Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Toxins for Tocsins

The Obama Administration Interferes with Freedom of the Press

“When I covered Ronald Reagan for NBC in the 80’s, you know, some days you do a good piece, a positive piece, some days you do a tough piece. And you come in the next day and they always treated you professionally and I think it came from the top down, from the Old Man, Reagan who felt ‘You know, I’m going to get a good review today and a bad review tomorrow and it’s nothing personal.’ These guys, everything is personal – I got to tell you, everything. They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my thirty years in Washington. They constantly are on the phone or emailing me complaining, ‘Well you had this guest,’ or ‘You did this thing.’” – Chris Wallace, discussing the Obama White House during an interview with Bill O’Reilly, 19 September 2009.

Fox News reporter Chris Wallace recently spent several minutes on the “O’Reilly Factor” complaining that the White House snubbed the Fair and Balanced network. During a weekend media blitz on health care, the President gave interviews to CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, and Univision – but not Fox. Mr. Wallace went so far as calling Mr. Obama’s staff a “bunch of crybabies”. Sounds like Mr. Wallace is a crybaby.

Nevertheless, in the course of his whining, he revealed something far more sinister than being overlooked for an interview. It seems the White House routinely calls journalists to rebuke them about their reporting.

The government of the United States wields enormous power over individuals - and the companies that employ them. It can tax them, buy from them, regulate them, subsidize them, and investigate them – and do the same to their competitors. Any complaint from officials who wield that kind of power must therefore be taken extremely seriously because it carries the threat the power might be used.

To provide a check on that power, the Founding Fathers had the wisdom to make freedom of the press the law of the land. They saw newspapers as essential to our freedom and worried about the tendency of governments to co-opt them for their own ends. Jefferson called a free press the “tocsin of a nation” and our “only security”. He warned “that government always kept a kind of standing army of news writers who without any regard to truth, or to what should be like truth, invented & put into the papers whatever might serve the minister.”

If we take Mr. Jefferson’s warning seriously, then we must be concerned when high-ranking officials tell reporters what to broadcast. Journalists that don’t want to enlist in the Administration’s standing army of news writers should shed as much light as possible on this toxic practice – before they find themselves drafted.

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