by Nick Taylor
Why should consumers care whether we have a free press? Whatever your politics, whomever you voted for, doesn’t really matter here. Truth, however, does matter. A free and honest press brings the news of the day into our homes and keeps us informed about the things we should know.
At a very local level, we care about garbage pickup, water running from our taps, safe streets and may even whether we can get a parking spot. Local reporters help us keep tabs on what’s happening with our local governments, our communities, and the people who deliver needed services. If it doesn’t work, if there is corruption, we need to know about it.
It works the same way on the national level. We need to know when programs like Social Security and Medicare are threatened, when access to health insurance is undermined, when women don’t get the health care they deserve or equal pay for equal work, when low wage workers aren’t supported, when clean air and water regulations are rolled back, when import tariffs are likely to raise food prices, and a thousand other things vital to the average family’s security and viability.
A vigorous, free and un-intimidated press has never been as important as it is right now. Neither is the First Amendment that protects free speech.
Donald Trump’s White House thinks the news media “should keep its mouth shut.” Sorry, conspiracy peddler and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, that’s not going to happen. You and Kellyanne Conway and DJT aren’t getting free rein to drip “alternative facts” into the heads of Americans.
Bannon’s declaration that news organizations are “the opposition party” follows Trump’s comments that much of the media is “very, very dishonest” and makes up fake news.
That is shorthand for news that shows him at less than what he believes is his full measure of tremendousness.
In fact, the dishonesty begins with him and his enablers. There’s a reason George Orwell’s 1984, first published in 1949 as a look at a dystopian future in which the government declares “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” has jumped to the top of the best-seller lists in the past week.
Orwell makes the point more directly in Politics and the English Language, published two years earlier: “Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The press in America, from the pamphleteering days of Thomas Paine, has existed to pursue and state the truth despite the wishes of the powerful. And the vast majority of newspapers and broadcast news operations do just that, despite what naysayers like Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart News, where Bannon was recently in charge, would have you believe.
The right to speak and write freely is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, a right so important it preceded all the others.
No White House thugs mirroring Orwell and calling real news fake and fake news real are going to change that.