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

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 August 11, 2017|
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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.

About the Author:

Michael Thau
Michael Thau has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton. He works as a freelance ghostwriter and content marketer and blogs at A Clearer Picture (https://aclearerpictureblog.wordpress.com). He can be reached there or at [email protected]
  • Sam McGowan

    The point of the article is excellent, but the narrative to get there clouds the issue. It’s very simple – the First Amendment grants INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS to religion, speech – including the use of the press – and assembly, plus the right to petition government for redress. There is no way it grants special powers to commercial newspapers, radio, television or internet. No, “the press” has no special right and the media does not publish “truth,” they publish propaganda.

    • Michael Thau

      Thanks for the the compliment and the summary Sam. Sorry the narrative clouded the issue for you, but I think that may be because you already understood it. Just asserting what the First Amendment grants only individual rights and saying there’s no way it grants special powers to corporate media, as you do in your summary, wouldn’t explain why to someone who doesn’t see things as clearly as you.

      I think the part of the narrative about the printing press is very helpful for people who don’t already get it. Without explaining what “the Press” meant to the founders, anyone who doesn’t get it will wonder why they used the term. I agree that the stuff about the narrative producing industries in general and the entertainment industry in particular isn’t strictly speaking necessary to make the point about the First Amendment, but I think its useful to put the issue into a larger context.

      I hear people all the time saying stuff like: “The press has degenerated and they don’t deserve their First Amendments rights anymore.” And that’s why I think there’s more to this than confusion about the First Amendment. People who say things like that get their idea about the once noble press from TV. As I say in the article, those deluded by the obviously false interpretation of the First Amendment have bought into a whole mythology about journalists and the whole mythology, thus, needs to be addressed. For people who completely get it like you the additions may seem unnecessary. But I wasn’t writing for the cognoscenti.

      Anyway, thanks for making your point without engaging in insults and glad we at least agree about the basic facts. Take care! — the author

  • Cybergeezer

    Superb discourse illustrating the malevolent agenda and intent of the present day “press”, entertainment industry, and political factions.
    It was very unsettling discovering that my elementary school aged kids were being inculcated by their public schools, to become good consumers.
    Once I realized that fact, I dedicated myself to countering that inculcation, and have for the most part, succeeded, in overcoming that infusion of “herd instinct”.
    I now have to engage my grandchildren even more to overcome that conspiracy.
    This is the subject matter that used to inspire constructive debate.
    Essays such as this bring new life to constructive dialogue.
    Thank you!

    • Michael Thau

      Glad you found the article useful and thanks for taking the time to say so CG! Also it’s great to hear someone who understands how kids are being indoctrinated to be consumers and actively counteracted it with their own progeny. You not only helped your kids and grand kids, you helped all of us by insuring that there are a few less zombies out there following every order given by the TV. If there were enough people like you, the progressives wouldn’t stand a chance in implementing their agenda. Take care! — the author

  • JamesDrouin

    “Progressive propaganda, relying on misdirection, misinterpretation, and outright falsehoods, permeates American life and touches or taints every topic.”

    Of course it does … always has and (unfortunately) always will.

    Thomas Jefferson in 1807:

    “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of day.”

    “I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.”

    • Michael Thau

      Glad you agree James. I had heard that Jefferson quote once before and totally forgot about it. ! I wish I’d remembered it since it would have been perfect in the article. But thanks for reminding me and making sure that it at least appears in the discussion thread! Take care — the author

      • JamesDrouin

        Just an FYI, but a mangled version is frequently (and incorrectly) attributed to Mark Twain, and I’m guessing that that’s because he had a similar disdain for the media.

        • Michael Thau

          Thanks again James. Now that you mention it, I think it was an attribution to MT of which I was aware. I’m pretty sure that I actually didn’t know Jefferson said this. Pity, it really should be in the article.

  • Philip

    This article should be novelized. Break their logic, pillar by pillar, Descartes style.

    • Michael Thau

      Glad you found the article useful, Philip and thanks for taking the time to let me know! — the author

  • Nano

    “The falsehoods that are so foundational that their exposure will cause the whole edifice of progressive thought to collapse,” are that God does not exist, hence truth is subjective, not objective, and we can create our own reality. It seems to me that Quantum Mechanics has already overthrown that foundation, but the dots haven’t been widely connected yet. There must be an OBSERVER for anything to exist. What is real is the Observer. All things are designed with a high degree of INFORMATION, not random chance. Information is not physical and exists apart from any physical entity. It exists outside the physical universe. FORCE is not physical, acts on the physical, created the physical from nothing, and predates the universe. This is the Triune God described in the Bible.

    • Michael Thau

      You may be right about the idea most foundational to progressivism, Nano. Unfortunately, I think it’s hard to convince people who have this idea that it’s wrong — without realizing it, they have a false religion of their own to which they are very committed. I myself am skeptical of arguments from QM for anything outside of QM. The stuff about there having to be an observer for something to exist isn’t, if memory serves, exactly what the standard interpretation of QM says. It just says, IIRC, that the position and velocity of certain subatomic particles aren’t observer independent — that is, they don’t have a position or velocity until someone measures it.

      And, IIRC, that’s just one interpretation of the mathematics of QM and, though it’s the standardly accepted one, there are others. For example, I think I remember that the physicist David Bohm had an interpretation according to which the positions and velocities preexist and are discovered (rather than created) upon observation.

      Also, any interpretation goes beyond the mathematics and reliability of the theory. I *think* I remember one famous physicist even held that interpreting the math of QM is a waste of time and one should just accept that it’s a mathematical theory that predicts certain phenomena without trying to draw any conclusions about the nature of reality from it. However, it’s been over 25 years since I’ve studied this stuff or even looked at it at all, so I very well may not be remembering it correctly.

      In any event, I’m not sure it’s wise to make believing in God dependent on scientific theories since they have a habit of being replaced by different theories. My inclination is to think it’s the other way around and one needs the existence of God to believe that recherche scientific theories reflect reality in any meaningful way rather than being merely mathematical instruments that predict reality which may or may not reflect it. But that’s a HUGE topic, too huge to be discussed here. Not saying you are wrong, just giving my take.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and take care! — the author

  • William Westchester

    Disagree with author: according to Alexander Pope, “Whatever is, is right”. There is, in fact, a single sustaining narrative of “Progressivism”: “Whatever is, is wrong”.

    • Michael Thau

      I definitely think there’s something to the Pope quote, thanks for bringing it into the discussion, William. But I don’t think that one can get progressives themselves to accept that this is foundational to their views and I was looking for things that they themselves would accept. “Whatever is, is wrong” seems like something, to the extent that they believe it, they do so unknowingly. Still, as I say, you have a point. Take care! — the author

      • William Westchester

        I have hypothesized that “Progressives” are aiming at a celebration of the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution right here in the US in another three months. I haven’t had the notion disputed by anyone.

        • Michael Thau

          I think the main objection to your claim is that you’re giving most of them *way* too much credit for historical knowledge.

          • William Westchester

            In which case, they – at least the mobs on the streets – may not be aware of what Napoleon said about them some 200 years ago: “There are limits to genius; there are none to stupidity.”
            I would not underestimate the organizers, however.

  • URstandingwhere

    Nicely worded projection.

    • Michael Thau

      I think that’s a compliment. The word “projection” makes me a little unsure, but I’ll assume I’m reading it right unless notified otherwise. Glad you liked the article UR and thanks for taking the time to let me know. — the author

  • sunnyindc

    Thanks for your article MT. It will be a HUGE task to deconstruct the progressive foundation to the point that its erroneous nature is exposed enough to change anyone who has been deeply consumed by it. What also constantly amazes me is the effective degree to which it serves as a basis of perceived reality for a great number of people whom I think have the common sense ability to easily discern the deception – yet they seem to willingly go along with it (maybe it advances their self esteem). The only aspect of their lives that is common among them is that they have no belief in any God or even grasp the concept of an absolute truth. The mere fact that they can function at all in this world is a testament to the sheer insular success of western society to this point (maybe they need to travel more, and get off the beaten path a bit). Can it really be that simple? My father once told me: “Son, if you do not believe in God, then you will believe anything”. Maybe he was onto something…

    • Michael Thau

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Sunnyindc. I am totally in tune with most of what you say, and I even frequently find myself thinking how their ability to function and survive shows how insulated from the real world our culture has become. But I may, however, part company with you when you say that none of them believe in God.

      A fair number of them claim to believe in God, though it may be that many people don’t even know whether or not they believe. I think Tolstoy points out somewhere that the whole time he was an atheist he also had the habit of talking to God without even realizing it. (My memory is hazy here, so it may very well be that Tolstoy has a fictional character say this rather than saying it himself, and its possible my attribution is just wrong.) And the reverse may be possible as well — maybe some people who sincerely claim to believe in God really don’t. To be honest, I have some (perhaps crazy) inclination to think that one ceases to believe in God the moment one stops thinking of God.

      But, even if something like this very radical claim turns out to be true (which I’m not claiming at all), we usually accept people’s claims about their own faith. So I’d be reluctant to deny that a lot of them believe in God, since, even if we believe faith isn’t at all transparent to its subject, it would still be very misleading to do so. Take care!

  • mas2

    The only thing I would have added to the explanation of what “the press” meant back then is to note the existence of “alternative press” even in that day. Some of the greatest print influences leading up to and into the Revolution were pamphlets such as Common Sense by Thomas Paine and Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania by John Dickinson.

  • Cat22

    TV not only is “a distraction to get into your wallet” they now make you pay for them to do so!
    I dumped my TV subscription back in 2012 and I don’t regret it for a second.

    • Michael Thau

      Good for you Cat22. That’s the same thing myself and every single person I’ve heard about experiences when they get rid of the boob tube (as it used to be called when people understood its true nature better) — namely, that you don’t miss it at all.

      That’s because watching it actually makes you less happy. It’s function is to do that so you buy the stuff it advertises in a vain attempt to become happy and also to make you afraid of things so you stay glued to the screen for more information about them.

      When you get rid of it, you wind up doing more fulfilling real things. So getting rid of it is like getting rid of an unnecessary weight that was holding you down but that you thought was necessary because you’d gotten so used to carrying it. Thanks for sharing your experience and take care! — the author