Freedom of the press. It’s a term that is thrown about by many people who have absolutely no idea what it means. I see it quite often in the Living The RV Dream Facebook group that I help John Huggins manage. We have very clear rules on what can and cannot be discussed in the group. Politics, religion, profanity, and things like that are not allowed. Every day we have to throw one or two, and sometimes a bunch of people, off of the group because they break the rules. And just like clockwork, someone always complains that we are denying them their freedom of the press. Here’s a newsflash for you folks, you don’t have freedom of the press!
No, you don’t. I know you think you do, but you don’t. Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as the right to circulate news and opinions in print without censorship by the government. It’s a right guaranteed to all who own a press.
Also included in the same amendment is the right to free speech, the right to practice whatever religion you so choose (or no religion at all if that’s your choice), the right of peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Nowhere does it say any newspaper has an obligation to print your opinion, just their own.
Basically, what it means is that you can start your own newspaper, or these days a radio or TV station, or a YouTube channel or social media page, and have the freedom to say what you want, as long as it’s not libelous. But if you don’t have a newspaper or some sort of outlet like those just mentioned, someone who does have one has no obligation to let you use it as your bully pulpit.
Many times people wanted me to print a letter to the editor back in my newspaper days that I chose not to, for whatever reason. For the most part, I was pretty easy-going about that, but let’s say someone got mad at a particular restaurant, and they wanted me to publish a letter to the editor saying that they got food poisoning when they ate there. Or sometimes it was a personal attack, like a letter someone sent in about a police officer who arrested her teenage son for vandalism. Her letter claimed that he was a known pedophile, cheated on his wife, and a dozen other wild accusations, all completely untrue. Yes, I really did get letters like that.
Or maybe it was a letter promoting whatever someone’s hot button issue was – pro-gun, anti-gun, pro-religion, anti-religion, pro-abortion, anti-abortion. You name it, and someone was always wanting to put it in a letter. I usually allowed them to express their opinions unless they went too far. And believe me, some of them went way too far!
Quite often, when I declined to print someone’s letter, they got up on their hind legs and started bellowing that I was depriving them of their freedom of the press. At one time, I kept a copy of Editor & Publisher, the trade journal of the newspaper industry, under the counter. In the back of every issue, there was a listing of newspapers for sale across the country. When someone started their freedom of the press nonsense, I would hand it to them and tell them there were a bunch of newspapers they were more than welcome to buy. Then they, too, would have freedom of the press!
When I published the weekly newspaper in the White Mountains of Arizona, there was a local businesswoman who had an abortion when she was a young person. Later in life, she became very opposed to abortion and went to such extremes that she got in trouble with the police for putting flyers under the windshields of people’s cars with horrible color pictures of aborted fetuses. She also put them in people’s mailboxes and posted them up on bulletin boards all over town, and even went so far as to stand on the sidewalk in front of the junior high school passing them out.
One time she came into my office, demanding that I put in a letter to the editor talking about how terrible abortion was and included several of her vivid color photographs. I told her that it was a family newspaper, and her letter and photos were inappropriate for our audience, and I would not be publishing them. Right away she got up on her high horse and told me that she had freedom of the press
Once I explained to her that she did not have that freedom, she handed me her long three or four page letter to the editor to me and demanded I read it, and told me she was not leaving until I did and told her my thoughts on it. So I started to read, and she demanded to know when I was going to do what she told me. I said I was reading it and her reply was, “I couldn’t tell. Your lips aren’t moving.”
I read the whole thing, and when I was done, I picked up my secretary’s cigarette lighter from her desk, set fire to the letter, and handed it back to the woman, telling her that was my response. She stormed out the door cussing like a sailor, and I never saw her again. We lightened the mood of the whole affair when another employee, who was eight months pregnant, came out of the bathroom and said, “I smell smoke. What’s Nick burning down now?”
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Thought For The Day – If I was meant to be controlled, I would have come with a remote.
Very well said Nick.
Yes and the USA is a “Republic NOT a Democracy” That one touches off a storm as well.
Nice article Nick
Brings me back to teaching Journalism and advising the college newspaper. My experiences were not as crazy as your examples. We’ll have to talk shop one of these days. 😉
Your local business woman should have only included the nice abortion pictures instead of the terrible ones. You know, so as not to offend anyone.