Freedom of the press isn’t free

The Bush administration punishes those who print unfavorable news.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. So important is this freedom that the leaders of the American Revolution fought to preserve it because they believed it to be the lynchpin of democracy. Unfortunately, our current leadership does not hold fast to this ideal.

Last month The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times ran stories that informed the American people of the ways the government tracked international financial transactions of suspected terrorists. As soon as those newspapers ran with the story they were rebuked and called “disgraceful” by the president and “treasonous” by his conservative chorus.

Critics of the newspapers said the stories endangered national security by publishing secret methods that terrorists could learn from. But the administration already had talked openly about the international financial monitoring system. It had not, however, briefed Congress on the intelligence system prior to the printing of the news story, which it is required to do by law. Still, there are officials calling for The New York Times to be prosecuted under the 1917 espionage act for repeatedly revealing classified information.

This seems to be the Bush administration’s operating method, punishing those who publish embarrassing stories and rewarding those who portray them in a positive light.

And what about Jeff Gannon? It seems a bit ironic that the administration bemoans fairness in reporting when an unqualified reporter mysteriously joined the White House press corps only to ask favorable questions of the president.

It is clear that our executive office is drunk with power. The Bush administration simply refuses to acknowledge that the United States operates under a system of checks and balances. Congress and the Supreme Court balance the power of the executive branch – this is to say nothing of the role of the free press, the role of the people’s right to know.

As we celebrate and reflect on our country’s independence, we must recognize that a free press is essential to democracy and that any threat to it is a threat to the very freedom we supposedly are fighting this war for.