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Erosion of the First Amendment

 article about Erosion of the First Amendment
2005-01-03


I've had more than a few people ask me why I was so adamantly opposed to Bush in the last election. Some of them, I think, fully expected me to fly into a nonsensical tirade about a myriad of issues, but my response has slowly whittled down to one simple comment: He could cause me to serve time.

This is the easiest, and most accurate, answer that anyone involved in journalism or publishing could give to this question - one answer that cannot be denied by even the most zealous supporter of Bush. Why? At no point during the past year has Bush ever stated publicly that the courts should consider the journalistic standard of maintaining anonymity of sources sacred. Admittedly, this is a time-honored tradition, not letter of the law, on the Federal level - I won't open the can of worms over those who were asleep at the wheel on that issue, and didn't push for it to become law.

To place this in perspective, we should examine the media's response to the current trend in the Federal Court System. Judge Earnest C. Torres, Federal Judge seated in Rhode Island, recently sentenced Jim Taricani, WJAR-TV reporter, to six months house arrest for refusing to reveal his source of a video tape showing a public official taking a bribe from an undercover Federal agent. NBC graciously picked up Taricani's tab - $85,000 for 85 days of silence with a price tag of $1000 a day. Since the fine obviously was doing nothing to weaken Taricani's resolve, Judge Torres resorted to imprisonment - his only regret was that Taricani had to serve time at home, due to health issues arising from a heart transplant. Now, where did this story finally end up in the New York Times? According to the online archive, the print editors placed it on page 27 - so much for front-page coverage of the erosion of Freedom of the Press. Beyond the various legal intricacies the prosecutors used to justify this brain-child, I have to get a good laugh out of the name of the operation that yielded the tape in the first place - shades of "Mad Max", Plunder Dome at least leaves Taricani with a decent title for a memoir, if he can find a publisher who isn't scared to print it.



One that received a bit more media attention was the issue of Valerie Plame. Now, there's a household name for you. It's not meant to be, since Plame is a CIA officer - an officer who had her cover blown in the US media. Judge Thomas F. Hogan, Federal Judge in D.C., has been keeping very busy because of this little bird, but this one really requires a scorecard to keep track. Judith Miller of the New York Times seems to be taking the brunt of the attack on this one, in spite of the fact that she never published a word in her paper about it. It's perfectly understandable, according to the government: Miller was given information about Plame, so therefore, she should reveal her sources. Who cares that she didn't actually PUBLISH anything about Plame. The guilty party on that count was syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who agreed to speak with prosecutors about sources who waived requests of anonymity - he probably figured he wouldn't look fashionable in prison overalls. Then there is Matthew Cooper of Time, and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post who also got marched in for questioning. By this point, my eyes are glassing over, and I'm figuring that whoever is supposed to be manning the wheel for the protection of the press isn't just asleep - he's been shot in the back of the head, execution style, by unnamed assassins.

There was a time when I would have considered it "being in the right place at the right time", if I'd ever end up with a tip from someone about any kind of political graft. Now, I'm figuring that earplugs are a good investment. There is a little niggling in my conscience, telling me that I should listen, should speak up if the situation arises, and should stand firm on my convictions - keep tight-lipped in the face of persecution or prosecution. Given my general disposition, the latter is far more likely, but that's only because I keep one little memory in the back of my mind: When I was a child, my father had a 48 star flag given to him by his stepfather. It had awful brown looking stains on it, that illustrated the true cost of freedom. That flag had been wrapped around a wounded soldier on a battlefield, and ended up in our family because that wounded man was my step-grandfather's friend - he brought the flag back to the widow, and she asked him to keep it. I was raised to believe that I owed that man my own freedom, and that I should continue the fight in his name, if ever there was the need to do so. The need is here, and my answer to the Fed is "bring it on!" I just hope my personal sentiment on this issue prevails amongst the journalists in this country.



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