Rights come with Responsibilities – Or Do They? 3

Memorial Day has been a special event in my family’s life ever since Great Grandfather Mac donned his Grand Army of the Republic Uniform and marched in his first parade.

The men who returned from the War Between the States felt it was their duty and honor to remember the sacrifices of so many men who had died in that horrific war. For those who were fortunate, death came swiftly. For those less fortunate, long suffering in primitive medical conditions, agony lasted months and even years. The men who escaped injury felt that honoring the sacrifice was a continuation of their duty.

Their sons were later called to action for a larger war overseas and within another generation yet another World War. Rach of those wars and the many conflicts since have one thing in common. All of them have helped to preserve an idea called America and the freedom promised by the Constitution. The framers wanted to set up a document that would give structure to that idea. The branches of the government and the responsibilities for each branch were set up to achieve a balance of power. The country was formed in the shadow of a King and unresponsive parliament which unfairly taxed and oppressed the fledgling colonies. This document would make sure that none of the three branches could usurp the powers of the others.

What is sometimes lost in that attempt for balance is the fear that many of the founders first felt about any such document. The Constitution after all was not written to grant anyone rights. Those were judged by nearly all of the founders to be God given and inalienable. The real purpose was to limit the power of government over men’s lives. The Bill of Rights was an afterthought and to this day remains a subject of many legal battles. The men who opposed it did so not because of the “rights” included but that they presupposed that we did not have every right to live life in a way that was of our choosing.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the press.”.

Some will argue that the Constitution is a flawed document in many ways. There are some really good reasons for those arguments. I would only add this. The founders write the document with a Bill of Rights, but failed to balance it with a Bill of Responsibilities. Most of the laws written in the past several hundred years are designed to set boundaries or limits on what we can and cannot do. The original document was written with some very wide open statements such as the commerce clause. But the real third rail hidden in the law is the statement about the press. More than one national leader has discovered the power of an unhindered press along the way.

Mark Twain once wrote “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”

While this made sense to politicians in the early days, it has become magnified by a million fold with the advent of modern communications. With each advance in communication through radio, television and the internet (in addition to the growth of the old style press industry), an unfettered press has grown to be the gargantuan power in the world. Its not hard ot imagine the power all of these methods contain to influence and change people’s minds and opinions. Imagine what could happen if the same people controlled the message and the messengers with unbridled power.

I first discovered how far we are down that road nearly fifty years ago. At the age of 13, I was a news junky. It was 1967 and I was alive with a thirst to understand what was going on around the world. Vietnam occupied center stage and I wanted to see as much as I could see for what was shaping into my generations war. Using the money I had earned cutting grass, I got a set of subscriptions to Time and Newsweek magazines. We didn’t live close to a library so this seemed like a good place to start collecting all that was news. They normally arrived within a day of each other and I would go through them from front to back. It wasn’t long before I made my first major discovery. They were nearly the same in content and flavor. The articles were the same and it erally felt like I was seeing more of an opinion than a fact.

The TV at that time was not much better. The three major channels and PBS all carried the exact same stories and the same opinions as well. Sometimes they even used the same phrases and pictures. Over the course of the next year, the pubic reacted just as if they were all programmed to follow the same script. Protests that turned to violence and of course the infamous Tet offensive where Walter wearily informed us that we had lost the war. It wasn’t until many years later that we found out that we had actually won a great victory.

The unelected press brought a nation to its knees. An unelected press has done so much evil to the modern world that we may never recover. Even today, they relentlessly attack the President and his programs because of their own opposing ideology. Lazy stories filled with unnamed sources and innuendo have no place in a responsible press. Journalists who make up facts without sources just to fit their own narrative are the worst offenders of the lot. Real journalists should call them out and castigate them publicly before taking way their credentials.

They have their rights because of the men and women that gave their lives to protect their freedom to spew any garbage they want no matter how devoid that garbage is from truth. There is no one to hold them accountable except for the public which makes the ultimate choice to decide what is right and what is wrong. When good men and women of character stand up for the truth with their money and their personal commitment to truth, evil and manipulation will be put in check.

Whether you are left, right or center, a free press is important to maintaining a series of checks and balances to government that has become unresponsive. But as responsible citizens, we owe it to the memory of those who have given everything for our freedoms to hold that press responsible for the truth.

 

  1. Mister Mac

3 comments

  1. The truth has never been any more plainly spoken. While the right of free speech must never be impinged, there must be some way to hold them to “honest’ speech, perhaps by requiring the source of a report be a part of the story or be faced with penalty. Speech will still be free, but you damn well better make sure the source has his story straight.

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