‘Freedom of the Press’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think

Progressive propaganda, relying on misdirection, misinterpretation, and outright falsehoods, permeates American life and touches or taints every topic. The corporations that produce mass entertainment and news, the government bureaucracies that shape and fund education, the schools from kindergarten to college, and the tech firms that control the flow of information and ideas, are all subject to a groupthink that, for all intents and purposes, brooks absolutely no dissent from Leftist dogma.

The leaders and followers in the narrative-producing industries are mostly true believers themselves. Everything they touch becomes a vehicle for spreading progressive delusions because, essentially, they can do nothing else. They’ve spent their own lives passively consuming these industries’ products. And their unrelenting complacency about what their TVs tell them, together with the ubiquity of their products, means that thinking Americans can never afford any complacency at all.

But, it’s impossible always to be on guard, and, of course, no one else can relieve you from protecting your own mind. It is not surprising, therefore, that perfectly sensible people are often heard expressing totally baseless or outright false progressive views. Watch enough television and it becomes difficult not to believe unfounded claims involving, for example, the existence and threat of manmade climate change, the advantages of diversity, or the effectiveness of gun control.

Attack at the Foundations
The sheer amount of progressive dogma out there means that combatting each and every false belief is a hopeless task. A better strategy is to try and find falsehoods that are so foundational that their exposure will cause the whole edifice of progressive thought to collapse. Both the strategy and metaphor come from the 17th-century philosopher and mathematician René Descartes. In his Meditations of First Philosophy, Descartes tries to “demolish” everything he believes “in order to start again from the foundations” by attacking “the principles on which all [his] former beliefs rested.”

Descartes purported to find a single sustaining belief that supported all others (that he was not under the influence of an all-powerful demon intent on deceiving him) but, here, we won’t have such luck. Progressive groupthink is supported by each of the different narrative producing industries, and each has its own set of supporting delusions. The foundation of progressive thought includes the bogus ideas that, for example, the function of the education industry is to educate (its function mostly involves baby-sitting), the function of the entertainment industry is to entertain (its function is mostly to keep us unsatisfied so we give up our money for the things it advertises) and the function of the press is to inform (its function is, again, is to be found in the advertisements).

Indeed, its accurate to say that each narrative producing sector has its very own mythology about its purpose and the noble nature of its employees: screenwriters and actors are artists, as legitimate as da Vinci and Tolstoy; and journalists and teachers have all chosen their profession from selfless heroism rather than, like most of the rest of us, because it suits their preferred lifestyles.

Exposing all these mythologies, or even completely exposing one of them, can’t be done in a single sitting—if it could, it would hardly be necessary to give it the effort. So, for today, we must content ourselves with exposing one particularly important part of the mythology that one of the narrative producing sectors, the corporate news media, depend upon for their power: namely, the patently absurd idea that the First Amendment gives special rights and privileges to the corporate media not granted to the rest of us.

The 18th-Century Printing Press
President Trump is under an unprecedented assault by the corporate media. George W. Bush was also subject to nasty and baseless attacks. But he never seriously threatened the elite interests they represent and he never struck back. Bush’s main goal in life seems to have been to make friends, and, once the fighting necessary to win a campaign was over, he returned to prizing amiability above all else, letting himself be kicked around with a good-natured grin and ignoring vile attacks or treating them as harmless jokes.

But President Trump does threaten at least one of the ruling elites’ important goals: the importation of a cheap and easily controlled labor force for the giant corporations that have supplanted small business as the backbone of the American economy.

Unbounded government intrusion in the form of laws, regulations, and complex tax codes has made it impossible to run a business without devoting a significant resources to satisfying multifaceted government demands at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Economies of scale are thus favored, and the government has become so intrusive that small scale locally owned clothing, electronic, hardware, and grocery stores, which were common 50 years ago, today barely exist.

Republican establishment politicians, exemplified by the Bush family, have had no inclination to resist the project of replacing American laborers with more docile and much cheaper foreigners. More than anything, it was Trump’s unapologetic departure from the bipartisan elite consensus on immigration and trade that propelled him to the presidency. It’s also the source of the unprecedented hostility from corporate news. Trump is, of course, also of an entirely different cut than Bush and not at all inclined to turn the other cheek. So his direct response to corporate media’s lies and misrepresentations are also a serious threat to their credibility.

Apart from countering the specific deceptions corporate media has used to undermine him, Trump has generally tried to curtail their power to deceive with two tactics: first, curtailing the access that corporate press has to his administration, which undermines their ability to create a narrative; and, second, plugging the leaks, mostly illegal, that have been responsible for much of the corporate media-generated noise alleging “chaos” in the administration.

Now, of course, if a president told you or me that we couldn’t sit at a press conference, or tried to stop us from receiving leaked information and promised to prosecute us for our involvement in illegal leaking, no one would bat an eye. And, if he did the same about leaks of government information to, say, the arms or pharmaceutical industries, only people in those industries would be bothered.

So corporate media must respond to their distaste at being treated like the rest of us by claiming that corporations in the news business and their employees have some special First Amendment rights and privileges that you and I and other industries obviously lack. They claim, hysterically, that Trump is attacking their constitutional rights. This is nonsense.

It’s also effective. The message, repeated over and over, is that the Constitution “enshrined the press,” which is true as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go nearly as far as the media would have us believe.

However relevant one thinks Jefferson’s announcement in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” is to the principles the framers enshrined in the Constitution, they couldn’t have possibly thought that a certain class of individuals have special privileges and are exempt from certain laws just because of their profession. To grant such privileges would be guaranteed to corrupt any profession—just as the bogus belief in such special rights has, in fact, corrupted journalism, so that that lying, cheating, and breaking the law are commonly accepted tools of the trade.

The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Wouldn’t it be odd if freedom of the press didn’t apply to all of us, like the rights mentioned immediately before and after it—the rights to speak and to assemble peaceably? But why then did the founders state that this right applies to “the press”—those who control the means of producing and disseminating information—instead of making clear that it is a right granted to all citizens? The answer is that the latter is, in fact, exactly what they did do.

As the invaluable Eugene Volokh has pointed out, “the press” didn’t come to stand for journalists until the late 18th and early 19th centuries and, until then, referred only to the printing press, a usage which has since all but vanished. So, it’s overwhelmingly likely the authors of the First Amendment weren’t using “the press” in its newfangled sense and rather, like the Second Amendment, only meant to secure everyone’s right to use a certain technology.

Furthermore, Volokh shows how in their other writings, the framers didn’t use the new meaning of “the press” but, rather, used its standard meaning. The First Amendment merely tells us that the technological method of producing ideas then available can be no more restricted than speech, the natural one mentioned directly before it, can. It doesn’t absurdly grant corporate news and those it employs any special rights and privileges any more than the Second Amendment grants them to gun manufacturers and salesmen.

That the Constitution doesn’t pick out some profession and place its members above the rest of us should have been obvious even given how the phrase “the press” has changed meaning. But the myths TV and movies have been feeding us about journalists being heroes who “speak truth to power” have made this patent nonsense about the first amendment easier to swallow. And, even though most people know that elite journalists are generally more like Peter Fallow from Bonfire of the Vanities—self-absorbed and shallow folk who will stop at nothing in their quest for fame so long as it doesn’t conflict with the interest of their corporate masters—we only need to hear the words “First Amendment” or “freedom of the press” to fall back into line with the ways of thinking about “the press” which their fellow travelers in the entertainment industry have tainted our minds and used to justify the power the press now has to control our national narrative.

Speaking Truth to Power
Arrant nonsense about the meaning of the Constitution is part of why people who are usually beneath the common run of Americans aren’t shouted down and embarrassed when they claim to be above them. But these wild notions could only become accepted dogma because we allow ourselves to be exposed to so much “entertainment” designed to weaken control over our wallets and taint our minds. And, if we have any hope of stopping the narrative producing industries from destroying this country, then we need to begin curtailing our consumption of their products.

It’s not just a question of not giving money to people who hate you. Nor is it primarily a question of depriving them of the funds necessary to advance narratives that harm you and your family. Turning off your television also deprives them of the wedge that cracks open your mind and allows it, in ways you don’t even realize, to be controlled.

TV isn’t your friend. It only entertains you as a distraction to get into your wallet, and the stuff meant for children only exists to turn your progeny into a means of relieving you of more money by instilling in them uncontrollable demands for shiny plastic toys and more time viewing its corrupting product.

If we keep voraciously consuming the toxic fruit of the narrative producing sectors who seek to control us, we will never free our minds from the tyranny of their narratives, and our nation, which so many worked so hard to preserve under much more difficult circumstances, will continue to be threatened by progressive delusions.

Corporate journalists are no better than the rest of us and they neither deserve any special rights or privileges nor does the First Amendment grant them any; that much ought to be completely clear. But if it’s going to remain completely clear, we need to spend much less time being passively entertained by people with the same agenda as corporate news but who have much more insidious ways of softening our minds to make us incapable of resisting it.


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