says
- Penn Hills water main break creates car-swallowing sinkhole
- Cal U professor who died in campus office was lawyer, civil rights leader
- Pittsburgh to consider measure to give city employees 6 weeks of paid parental leave