Readers Write: The Bedrock of Democracy

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The First Amendment to the Constitution prevents Congress from making any law which would abridge freedom of speech.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “When left to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”

Throughout history, free speech and a free press have been associated with democracies. Yet we now have a president who calls the press the “enemy of the people,” and constantly talks about “fake news.”

At some of his rallies, he has literally pointed at the press and made belligerent remarks.

Only one other president was as antithetical to a free press. That would be Richard Nixon who pressured the Internal Revenue Service to audit the tax returns of journalists on his “enemies list.”

Trump has tried to use regulatory power to retaliate against the press, suspended a CNN reporter’s press pass, and tried to revoke TV stations’ licenses.

What “the Donald” doesn’t understand is that the relationship between the press and elected officials is always adversarial. And when the man in the White House is so thin-skinned that he must be surrounded by sycophants, we are well on our way to totalitarianism.

In 1971, the Supreme Court heard the case of the New York Times Company v. United States. It involved a newspaper publishing the Pentagon Papers. In a six to three decision, the court held that “the press is to serve the governed, not the governors.”

Pay attention, Donald. Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority went on: “A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government wrongdoing.” Clearly, this is a lesson lost on our 45th president.

Dr. Hal Sobel

Great Neck

 

 

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