Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Williams Affair: Another Attack on 1st Amendment

Thomas Jefferson many years ago wrote:
"The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers... [A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of newswriters who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper." --Thomas Jefferson to G. K. van Hogendorp, Oct. 13, 1785. (*) ME 5:181, Papers 8:632

A despotic government?
The Detroit Free Press describes the Armstrong Williams fiasco, in which it has been revealed, news commentator Williams was paid to advance the cause of the Bush Administration. As reported:
The U.S. Department of Education paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to run ads on his radio and TV shows promoting the controversial new law, to host Education Secretary Rod Paige on his shows and generally to talk up No Child as the best thing to happen to education since the chalkboard. Williams says he believes in the program, so no real damage was done.

So what is the big deal? So Mr. Williams received almost a quarter of a million dollars "payola" to help out the Department of Education advancing the case for the No Child Left Behind Act. Is there a problem.

You bet there is. You see we have something called the Bill of Rights in America. A part of the Constitution that safeguards the basic freedoms that we as Americans are so proud of.

As the United States Information Agency reported not too long ago, in an article by James C. Goodale, the government is prohibited from mandating the contents of the press. As Goodale explains:
The First Amendment also prevents the government from telling the press what it must report. In Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 (1974), the Supreme Court considered whether a state statute could grant a political candidate a right to equal space to reply to a newspaper's criticism and attacks on his record. The court struck down the law, holding that the First Amendment forbids the compelled publication of material that a newspaper does not want to publish. The court held that the statute would burden the press by diverting its resources away from the publication of material it wished to print, and would impermissibly intrude into the functions of editors.

It is not just an embarassment. It is a perversion of the normal protections of the Press against Government interference. And this came from the Department of Education, from the Executive Branch of this Government, that is supposed to be enforcing the "laws of the land".

And we still haven't heard about Valerie Plame and who in this administration leaked information, which would be a felony, and outed a CIA agent. This Administration fails to hold news conferences, uses the media to out CIA agents, and bribes news commentators to provide favorable coverage. Shame on them.

And what has John Kerry had to say about Press Freedoms?

John Kerry during the last campaign pledged to have a Presidency committed to honoring the press. He stated:
"I will hold a full press conference at least once a month," he promised. "You should welcome the opportunity to talk with you folks. It is a wonderful opportunity to market." Kerry also said he would seek to have "an open discussion on health care."

During more than three years in office, Bush has held only 12 formal press conferences, including just three in prime time.

In addition, this Administration has advanced censorship as an American value. They have suppressed dissent and tried to keep the pictures of the returning caskets from Iraq out of the American view.

Kerry also cited press freedom and the need for open access by mentioning the recent uproar over photos of coffins carrying the dead back from Iraq, which ran in The Seattle Times and other papers despite a military ban on the release of such photos.

"We see the haunting images of our soldiers loading flagged draped coffins," Kerry said during his prepared speech. "We see rows of them in the belly of a cargo plane for their long flight home. We see images of them being saluted on their final march to their final resting place. And those images are paired with a story about a husband and wife who took photos to show the world the touching way we honor our fallen. And they were fired for their openness and honesty."

John Kerry we needed you in 2004. We need you in 2008 more than ever! Our Constitution and the very freedoms that define us as a nation are under attack. Please pull our nation from the waters of intolerance and despotism!



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