Journalists won’t be ‘shutting up’ anytime soon

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The U.S. Constitution (Source: Mr.TinDC / flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/4249886990)

White House Chief Strategist for President Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon, was recently questioned on what would be the attitude of the new administration in regards to the press.

“The press should shut up,” Bannon said.

Being a founding member and former executive of Breitbart News, one might ask how Bannon developed this attitude toward the press.

Did he come by it while he was at Harvard University, or when he was at Georgetown University, or during his seven years as a U.S. Naval officer? Why is it that Bannon seems to be opposed to a free press and to freedom of speech?

The concepts of free speech and of a free press have long been cornerstones of our national heritage. They are built into our Constitution as part of the First Amendment, and have been strenuously protected by the courts, most rational politicians and the majority of the American People for well over 100 years.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that, “Congress shall make no law …respecting or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble …”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his dissent to the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in the case of Abrams v. United States, 1919, said, “…the right to free speech is always the same. It is only the present danger of immediate evil or an intent to bring it about that warrants Congress in setting a limit to the expression of opinion …”

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Supreme Court Justice Holmes (Source: Harris & Ewing / Wikimedia Commons)

Holmes said that only speech that “produces or is intended to produce a clear and imminent danger” could, constitutionally, be punished.

Every American President since George Washington has had to deal with unhappy American citizens and the press at some point during their presidency.

Throughout history, several cases have reached the Supreme Court that deal with Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.

More recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the now deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, participated together in an appearance at the National Press Club discussing Freedom of the Press.

Scalia, referring to the 1964 Supreme Court 9-0 decision, in the case of the “New York Times vs Sullivan,” said of that decision, “I think the Framers (of our Constitution) would have been appalled … It was revising the Constitution.”

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (Source: Tribune News Service)

Ginsburg, on the other hand, called the “Times vs. Sullivan” ruling, “a landmark during the civil rights era because it allowed the national media to freely report on the civil rights struggle across the South.” She added, “I think the Founding Fathers would have agreed with it in the 1960s.”

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Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg (Source: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States / Wikimedia Commons)

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall had this to say about free speech in his delivery of the Court’s decision in the case of “Police Department of City of Chicago v. Mosley:”

“But, above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expressions because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content,” Marshall said.

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Supreme Court Justice Marshall (Source: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons)

While a number of Americans do not consider the current occupant of the White House to be a legitimate president, the nation must deal with the outcome of the election process that put him there, a process that even the founders of our nation had trouble resolving.

But that does not mean that everyone should be required to agree with or support proclamations emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Every citizen has a right and the obligation to exercise free speech, to speak out and to speak up when they do not agree with directives emanating from Washington D.C.

Bannon’s suggestion that the press should shut up may not bode well for what can be expected for the relationship between the press and the new president and his advisors.

In the end, Trump and his staff would do well to heed their own advice; get over it and learn to deal with the right to oppose leaders, a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

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