Freedom of the Press – What it is and what it is not

The Online Legal Dictionary defines freedom of the press:

“The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to gather,freedom of the press publish, and distribute information and ideas without government restriction; this right encompasses freedom from prior restraints on publication and freedom from Censorship.”

News reporters tend to believe they are a protected class of citizens, persons with a higher degree of privilege than all other citizens. Is this the intent of the First Amendment to the Constitution?

The text of the First Amendment outlines five freedoms which cannot be limited by an Act of Congress.

“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.”

Let’s focus on three of the rights in the above text.

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble”

News reporters, as you can plainly discern from the text, have no more rights than any citizen of these United States.

The differences between citizens exercising freedom of speech mean we can express our opinions about the government at any level without fear of retribution. Back in the day of our Founding Fathers, people like Thomas Paine and John Dickinson were two of the most influential pamphleteers. Dozens of newspapers informed the public (all British citizens) of the egregious, unlawful actions of the Imperial government.

What one speaks, his thoughts are for the moment; when one prints his thoughts, they can be forever. Philosophers like Thomas Paine spoke critically of the government often to citizens in public places, but his spoken words were but for a moment and like a vapor lost forever. His printed words have endured now more than two centuries.

Printed words served to instill ideas and to provide a means to share those ideas widely again and again without the authors present. By the way, there were pamphlets published by loyalists, too.

What does the right to peaceably assemble mean? One online dictionary defines peaceable as “inclined or disposed to avoid strife or dissension; not argumentative or hostile”

Moving our focus to the White House press briefings, let’s apply what we know from the Frist Amendment, the three freedoms named above.

Fundamentally, news reporters can publish their stories and opinions in print or broadcast media without restraint from the government.

While assembled in the White House, they exercise their right to peaceably assemble.

The Constitution does not confer special rights on news media personnel to disrupt a press briefing as CNN’s Acosta has been doing.

A briefing is “a summary of relevant information or instructions, a meeting at which such information is given”. A presidential press briefing is a short meeting in which the President reports on policies and practices.

I have no right to disrupt a meeting anywhere; neither do news reporters.

President Trump acted lawfully and properly in the dismissal of Jim Acosta and the revocation of his press pass.

In every situation, there is always an authority with jurisdiction to maintain good order. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech do not supersede the maintenance of good order in a public assembly.

Even a president has the right to peaceably assemble.

John White
Rockwall, Texas

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