Roper: The media is not ‘the press’

By Rob Roper

Recently hundreds of news publications around the country, including several here in Vermont, participated a coordinated editorial campaign decrying criticism aimed against the media. Their general complaint is over the president accusing them repeatedly of being “fake news” and an “enemy of the people,” allegations which they describe as dangerous attacks on a “free press.” As one prominent Vermont editorialist wrote, “A free, fact-based press was built right into the foundations of that when the First Amendment was adopted in 1791.” This view misunderstands the constitutional right.

Rob Roper

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

The “freedom of the press” referred to in the Bill of Rights is a concept, not a class of people ( i.e., journalists). It is a fundamental right that applies equally to all citizens. It does not carve out a special class of uber-citizens who have more rights and protections of expression than the rest of us because they get a paycheck from the New York Times, CNN or your local Vermont media outlet.

We all, as citizens, have an equal constitutional right not only to say what we think — freedom of speech — but also the right to print and distribute those thoughts as we see fit — freedom of the press (as well as the right to come together and exercise these rights in coordination with other like-minded citizens — freedom to peaceably assemble. But let’s stick with the concept of free press for now). If you’re free to say it, you’re free to write it down, and/or, with today’s technology, put it in a video, on the radio, in a meme, in a tweet, and free to circulate those thoughts as far and wide as you can. “Congress shall make no law” abridging this right.

Is everything everybody prints going to be politely presented, rationally thought out or always accurate? Sadly, no, but this is the nature of a free press, and it is one of the key pillars that makes our country unique, special and great. This right of expression is enjoyed by everybody, from the president with his Twitter account to the guy on the street corner holding aloft a “Repent, the end is near!” sign scribbled with lipstick on a discarded pizza box. Whether we like them or not, the president’s tweets challenging the media, as well as everybody else’s, are not dangerous to the constitutional right to a free press, but an exercise of it. Again, like them or not.

Sharyl Attkisson

Today’s media landscape

Another prominent Vermont editorialist describes these criticisms of the media as “dangerous to the nation’s democracy because his intent is to undermine the very notion of reliable and trustworthy news.” Reliable and trustworthy news is extremely valuable and important, but not being able to stand up to criticism does not make something either reliable or trustworthy. The opposite is so. Would this editorialist cease and desist from harsh criticism of politicians because undermining faith in our political leaders and institutions is dangerous to our democracy? I hope not.

All of these editorialists (at least the several that I read) accused the president of being a “dictator,” a “tyrant,” and a “danger to our democracy.” How is this any different than accusing someone of being an “enemy of the people”? In my humble opinion, both sides are engaging in some serious and unproductive hyperbole, but, that is their right. We, as citizens, can question whether or not it is a responsible exercise of that right.

If the president were actually a dictator, such as a Hitler or a Stalin, every late night comedian would certainly have been publicly hanged by now, or at least packed off to a gulag somewhere in the Alaskan tundra. But, in reality, nobody is using the power of government to stop anybody from saying or printing anything they choose. Nobody is threatening their right to a free press.

However, if what members of the media want and expect is a protected monopoly to decide what information people get and what people think about it, and to de-platform those who criticize them or have different opinions, that is not a right protected by the Constitution.

Unfortunately, this appears to be what some major media outlets are petitioning social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to do to citizens — use their power to silence those with whom they disagree. This, arguably (arguably because these are corporations not Congress making rules), is a violation of citizens’ rights to free press — if not in absolute legal terms, certainly in spirit. Cutting off the voices of citizens is actually a danger to democracy, and I hope the media will take as strong a stand for their readers’ free press rights as they have for their own.

The statement, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it,” best sums up the spirit behind our unique rights as American citizens to free speech and free press. It is an attitude of mutual respect that I hope we can all reestablish, remembering always that our rights to expression are not just a two-way street, but the entire national transportation system.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Image courtesy of Sharyl Attkisson
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4 thoughts on “Roper: The media is not ‘the press’

  1. They should list it as the liberal press as 90% of what is printed is one sided.
    A good example is the Burlington free press. After the parkland shooting and the threat in southern Vt, the BFP printed page after page of students demanding changes in our gun laws. In one daily paper alone, there was five pages of pictures and articles of students protesting. At the same time the pro gun people held a rally in Montpelier which had over 1000 supporters present. That deserved a 3 inch article on page 11 of the BFP. That was one day only. There were two other rally’s that received no coverage from the BFP but they constantly state they are fair in their print. What a joke.

  2. What the Anti American Anti Constitution Liberals, Dems, Socialists, commies & leftists fail to realize in any of their statements & beliefs are the numerous contradictions & hypocrissy with those statements. For example if Trump were an evil dictator/ tyrant they (CNN, MSNBC, NBC, VPR, NPR) would all be shutdown & in jail or worse; also if he is a tyrant why in the World would Americans willingly give up our weapons up to a tyrannical Govt.. Leftists have their distorted facts bassakwards Obama is the Tyrannical Socialist who tried driving America into the ground with his anti Constitutional anti American policies because of his greed for money power & above all his feeling of being entitled to control everyone that is the truth no matter what libs say!! If Obama isnt a Socialist self entitled Commie racist narcissist why was he recently speaking to & praising the racist corrupt criminal South African Govts policies against White South African farmers, which includes rape & murder while at the same he tried continuing to be America’s Lecturer & Cheif from racist South Africa?? Oh yeah since it wasn’t covered in USA it never happened right libs??

  3. It’s sad we are at a point where you need to point this out.
    Seems like their ability to think has been amputated.
    “Freedom of the press” meaning for Acosta and Maddow, not you or me, or the President.
    Nuts!

  4. It used to be we only had the ” National Enquirer ” when you want sensationalism in the news !!

    Well now just pick up any newspaper or turn on any news channel, same hype no substance got
    you photos and unnamed sources……………..That’s News !!

    These so-called journalists, luckily they have the Constitution to allow them this privilege but
    these are the same” fools ” that believe the rights of others should be taken away as they don’t
    like it because it doesn’t fit their agenda …………..Pretty Sad.

    News, it makes one want to laugh.

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