My friends in the media are fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson – selectively, that is – with regard to the responsibility and sanctity of the free press.
“[W]ere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
That’s the quote they like the most. Jefferson said it in 1787.
In all my years in journalism, I have never seen any of my colleagues quote what Jefferson said a mere 27 years later in 1814: “I deplore … the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them. … These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste and lessening its relish for sound food. As vehicles of information and a curb on our funtionaries, they have rendered themselves useless by forfeiting all title to belief. … This has, in a great degree, been produced by the violence and malignity of party spirit.”
What went so wrong in one generation?
As I have pointed out many times, including in a book I wrote some years ago, “Stop the Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution,” America’s colonial founding fathers did something unique in the history of the world when they embraced as part of the Constitution protections for press freedom – a concept that had no precedent at the time and hasn’t had one equal to it since.
For a limited time, WND is making “Stop the Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution” available for the giveaway price of 99 cents as a way to educating the public about how the free press has betrayed its responsibility to a free society. This offer will end soon. Feel free to buy as multiple copies to distribute to your friends in and out of the media.
They did it with one thing in mind – restricting the expansion of the federal government beyond its intended limited functions.
But, according to the free press’ greatest champion, the central role of a free press in a free society had been betrayed – badly – in one lifetime.
Less than 200 years later, the state of the media is such that most journalists could not even articulate what that role is.
For instance, the Society of Professional Journalists is a respected organization that has established the internal code of conduct and ethics for reporters and editors.
Here’s what the preamble to the code of ethics says: “Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of Democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”
What’s wrong with that?
- “Democracy” – with a capital D or not – was anathema to Jefferson and his 18th century counterparts who drafted and ratified the First Amendment. They hated democracy. They chose not to pattern their new government on the principles of democracy. Instead they chose the form of a constitutionally limited republic – a far cry from democracy.
- The preamble says nothing about the central role of a free press in maintaining a free society. It is conspicuously absent. There’s more to the duty of a journalist than “seeking truth” and playing fair. The role of preserving liberty is all but forgotten.
So what is the central role of a free press in a free society?
First and foremost it is to serve as a watchdog on fraud, waste, abuse and corruption in government.
That’s why, even to this day, the press is known as “the fourth estate.” There are three branches of government that are to serve as checks and balance on each other. And then there is a fourth, independent institution whose primary role is to serve as an external, outside, independent watchdog.
I find it pathetic that so few journalists in what we euphemistically call “the mainstream media” know this, care about it or abide by it.
This is one of many reasons America is losing its liberty.
The presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court are rarely at odds with each other in any meaningful way. Government grows way beyond its constitutional limits daily despite the checks and balances that were ingeniously put in place by our founders to prevent that tendency.
And, worse yet, the media don’t expose this lawlessness. Rather, they cheerlead it.
When was the last time you heard, read or saw someone in the press – outside of WND, an institution specifically established to serve with conviction the central role of a free press in a free society – expose unconstitutional growth and power grabs by the federal government?
It’s hard to remember, isn’t it?
How did journalism lose its way?
Like most other cultural institutions in America, it was taken over, subverted, undermined and sabotaged by an ideology that simply doesn’t believe in constitutionally limited government, that simply doesn’t believe people are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that simply doesn’t believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that simply doesn’t believe in self-government.
You can seek national salvation in politics for the next 100 years, but it won’t come unless you comprehend the full picture of what went wrong in America – and how its enviable vision was betrayed.