The Press, the Constitution, and America at Risk

19 Sep

Our Rights are Being Ignored – Is there a lesson here?

 The past three to four years journalists and photojournalists have experienced or witnessed many questionable acts of harassment, and even arrests by government officials.  They were arrested or harassed for being journalist’s or photojournalists.  Forgotten is the fact that without a free press you cannot have a democracy.  One thing these people or legal representatives have in common is the fact that they’ve violated the Constitution and the freedom of the press, as well as its ideology.

The problem here is simple, once the press, that is journalists and photojournalists, are neutralized and essentially taken out of the “Freedom of the Press” equation, essentially there is no longer a checks-and-balance system in place to protect the public from the government, and the very foundation for democracy.

Journalism is both a profession and a craft, since journalists draw on specialized skills and adhere to common standards. So what makes journalism different from other occupations like medicine or law, which could be described in similar terms? Perhaps the greatest difference is the special role the news media play in a free society.

Journalists in a free society not only have certain legal protections, they also have responsibilities.  In some countries, these responsibilities are spelled out, and in others they are implicit.  But in almost every case they amount to the same thing: to keep citizens informed, journalists have a responsibility to provide information that is accurate and reported fairly — and independently — from outside influences.  If the situation is compromised, or attempts made to compromise journalist rights, then democracy no longer exists.

This system is designed to protect the “American citizen” and safeguard their rights.  This keeps the government and other officials who have a diverse responsibility to uphold the laws, to do so within a responsible, legal, and honest manner.

If we assume that when a journalist is threatened or is harassed by government officials or criminals that the journalist is bad, has lied, or untruthful, we as Americans have over stepped the parameters of responsibility.  We have killed the messenger to spite ourselves.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights.  The amendment prohibits the making of any law . . . “abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.”

Originally, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress.   However, starting with Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925), the Supreme Court has held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies the First Amendment to each state, including any local government.  Important here is the fact that Federal law supersedes state or local laws.

Examples within the past 3 to 4 years of violating these laws are plentiful.  Arrested journalists along with their material confiscated and then returned once the Courts intercede, remain plentiful.  This covers the entire realm from college newsletter reporters having their coverage of a small campus “protest” confiscated by local police, to the outright beating to death of a man by a police officer in Fullerton, California, and then the cover-up by local police afterwards, “One-Eyed Cop In Fullerton Beating Death Emerging As a Very Scary Individual.”

Bothersome is the fact that legal entities, ignoring the Constitutional aspect in total (for example “Long Beach Police Trained To Detain Photogs Not Producing Photos of “Esthetic Value” is profound to say the least.  Volumes of books, both philosophical and ideology, as well as artisans’ books on photography have attempted to define “esthetic value” in photography since its origins.  Thereby, we can assume that photographing Rodney King being beaten has no esthetic value, therefore the footage of the beating itself should be confiscated by government or legal officials.  We have fought wars, many had died, to keep this type of behavior by government and legal officials out ofAmerica.

Federal law dominates in this situation, but the harassment and antagonistic behavior by law enforcement in using the local law remains plentiful.  Legal entities calls this irresponsible behavior and a violation of a persons rights, but still done by law enforcement, arrogantly, none the less.

Or the event of the Houstonpolice, “Houston Police Threaten To Arrest Photographers To Protect Their Own,” covering a drunk policeman, one of theirs, from press photographers on the scene filming all the beer cans in the back of his truck, and the open and spilled beer cans in the front seat.  As well, when one photographer filmed the drunk driver of the truck, essentially the policeman going to work drunk, is when the threats and confiscations of the footage developed.  This drunken police officer crashed into a school bus.

These examples are horrible.  Nevertheless, the hundreds more (without exaggeration) are just as horrible as these examples given in this article.  So it is with antagonism toward the offenders this journalist, and Vietnam Veteran, looks on to those who knowingly over ride our constitutional support, indeed for this democracy, in order to attempt some type of persuasion, intimidation, or even the profound attempts at demeaning journalists as a group.

This type of irresponsibility is uncalled for and throughout history has never been this bad, especially in a time when the checks-and-balance process in respect toward our government administrators and legal entities system needs to remain in-place.

The responsibility has been placed on the press, despite the comings and goings of the popularity of the journalists or photojournalists themselves.  A friend once stated to this journalist, when receiving negative feedback from an article against nuclear power on theColumbia River, “If you’re not making enemies as an investigative journalist, then you’re not doing your job right.”

Attempts at punitive measures toward journalists, or covering-up the conduct or crime, especially within questionable behavior by the parties investigated, demonstrates unquestionable guilt by those same parties.  The dynamic becomes toward what extend the punitive measure is developed, how illegal or contrary to law it becomes, to what extent they have used their position of responsibility toward collusion; which only then equates to the overall extent of the cover-up, or put simply, the lie.

Journalists have to “clean” their backyard as well.  What is termed “embedment” and consists of questionable reporters, often locally, that generate bias material in coordination with local authorities.  This amounts to a “cover-up” also, and favors exchanged by both and for favorable articles, are common within this situation.  This is not part of the checks-and-balance system as mentioned in this article, rather, it is part of the questionable conduct presented here, unfavorable by many journalists, as well as create hardships for many independent and honest journalists.

Lawsuits are going to become prevalent soon and in defense of what one can consider our democracy.  Ironically, it’s the taxpayer or common American that looses, as it is our tax money used in an irresponsible manner, in this case by law enforcement and other government officials, which necessitates the legal action to condemn and put a halt to their irresponsible conduct and behavior.

So when a radio announcer or government agency discusses how the press has done them wrong, or how the press should be packaged into a box with narrow parameters and controlled better, think about the veterans, the men and women who have died for this democracy.  Or when someone disputes what the press had to say about them, and in the same conversation speaks outright animosity toward the press, remind them what democracy is all about.  There is nothing perfect about what we do, but it is necessary.

In summation, one thing comes to mind: the fact that those who say they are patriotic Americans while waving our flag, and then violates our Constitution arrogantly and ignore our democracy, in all reality dislike Americans andAmerica.  This is unacceptable both legally and ethically.


Clark, Roy Peter and Cole C. Campbell (eds.) the Values and Craft of American Journalism: Essays From the Poynter Institute.Gainesville,FL: University Press ofFlorida, 2005.

The First Amendment Handbook.Arlington,VA: the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 2003.

Hachten, William A. Troubles of Journalism: A Critical Look at What’s Right and Wrong With the Press.Mahwah,NJ:LawrenceErlbaum Associates, 3rd edition, 2004.

Hamilton, James T. All the News that’s Fit to Sell: How the Market Transforms Information Into News.Princeton,NJ:PrincetonUniversityPress, 2003.

Overholser,Geneva, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. The Press.New York,NY:OxfordUniversityPress, 2005.

Sloan, W. David and Lisa Mullikin Parcell (eds.) American Journalism: History, Principles, Practices.Jefferson,NC: McFarland & Company, 2002.

Sullivan, Marguerite H. A Responsible Press Office: An Insider’s Guide.Washington,DC:U.S.Department of State, International Information Programs, 2001.

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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


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