The Freedom of the Press: Illusory

That’s the Supreme Court’s definition of the Freedom of the Press, and under that definition, a reasonable person would state that we no longer have it.

Events to consider, in reverse order of magnitude:
[ol][li]Banning T-Shirts that are “pro-peace” as “disturbing the peace.” This may be considered a freedom of expression issue, but it is also a restricted semi-public commercial space where the restriction is on content. [/li][li]Phil Donahue’s show was ranked higher then prime-time Hardball, and trending upwards. He was plausibly canned because his corporate owners, MSNBC were worried about appearing unpatriotic. (Bill Maher was canned for similar, though less definitive reasons. His comments caused sponsors to withdraw, and his ratings were tending downwards.)[/li][li]Several anti-war groups had their advertisements turned down for no or patently ridiculous reasons. The “virtual march” from this Feb. 26th was barred from placing ads in many local publications – yet the pro-war viewpoint is given saturation coverage. There were at least two billboards rejected for spurious reasons. (Conversations, no link as of yet)[/li][li]Caltrans, the California State department of transportation has been sued over their tearing down anti-war banners from overpasses, as safety concerns, but leaving American Flags. Again, perhaps the overpass would be considered speech, not a publishing venue, but it’s still an amazing trespass.[/li][li]Clearchannel Radio, the poster child for deregulation, raises a panoply of freedom of press issues. At what point should we protect local voices from being homogenized and yoked to the corporate message? As a case in point, you may recall that CC sent a list to its member stations, deeming them “questionable” in the new age of terrorism. They’re very sweet to be worried – it’s like they’re a big brother to me…[/li][li]In tone and coverage of the protests, the national news has been uniform. Uniformly ignoring, minimizing and belittling what is a mass segment (or even, dare I say, a majority) of the American people. There is no counter-weight to Fox News when they lead with the handful of violent incidents at the largest protest since Vietnam, calling it “tens of thousands of protesters.” In my experience, the figures provided by the protest organizers are slightly exaggerated, while the police estimate is ridiculously low-balled. Yet the US press tends to use the least accurate figure; forcing me towards foreign news to get unbiased information.[/ol][/li]
The reasons for this encroachment, to me, seem simple. While we live in an ostensibly Democratic country, with the freedom of press and publication, the Press lives in a corporate controlled world. There are fewer and fewer media outlets with a national reach – and they are effectively bribed by the government in the form of poaching a public resource for fire-sale prices (bandwidth) and frequent mergers which increase profits; have political ads bought at jacked-up prices bought by money donated to the candidate of their choice; cajoled by controlled access to officials and soldiers alike; silenced by the web of corporate back-scratching in which their bosses are involved; in some cases, their bosses are ex-Republican media advisers who still send advice now and then. How nice.

And in the face of the ongoing mergers and cross-ownership of our presses which further reduce the chances of independent media allowing non-approved voices, and multiplies the already plentiful conflicts of interest, the FCC, with Colin’s son, Michael Powell in charge, is to set back further the merger rules.

It is my contention, as sustained through the information I’ve made available to you, that the Government (and mostly the conservatives) are and have been waging an ongoing war to suppress the freedom of the press by allowing monopolistic power to make it onerously costly to have an independent voice, to drive that voice out of the market – a voice they cannot control.


1.) The man was ordered to remove his T-Shirt because he was using it as a method of harrassing the other customers. He was given the option of removing the shirt, or leaving. He chose neither, and was arrested as a result. I have little sympathy for him.

2.) That may be the case. However, the ratings for O’Reilly, for example, were six times higher than Donahue. MSNBC probably thinks it could do better. I’m inclined to agree with them. If Donahue can’t bring in the numbers that MSNBC wants, he should be canned, and they should try something more in tune with what its audience wants to see.

3.) Get some cites, and we can discuss that in more detail.

4.) CalTrans has a policy of not allowing banners that contain words from overhanging freeways, as they disrupt traffic. I’ve seen a number of traffic slowdowns as a result of banners overhanging them, and it pisses me off, whatever the message. I saw one banner that was a marriage proposal. It was really sweet. It was also really inappropriate, and made me late for work. American flags have no words on them, and thus aren’t against CalTrans’ policy. If the anti-war crowd wants to come up with a wordless logo to express their ideas, they’re more than welcome.

5.) At what point should we protect local voices? I don’t think there is one. If the public doesn’t want to hear a bunch of anti-war talk, why should we force media companies to publish them? As much as you may not want to believe it, there’s been no lack of anti-war sentiment in the media. Open up the NYT on any given day. Check out news coverage of the protests. Spend 30 seconds listening to Hollywood. The message is getting out, it’s just that most people don’t want to hear it.

6.) Patent bull hooey. You can see coverage of the anti-war platform all over. Fox may have a conservative slant, but CNN has just as much of a liberal slant. Also, may I ask how you know that the police figures are low? Where do you go to get the Real, Actual Headcount? Given that the protesters have a vested interest in exaggerating, while the police don’t, I’d be more inclined to believe them, unless you provide a good reason why they might be lying. Or do you really believe, for example, that Win Without War has 32 million members?
Generally speaking, this seems like another woeful cry that there’s a concentrated effort to muffle Unpopular Sentiment. The reality is that there’s plenty of dissent being spouted, but nobody cares to hear it anymore. Maybe it’s because nobody needs to - we all know what the anti-war position is. Protesters haven’t said anything new in 6 months. What’s the point of listening to a message you’ve already heard a dozen times?

Fascinating that the OP fails to mention that it was not a “violation” of the First Amendment that the Associated Press v. U.S. decision hinges upon, but a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. In A.P., the government alleged that the news organizations had agreed amongst themselves to sell news only to A.P. members, and had given each member the ability to block its non-member competitors from membership.

This, the government said, was a violation of the anti-trust laws, in no different way than if the members were selling “…food, steel, aluminum, or anything else people need or want.”

The Court did NOT say that individual persons, acting alone could not act to squelch expressive content. To the extent that the OP’s argument suggests otherwise, it is a heinous misrepresentation of the Court’s opinion. Readers might reasonably ask themselves why the OP would need to offer up such deception.

  • Rick

The Ace of Swords nearly all the things you cite are examples of the press regulating itself. The First Amendment pertains only to government regulation of the media. The media is free to regulate itself however it pleases.

Donahue getting axed is akin to a newspaper firing a certain columnist. They are completely within their right to do so, whether it was because of ratings or the political content of the show. As for Bill Maher, his statements have actually afforded him the opportunity to be even more edgy and controversial on HBO, where sponsors play no role in his fate. Given the large subscriber base of HBO and the high credibility its original programming receives, I’d say his contrarian opinions have actually helped him.

And I agree with ElJeffe on the banner thing. People will always stop to read banners with words. Always. It’s nearly second nature if you’re literate. Now if they put up banners with doves and peace symbols and those get ripped down, you have a valid point.

Bottom line, Ace. It all comes down to the bottom line. Talk show hosts whose ratings are soaring don’t get fired, no matter what they say. Am I the only one who remembers how totally outraged everyone was at Howard Stern, at the beginning? It was going to be nothing less than the End of Western Civilization As We Know It, if this filthy man was going to be allowed to say those filthy things on the air. But his ratings were wayyyy up there, so guess what happened? Was his skinny little heinie booted back to the farm leagues? Nooooo…

Bottom line–MSNBC and their cohorts only care about ratings. They aren’t worried about seeming “unpatriotic”–unless their viewers/listeners consider that they are “unpatriotic” and start to tune out. Then watch the pink slips start to fly. But it doesn’t have anything to do with worried executives trying not to appear un-American, just with worried executives trying not to be the ones responsible for falling ratings.

As long as newspaper editors are still free to write Op-Ed pieces protesting any damn thing they want, this country still has freedom of the press.

As long as newspaper columnists are still free to write columns protesting any damn thing they want, this country still has freedom of the press.

As long as TV commentators, both national and local, are still free to air Op-Ed pieces protesting any damn thing they want, this country still has freedom of the press.

As long as you are still free to take out a full-page ad in your local newspaper protesting any damn thing you want, this country still has freedom of the press.

As long as you are still free to pay for a series of 30-second television advertisements, or 15-second radio spots, to protest any damn thing you want, this country still has freedom of the press.

As long as you are still free to have an Internet connection in your home and as long as you are still free to go online and protest any damn thing you want, on any of four billion-plus Web pages, this country still has freedom of the press.

As long as you are still free to picket and hand out leaflets in front of the courthouse, protesting any damn thing you want, this country still has freedom of the press.

As long as you are still free to write a book protesting any damn thing you want, and get it published, even if it’s only vanity publishing, this country still has freedom of the press.

Your lament about monopolies reminds me of nothing so much as the “RC Cola” lament that comes around every so often. “It’s all Pepsi, Coke, Pepsi, Coke, anymore! What happened to diversity in the marketplace? What happened to choice? The American Consumer must choose either Pepsi products, or Coke products! It’s not fair!”

So the American Consumer must increasingly choose from a smaller selection of mainstream news outlets, so what? The dissent is still out there. I don’t see that any of the mainstream news outlets are totally behind the Government 100%. They’re running stories about war protests just as much as they’re running stories about Colin Powell saying, “Iraq–It’s not enough”. I haven’t seen your conspiracy of monopolistic media silence at all.

Ace: There’s an old saying in the journalism business. “Freedom of the presses is for them what own the presses.”

Um, the fact that you can post this and have it read by thousands of people utterly contradicts your thesis. You have heard of the Blog phenomenon? Where people write their thoughts on current events and other people can go to their sites and read those thoughts and follow links to cited articles?

Publishing has never been easier. And there has never been a more widespread dissemination of diverse and antagonistic viewpoints. If I so desired, I could read the New York Times or the Arab Times and then visit various websites and read commentaries on this coverage, thereby making up my mind about which source is credible.

And based on the utter garbage that I can find links to, there’s no evidence that there is widespread censorship on the Net.

Oh, please. Did he initiate the arguments? No. He wore a T-shirt, a protected right. “Give Peace a chance” is an unreasonable offense to see on a T-Shirt?

Give me a break, toots.

And if this is evidence of a double-standard between conservative and liberal commentators on MSNBC – no doubt you’ll be equally undisturbed.

Come on now, you expect they haven’t been tearing down Peace signs? And banners being “distracting?” How the fuck do we allow those damnable blinking billboards with the inherently fatal distraction of a message zipper? Those must kill millions, judging by the way a simple banner does us in.

And what about those distracting road signs? Consarn it, folks need to stop and ponder about those.

Perhaps all signage should be wordless. Then at least your argument would make sense.

Try reading the links, maybe. People demand local media, but the corporation cost structure leverages monopolistic and size efficiencies to make it an unfair playing field, at the cost of the product.

We’ll agree to disagree that rather than have me poke fun at the “CNN is ultra-liberal” argument.

Who is the Democratic adviser who runs the show there? Oh, no one?

Sure you may; I use caculations of near-crowd density times the maximum footage plus the refresh rate.

Or first hand knowlege, as you like it.

Ah. I guess we on the left should be grateful for the media crumbs alloted us rather then agitate for a representative voice. And Mr. Bush has been such a font of new information;

Say, I missed the press conference: is Time Still Running Out for Saddam?

I didn’t mention it because … gasp … it wasn’t relevant.

The Supreme’s could be discussing the relative merits of Blowpops vs. Tootsie Rolls, and their published views are still their published views, with all the weight of informed law.

Not to be an annoying git, but so far I find little to agree with you on:

  1. Of the core examples that I cite, only Phil Donahue and Clear Channel might be considered the press regulating itself.

  2. The First Amendment extends to a variety of non-governmental situations, like semi-public and public spaces, spun out from the original “congress” (not even the full spectrum of our three branches.)

  3. “The Media” is restricted as to how it regulates itself. Individual companies may hew to the corporate standard; Media companies buying, diluting, or reducing overall access and/or content are subject to the FCC’s rulings and law.

The merger rules are precisely what they are trying to relax – so that they are no longer beholden to the FCC.

Except if they use it as an example of liberal content failure. If you don’t give a fair shake to both sides, how can you throw up your hands and say you tried? They’re welcome to call themselves “Just another conservative network,” at which point I will withdraw that criticism.

They point to the ratings, not the true reason. Why does an honest man need to run from the truth?

And his viewpoint is minimized. Perhaps it will turn out for the best for Bill Maher, but you cannot deny that he was punished for representing a viewpoint that his conservative corporation found offensive.


God save us from television programming that caters only to what a majority wants to see!

My understanding of the t-shirt incident was that no one harrassed anyone else. The security guard was the first to approach them (father and son) about the t-shirts.

It seems to me that those who wish to censor or stifle anyone’s words or viewpoint are acting in a very unpatriotic way. Maybe that’s one of the differences between the liberals and the conservatives.

Ah, but it doesn’t. I contend, and I think the cites buttress, that the bottom line was toeing the patriotic conservative line.

The ratings were a fig leaf.

You aren’t free to do these with respect to “any damn thing you want.” Editorials and op-ed columns are reknowned for showcasing the political influence of the editor.

Have you read the Wall Street Journal, lately? Think they can publish whatever the heck they want?

Full-page ads are being turned town. Radio ads are being turned down. TV Commentators better sure as hell toe what their bosses have programmed on the teleprompted, or there’ll be a new, more loyal one in the morning.

As long as you are still free to have an Internet connection in your home and as long as you are still free to go online and protest any damn thing you want, on any of four billion-plus Web pages, this country still has freedom of the press.[/qutoe]Web pages are for those who find them; national media, on the other hand, finds you. Two different countries of press coverage, and a double-standard. If the ref gives me a bull-horn, and you a cup, who does the crowd get to hear more of?

You aren’t of course. Do you live in NY or DC? The public access to the public places are barred; leafletting the wrong thing at the wrong place might get you beat up by the cops or worse; The right to assemble and broadcast a protest is hemmed in by barricades and forbidden by judges; Your sign may be ripped apart by beauraucrats en route as violating some ridiculous safety protocol.

This is your argument for our healthy freedom of the press? This list of the harassed and waning?

Read up on what Michael Moore and his best-selling book went through to get published, and what he still goes through to get to readings. A double-standard, again.

The so what is: To allow the government to mute dissent by its’ championing of corporate dilution and homogenization of the press means the constitutional guarantees of that same government not abridging the freedom of the press is illusory.

The government is using the agency of the corporation and the veil of capitalism as a tool to effect the same thing: abridgement of the freedom of the press.

Fabulous, except for two things:

  1. If there are a ton of people who feel the same way and are forced to go to the web, why is it that the viewpoint isn’t represnted by the National Media?

Other countries, such as the UK or Australia, don’t seem to have any problem finding several diverse viewpoints to distinguish themselves.

  1. How is the web equivalent to the millions that watch broadcast television? Should we accept being barred from that medium if we have a substituted medium of lesser reach?

Hey, I love the blogs and the Guardian, but that doesn’t make me believe that viewpoint has the saturation that FOX, the bastion of spewing conservatives, enjoys.

The cite you provide is what is called, in legal parlance, “dicta.” It is not the law, merely an aspirational statement.

The First Amendment doesn’t apply to private activity. It does however, prevent the government from forcing private entities to speak (or more accurately “express”) opinions that they care not to.

Hence, a private shopping mall can kick you out for wearing a T-shirt they don’t like, even if by most people’s standards it is totally innocuous. Or you can tell me I can not enter your home while exercising my 2nd amendment rights. And MSNBC can fire Donahue whether he’s getting bad rating or great ratings or somewhere inbetween. And people can get together and tell a TV network that they think Dr. Laura is a bigot, and they are boycotting her show, and the sponsors can can her.

And life ain’t fair.

That weight is zero.

No commentary in an opinion except that which is necessary to reach the result is binding.

The case you cited is not on-point, and its persuasive weight in analyzing this issue is zero.

It might be higher than zero if you could point to unsettled law and then use dicta as an example of how particular members of the Court might rule. But that course is unavailable to you here.

You might as well have cited Blowpops v. Tootsie Rolls for all the persuasive effect it had.

In the now seminal case of Blowpops v. Tootsie Roll, 657 U.S. 7823 (2000), the Supreme Court held that the Constitution requires not one, not two, but three licks followed by a bite to get to the center of a blowpop. In a strongly worded opinion by Justice Breyer, he said: **


The dissenting opinion, written by the acerbic Justice Scalia, found the majority to be complete idiots that morphed into a Tootsie Roll. He wrote: **

**4 out of 5 dentists were then dispatched to the Supreme Court Building.

Actually, while the WSJ does have a very conservative editorial board, they do publish opinion pieces from the left. While I agree that you’ll never see a liberal opinion in the “editorial” side of the op-ed page (the unsigned pieces that represent the official view of the paper itself), on the “opinion” side they do publish pieces from nonconservative authors.

And do I really need to delve into the political stance of the New York Times op-ed page?**



Yeah, right. Just the other day I watched Dennis Kucinich on NBC’s “Meet the Press” flat out accuse the Bush administration of going to war for oil. And God knows Katrina Vanden Heuvel has a near-permanent guest seat on “Hardball.” And that’s just off the top of my head. If TV bosses are so apt to stifle dissent, why are these kinds of people being booked as guests? **

  1. None of the things you list have anything to do with the freedom of the press.

  2. I do live in NY. There was a pretty damned big protest here awhile back. Reasonable time and manner restrictions are not a serious impediment to free expression, and in a city like New York they’re necessary to keep the city functioning.**

Cite for the proposition that government is colluding with the media to stifle dissent? Given the quantity of criticism Bush has recieved on Iraq and other issues, if they are colluding, they’re doing a pretty piss poor job of it.

At any rate, we live in an era of unprecedented media diversity. Two decades ago, all you really had were three TV networks and your hometown newspaper – and maybe an alternative paper if you lived in a big city. Now, on top of that, you’ve got talk radio, a gaggle of cable news channels, internet publishing and blogging. It’s never been easier to publicize one’s message.

The press are and have always been, for the most part selling the public what they want to hear. It’s a business, fer cryin’ out loud, and if anyone thinks that, say, Pacifica Radio is shamelessly pandering to its audience any less than Fox News panders to its own, I’ll be happy to set you straight.

All I ever hear on this subject is a lot of vague whining about the press being hijacked by corporate interests, as if that wasn’t the case all the way back to the 19th century. Hearst newspapers, anyone? I’d be happy to listen to any modest proposal for a press system that replaces the one we’ve got. So watchoo got?

Hey, wait, I know: let’s each of us take on the responsibility of deciding for ourselves whether any given press story we hear is accurate, unbiased and relevant or not.

And if we happen to discover that one or another news source has a record of spin or bias in its stories, let’s not bother to buy its newspapers or listen to its programming.

Naah, that’d never work.

We’ll have to agree to disagree then – you’re referring to it in some legal context, I’m just using it as insight. Provide a cite that says otherwise (in whatever a restricted manner you find sufficient) and we’ll have something further to talk about.

And this would affect my point how?

Do you have the foggiest remembrance of what this was in reference to? Duck Duck Goose stated that you can write any old editorial and get it published anywhere. I stated that it didn’t, and cited an example.

You slipped into your “The Democrats do the same or worse” argument with the NY Times. For you, no doubt it’s a pair of very comfortable slippers, but please don’t.

Either paper will do as a quick counter-example.

Let the rest of your head keep working, that’s complete chump change. Oil is certainly a factor – here in the “alternative” press we discuss it in depth. On TV someone almost mentions it, and you find that equal?

I agree, they are tangental at best, but, again, they are responding to DDG’s list of “we’re ok as long as we have these” speech.

Please check your blinders at the door – there’s more posts to read here if you wish to follow the argument rather than jump on on an ideological opponent.

You may live in NY, but you obviously weren’t at the protest, nor did you do more than a cursory reading of the “restrictions” involved.

Pulling half the electrical permits is reasonable? Denying port-a-potties is reasonable? Threatening reporters, pushing them, and breaking their cameras is reasonable? What about banning the march in the first place over “security concerns,” and a amicus curiae brief from the Prez’s lawyers – reasonable?

The reader can check the links and make their own decision. I reach the opposite conclusion by comparing our national media’s weak and token criticism with all the other media outlet’s.

Which only serve to again beg the question, why are some voices and expressions driven underground? On the one hand, you say criticism is rampant in the national media and that you can get it on such meaningless talking-head shows as Hardball; on the other hand, you imply you’ve got to log on to find it.

Which is it?