Smithfield: Opinion

Freedom of the press is liberty’s necessity

The recent CIA report that elements within Russia had hacked into Democratic National Committee emails during our presidential election made headlines in the United States.

And many in the United States think Russian hackers, with the support of their government, released these emails in order to affect the outcome of our presidential election, potentially in favor of one of the two candidates.

Getting to the bottom of this CIA report is the work of a free press to inform a free people in order to protect their hard-fought on liberties.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Or, as George Mason put it, “The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty ...”

As Jefferson emphasized, this free flow of information to the public is essential to preserving our American democracy. In addition to educating, a free press serves as the people’s watchdog over corruption in business and government.

The First Amendment Center notes correctly that the primary purpose of the free-press clause of the First Amendment is to keep an eye on people in power and maintain a check on corruption. Thus, anyone in power who fears or seeks to put limits on the press should be called into question as to his or her ulterior motives for doing so.

Our president-elect has called the CIA report on the Russian hacking story ridiculous. He noted that it “came from the same people that told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

What can we believe? Whose words can we trust? What is the truth? We must have and depend on a free press to ferret out the facts, much as was the case in the infamous Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration.

Most contemporary U.S. presidents have had their issues with the press and what they would describe as unfavorable, unfair or even inaccurate stories concerning their administrations. This just goes with the territory of being the president of the United States. As the late President Harry Truman put it, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

However, our president-elect seems to take issue with a free press. He has said, “With me, they (the press) are not protected, because I am not like other people.” This being Donald Trump’s not-so-veiled threat to change liable laws to enable him to bring legal action against any news stories he feels have no basis, in his opinion, in truth.

Trump has expressed his attitude toward the media and journalists by calling them slime, sleaze, scum, even dishonest.

As noted in the periodical, The Hill, “Trump’s campaign is denying press credentials to The Washington Post, The New York Times, POLITICO, The Daily Beast, BuzzFeed and many other large media outlets (except the ones who have been happy to carry his every utterance regardless of their basis in fact).”

So much for the First Amendment.

As the article in The Hill also stated, “One thing strongmen and demagogues have in common … they hate the Fourth Estate (the journalistic profession) because they cannot control them.”

Abraham Lincoln wrote these prophetic words we would be wise to hear today: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

We, as a people and a nation, must never fail to stand behind the First Amendment and a free, independent press. We must have reliable sources of information, and we must stay informed. Ignorance and obtaining our information only from a source that supports our preconceived beliefs is the road to certain disaster.

The writer lives in Princeton. Reach him at nedward425@nc.rr.com.

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