June 14, 2006

Common understanding...wrong.

Excellent summary in OpinionJournal, on the case law and constitutionality of the news media's claim that they can, with impunity, under cover of the First Amendment, betray our country by publishing classified information. They can't. Period.

There's also another matter covered, of interest to bloggers...

....The second extraordinary claim made by Mr. Keller that needs to be addressed is the notion that the First Amendment's Freedom of the Press creates a special preserve for the institutionalized press, as opposed to ordinary citizens. Although this is a common understanding among reporters and newspaper editors, it is wrong. The Freedom of the Press was designed to protect the published word of all citizens, not just an institutionalized fourth estate. As one of the anti-federalist opponents of ratification of a constitution that did not include a bill of rights noted, the liberty of the press insures that "the people have the right of expressing and publishing their sentiments upon every public measure . . . . "

James Madison's initial proposal for the First Amendment clearly expressed this common understanding, guaranteeing the right of the people "to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments." Roger Sherman's own proposal a month later mirrored Madison's: "The people have certain natural rights which are retained by them when they enter into society, Such are the rights . . . of Speaking, writing and publishing their Sentiments with decency and freedom . . . . Of these rights therefore they Shall not be deprived by the government of the united States." These formulations were drawn from the amendments proposed by several of the state ratifying conventions, and lest their be any doubt that "freedom of the press" was synonymous with the right of the people generally to speak, write, and publish their sentiments, the Pennsylvania proponents of a Bill of Rights made that amply clear: "That the people have a right to the freedom of speech, of writing, and of publishing their sentiments, therefore (emphasis added), the freedom of the press shall not be restrained by any law of the United States."

As my Claremont Institute colleague Thomas West has noted, what is protected is not just the right to use a printing press or to go into the newspaper business, but the right of every citizen to publish, to make and distribute copies of words and/or pictures communicating his or her sentiments to the public. The founders would never have accepted the view that the freedom of the press is limited to members of a particular industry called "the press" or "the media."....

If I ran the circus, Mr K and his colleagues would be treated to sabbaticals, to give them some time for reflection, aided by soft tropic breezes, warm sunshine, three squares a day, and respectful servants who put on gloves before touching any Korans.

Publishing ones ideas, by the way, always requires some expenditure of money. If you are not allowed to pay to get your thought before the public, then you are in effect being forbidden to publish. The legislation know as 'Campaign Finance Reform" is as clearly unconstitutional as anything can be. But you already knew that.

Posted by John Weidner at June 14, 2006 7:33 AM
Weblog by John Weidner