By Tom Murr
In this past week there has been challenges to the freedom of the press. Freedom of the press has a long-standing history in American history. From the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, 1890s Muckrakers, World War I and World War II, the free press has provided important communications to the American people. You could make a long list of famous citizens/heroes who were involved in with the freedom of the press.
American schools have taught our young people for decades on the First Amendment to prevent loss of freedoms and unconstitutional governmental controls. Here is one explanation of freedom of the press in America that covers invasion of privacy, free expression, and access to government information, prior restraint, commercial speech, libel and slander.
I will share two instances in the last half of the 20th century that concerned freedom of the press.
The first story will be the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 (in Cuba). Harrison Salisbury wrote in “Without Fear or Favor,” his insider’s account of the New York Times: “The government in April 1961 did not … know that The Times was going to publish the Bay Pigs story, although it was aware that the Times reporters and other newsmen were probing in Miami. … The action which the Times took [Bay Pig Story] was on its own responsibility.” Salisbury writes there was a lot of internal discussions and deliberations recognizable to anyone familiar with the give-and-take of newsroom decision-making.
But most important, as Salisbury pointed out, “The Times had not killed Bay of Pigs story. The Times believed it was more important to publish than to withhold.”
President Kennedy supposedly said, “I wish the Times had published the full story.” Today, history writers see President Kennedy’s comment as vague and self-serving, an attempt to deflect blame from his administration’s first-rate foreign policy disaster.
Second story, Daniel Ellsberg is a former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers. The Nixon administration went after Mr. Ellsberg with every legal and non-legal action. But in the end, the judge dismissed the case because the “government” had over stepped it bounds.
After reading of the stolen Pentagon Papers, I think most people came to believe that the information contained in the papers should been made public. With death of young men/women in Vietnam, America deserved the right to know what the government was doing or failing to do. Mr. Ellsberg broke his promise for the greater good for America people. On the Ellsberg site on Google, there is a lengthy statement from Mr. Ellsberg about 1971 and now in 2013. In a democracy, we must have people who are willing to do the morally right action rather than ignore the facts.
In any democracy we depend on getting information about our government from the press and news organization. A democracy cannot function when the government controls the information. Freedom of the press and news is essential to a “well-informed” people.
The question is before Americans again. Do we want a free press? I believe history of America demonstrates that freedom of the press is absolute necessity. We want reporters and writers searching for the truth.