Even ‘fake news’ is vital to our liberty
By Bob Livingston [Full original column here]
Part 2 of 2. Read the first part, “1st Amendment written to protect ‘fake news’“
Although the term “fake news” was not part of their lexicon, the Founding Fathers understood quite well the concept. As I discussed last week in “1st Amendment was written to protect fake news,” highly partisan editors used the power of their presses to disseminate their views with little concern over whether they were being truthful or even upheld basic standards of decorum.
Newspapers, pamphlets and broadsheets provided nourishment to both spark the American Revolution and keep it alive. Doubtless King George thought the ongoing lists of grievances colonial editors proclaimed against the crown were at best overblown if not outright lies.
As Ken Burns notes in his book , Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and The Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism:
Certainly the war would not have begun as soon as it did without the encouragement of the press. As New York Journal editor John Holt said on one occasion to Sam Adams, “It was by means of News papers that we receiv’d & spread the Notice of the tyrannical Designs formed against America, and kindled a Spirit that has been sufficient to repel them.
And almost certainly, the war would not have ended with an American victory in a period of seven years from the first shot to signed treaty had not the newspapers – and some pamphlets – constantly reminded the colonists of the cause they shared, thereby inspiring the valor of soldiers and the patience and support of civilians.
The British knew it, too. The Boston Gazette was the only paper on their hit list before the war began, but as battles raged and patriot prose became ever more the tie that bound the colonies into a makeshift nation, the British set upon print shops as they did stray battalions of colonial militia. Sometimes, rather than wrecking the supplies and equipment, they stole them and delivered them to Tory publishers for more sympathetic use.
Criticism from the press during the war wasn’t just aimed at the crown. Editors, pamphleteers and broadsheet publishers directed scorn at one another, at the generals – George Washington in particular — and the politicians. And after the war politicians – even esteemed and venerated figures like Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton – were special targets. The media occasionally feigned impartiality, but it wasn’t unusual for an editor to use his publication for the sole purpose of tearing down one politician or cause and venerating another. And yet even with this history, the Founders believed a free press to be an essential freedom.
In The Founding Father’s Guide to the Constitution, author Brion McClannahan writes that the drafters spent little time debating most 1st Amendment freedoms because they almost unanimously agreed they were all essential for a free people. Still some saw not giving the idea a free press a mention in the document as a grave oversight.
Arthur Lee, writing as “Cincinnatus” to James Wilson in 1787 said, “I have proved, sir, that not only some power is given in the constitution to restrain, and even to subject the press, but that it is a power totally unlimited; and may certainly annihilate the freedom the press and convert it from being the palladium of liberty to become an engine of imposition and tyranny. It is an easy step from restraining the press to making it a place of the worst actions of government in so favorable a light, that we may groan under tyranny and oppression without knowing from whence it comes.”
Richard Henry Lee wrote that a “free press is the channel of communication as to mercantile and public affairs; by means of it the people in large countries ascertain each other’s sentiments; are enabled to unite, and become formidable to those rulers who adopt improper measures. Newspapers may sometimes be the vehicles of abuse, and of many things not true; but these are small inconveniences, in my mind, among many advantages.”
In 1797, Benjamin Franklin Bache – the grandson of Benjamin Franklin — published a pamphlet titled “Remarks Occasioned by the Late Conduct of Mr. Washington.” In that pamphlet, Bache stated, “[Washington was] A Virginia planter, by no means that most eminent, a militia-officer ignorant of war both in theory and useful practice, and a politician certainly not of the first magnitude… He is but a man, and certainly not a great man.”
When Washington decided that he would not run for a third term in 1796, and that the vice president of his administration John Adams would run instead, Bache’s paper, the Aurora, approved. It claimed that Washington avoided running for a third term “from a consciousness that he would not be re-elected” and “to save himself the mortification and disgrace of being superceded. (sic)”
Bache praised Adams through the early part of his presidency. But that changed after Adams gave his war speech to a special session of Congress in 1797. Bache began to excoriate Adams for what he saw as Adams’ increasing likelihood to take the U.S. to war with Great Britain. So harsh were Bache’s attacks on Adams that the In June of 1798 Bache was arrested under the Alien and Sedition Act – which had not yet passed Congress, much less been signed into law – just 10 days after publishing a letter from the French minister Talleyrand exposing the XYZ Affair.
Alexander Hamilton used a newspaper, the Gazette of the United States to prop himself up and excoriate his enemies – most notably Adams and later Thomas Jefferson.
The Gazette of the United States began publication on April 15, 1789, a month before the Constitutional Convention. Editor John Fenno used the publication to promote Washington and gave Hamilton a forum for promotion of self and later promotion of a national bank, his politics (Hamiltonianism, which was British mercantilism or crony capitalism), his friends for political office and to denigrate his political enemies andJefferson’s actions as Secretary of State.
While he was Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton used the Gazette as a house organ for the Treasury Department and in turn supported the paper with money from the Treasury Department in the form of “advertising.” He also leaned on friends and business associates to purchase ads in the paper in exchange for “favors” from the government.
To counter Hamiltonianism, which Jefferson rightly saw as an assault on individual liberty, he – with James Madison’s assistance – recruited another well-known editor named Philip Freneau to publish a paper named the National Gazette in 1791. Jefferson even put Freneau on the State Department payroll to supplement his salary.
Over most of the next decade the two papers went after one another and their benefactors tooth and thong, with the National Gazette revealing an adulterous affair between Hamilton and Maria Reynolds, and the Gazette of the U.S. eventually printing stories of a relationship between Jefferson and slave Sally Hemings.
The national press has changed little over the years. Elites have used it to start wars, tear down their enemies and prop up others. They’ve used it to plunder and pillage.
Under the George W. Bush regime, we learned that syndicated broadcast host Armstrong Williams was paid $240,000 by the Department of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2004, the Department of Health and Human Services disseminated a propaganda video promoting the Medicare prescription drug law that ended with the tagline “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.” This video and several like it were run by local television stations as news clips without disclosing its source.
This was blatant government propaganda that violated U.S. law, and it was shut down by an inspector general.
Dozens of members of the mainstream press are also members of the Council on Foreign Relations, “the American Branch of a society which originated in England, and which believes that national boundaries should be obliterated, and a one-world rule established,” as CFR member Carroll Quigley himself wrote in his book Tragedy and Hope. So the CFR not only controls the branches of government, it also controls the press.
And what it doesn’t control, the CIA, British MI6, Germany’s BND and Israel’s Mossad do. German reporter Dr. Udo Ulfkotte told American Free Press that “typically, intelligence agencies use ‘unofficial covers’ — people working for the agency but not actually on its payroll as agents. It is a broad, loose network of ‘friends,’ doing one another favors. Many are lead journalists from numerous countries. This informality provides plausible deniability for both sides, but it means an ‘unofficial cover,’ as Ulfkotte became, is on his own if captured.”
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