By Rob Roper
One thing that, sadly, needs to be pointed out these days is that our right to “freedom of the press” does not refer specifically to the media. It refers to all of us. We all, as citizens, have the constitutional right not only to say what we think (freedom of speech), but also to print and distribute those thoughts as we see fit. If you’re free to say it, you’re free to write it — or, with today’s technology, put it in a video, on the radio or in a tweet.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” This fundamental right applies equally to all citizens. It does not create a special class of people who have special rights of expression because they get a paycheck from the New York Times or the Washington Post. The idea of freedom of the press as “freedom of the media” is, dare I use the term, fake news.
Nonetheless, recently there have been numerous examples of reporters and news outlets complaining that their exercise of free press rights is being criticized by citizens exercising their own free press rights. “You should not be allowed do this,” they say. “It’s dangerous!” Nonsense.
A recent article by Michael Cohen (one of many similar articles) calls out the president for labeling the press “the enemy of the people,” citing the dangers of demonizing journalists. He lists several who have received threats in the wake of these charges. However, a quick Google search reveals a multitude of headlines from ostensibly mainstream publications stating the president and Republicans in general are “a threat to our democracy.” What is this but another way of saying “enemy of the people”? This is just as dangerous, isn’t it?
Don’t think so? Ask Rep. Steve Scalise, shot by a Bernie supporter while practicing for a softball game. Ask Sen. Rand Paul, attacked and severely injured by his leftwing neighbor. Ask conservatives like Charles Murray, who have been chased off stages by violent leftwing mobs, or threatened while trying to enjoy a meal in a restaurant.
Is the media going to stop writing “dangerous” stories that spark this kind of reaction? Should the media be banned from printing such headlines and expressing such opinions? No. And they will, correctly, cite their right to free press. However, some powerful media outlets are now lobbying social media platforms to ban citizens who criticize them in digital print. This is a real violation of a free press. This is a real danger to democracy.
Criticizing the media is not a violation of their free press rights. It is an exercise of free press rights. But, banning someone from posting an opinion or an idea is a violation of free press rights. The media are not our protectors. Our right — everyone’s right — to exercise freedom of the press is our true protector. And, it looks like we will have to protect it from the media.