Why do we have Freedom of the Press? Although this is usually combined with freedom of speech, the two are not the same at all. Freedom of speech is the right of the individual. Because oral communication is the most natural of human interactions, this freedom exists quite easily without any special government protection. Spoken words, in most cases, are spontaneous and responsive. Each healthy human has the power to speak and also to hear. Even in the dreariest totalitarian regimes, a significant degree of freedom of speech exists.
Freedom of the Press is something else completely. It is the right to use economic power to reach an audience as wide as the world. When we talk of the right of radio and television broadcasters to say what they please, we are really describing freedom of the press -- the right of publication of opinions, information, entertainment, and news to the world. It is not a matter of personal liberty so much as it is a matter of private property that is at stake.
Government began decades ago to erode this right. Artificial lines in constitutional rights were drawn by the Supreme Court. So, while CBS News could say, pretty much, whatever it wanted, General Foods could not (it's right to publicize information was called "commercial speech.") Judges, not the Constitution, would determine what variety of published expression was "protected" and what variety of published expression was at the mercy of bureaucrats. The false and misleading statements of the Leftist media might lead to millions of people falling under the control of totalitarian murders -- and that was just fine -- but the absence of expression by tobacco companies was a dangerous crime.
Freedom of Press went through more bizarre contortions. The New York Times, in 1964, acquired for those priestly corporations who kept us informed the right to libel with impunity in The New York Times v. Sullivan. Only actual malice sufficed to make a network or a newspaper guilty of libel when it makes false and destructive statements about a "public figure." Anyone who has read that opinion could see that The New York Times did just that to Sullivan, but the Supreme Court winked and implied that the standard of proving actual malice was very, very high (i.e. impossible.)
Publications which had been considered pornographic since colonial times suddenly acquired more constitutional protection than, say, Kraft Foods or Kleenex. The Federal Trade Commission could regulate those producers of wholesome products to death, but ghastly periodicals like Hustler might have "redeeming social value." Freedom of the Press became more and more just whatever pleased the Left.
Reporters -- employees of corporations with favored constitutional rights -- might hide their sources, but pity the employee of another type of corporation who tried to hide something from the government! Freedom of the press became a special right, allowed to only a few, and extending far beyond what the Founding Fathers ever intended. Ordinary businesses do not have Freedom of the Press. Favored types of businesses, those who market news, entertainment, and opinions, have extraordinary rights, like the right to intentionally mislead. That is not what the First Amendment was intended to protect, but that is what we have now.
So why not demand that those favored elite corporations at least have a duty that goes with all their privileges? Surely there is a moral duty, if not a constitutional duty, for these aristocrats to ask Barack Obama at least one tough question. Surely there is an ethical responsibility, if not a legal one, to cover the enormous popular uprising in the Fourth of July Tea Parties around our nation? Surely there is an obligation by those who championed the blatantly unconstitutional restrictions on political speech (the one type of speech which the Supreme Court has routinely held sacrosanct) in "Campaign Finance Reform" to at a minimum create some impartial system to insure that the only means of exercising Freedom of the Press in America (through some organ of the Leftist media) treat political parties and candidates fairly. Surely those who yelp and scream for the re-imposition of the "Fairness Doctrine" in talk radio have a duty to demand that massive Leftist corporations begin to be fair first.
Freedom of the Press, like almost all our constitutional protections, has been murdered by the courts and the Left. Those who view slave masters like Castro as "liberators" have no notion of what freedom really means. The Left does not want the responsibility of freedom, especially in the arena of facts, ideas, and opinions. What we have today in America are willing serfs of The Slave Press. It exists solely to expand the power of the Left, and the Left exists only to grasp power and to choke liberty.
Bruce Walker is the author of two books: Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and his recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.