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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

Guns Don't Kill People, the Press Kills People

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Let's see, according to the Bush Administration and the Radical Right...

It's the fault of the press that there's bad news in Iraq.

It's the fault of the press that the government is involved in illegal domestic spying.

It's the fault of the press that telecommunications companies have released private information about their customers to the government.

It's the fault of the press that White House insiders, like Lewis Libby, leak stories about legal irregularities -- or secret government agents.

Apparently it's also the fault of the press that married gay flag burners pulled the plug on Terri Schiavo.

And of course it's the horrific fault of the press that the Administration has been looking into private bank accounts...which the Administration itself has repeatedly and very publicly acknowledged for years.

The result of all this is that those of the Administration and Radical Right, when they have finished their twitching for the cameras and crying their heart-rending crocodile tears, have started to call for an investigation into the New York Times for reporting the news.

Oh, okay, to be fair, it's news they didn't want reported (though that covers pretty much everything they do). However, as noted, the President has been telling everyone for years that we're tracking the money of terrorists. So, unless terrorists really don't watch the news (at least since Dan Rather left), there's a pretty good chance that they already knew, from the President's own speeches.

But still, these faux-twitching Radical Right want to silence the press. Indeed, investigating the press for reporting news actually has never been too far from #1 on their hit list.

Keeping in mind how the Radical Right loves to wear the concept of Constitutional Originalism on their sleeves, it's interesting to understand how perhaps the original Originalist, the father of all Originalists from whence all Originalists sprang - Thomas Jefferson, hallowed be his name - felt about the press and its relationship to government:

"... were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter" --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787

In Radical Right Republican circles, this is known as an "Oops" quote.

The thing is, the Radical Right has long wanted to silence the press. In fact, watching those Republicans in Congress call for an investigation into the press is a surreal moment, akin to having the Society of Foxes call for an investigation into farmers guarding the henhouses.

"Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it." --Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1786.


The Radical Right has probably hated the press ever since Gutenberg, although a visceral point of demarcation for our time was the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Revealing the truth about America's involvement in Vietnam just never sat well with those who prefer to sit in the dark and praise it.

However, the Radical Right most especially hates the press for daring to investigate and, therefore cause the resignation of Richard Nixon. Forget Mr. Nixon's culpability of criminal acts. (Heaven knows, they'd like to.) Uncovering the truth may have been the biggest sin of all. This wasn't just "shoot the messenger." This was... well, given what happened at Kent State, apparently it was shoot the messenger, literally.

"The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823

(Big oops.)

For decades, the Radical Right has insisted that the press was all liberal. Never mind reality, of course. (After all, even necons admit that Reality has no place in their world.) Never mind that the most massive of mass media, television networks, are owned by huge corporations which, in any universe, are the bastion of conservatism. Never mind that for decades, newspapers have begun merging with one another, creating their own multimedia corporate, conservative empires. And never mind that far more than personal politics, the one thing every reporter prays at the Journalism Altar for is a scoop that brings down the Big Guys. It doesn't matter who the Big Guys are, what their politics are -- if it gets reporters a headline, or byline, they love it.

And never mind that the most openly-biased news organization in the known world, and parts of the unknown universe, is the rabidly conservative Fox News. That's apparently okay to the Radical Right. It's the other news - actual news - that they have a problem with.

"I am... for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799.

(Oops, yeow!)

Are some journalists liberal? Of course. Are some conservative? Obviously. But all love that scoop. And a double scoop with cherry on top is even better. All. Every single one of them. They each one dream at night of being Woodward and Bernstein. Getting the Story is at the core of why they became journalists. That and getting a cool press card.

But in the end, it's not The Liberal Press who the Radical Right hates. It's the Press, period. The First Amendment ties the Radical Right into gut-wrenching knots. They claim to love the Constitution (okay, sorry, the "original Constitution") -- it's just the words in it that they can't abide.

"No government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free, no one ever will. " --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1792.


The reality is, in this Reality-based world, that the Radical Right has long been trying to discredit the press, because once it's discredited and you don't know who to trust, then that Jeffersonian watchdog of the government disappears.

That's why they helped created the fake journalist "Jeff Gannon." (Hearing Republicans twist into pretzels as they defended "Gannon's" porn-press credentials was the funniest thing on television since "The Muppet Show.") It's why the Administration paid columnist Armstrong Williams to promote its own interests as "news." It's why they hired fake journalist Karen Ryan to produce Administration "video reports" about Social Security to be aired on TV news. (Just one of dozens of such fake news charges against the White House the FCC is investigating.) The point here is the Radical Right would not only love to blur the line between actual journalism and flim-flammery, but they've bought erasers to do the smudging by the truckload.

And of course best of all, they've created their very own governmental mouthpiece news organization of Fox News. (Little known fake fact: Fox's original slogan was going to be "The Truth Be Damned.")

Which brings us to one amazingly-prescient comment by that Founding Father Originalist, Thomas Jefferson. Leave your "oops" aside on this one, you'll need both hands. Just sit down and buckle your seatbelt.

"The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers... [A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of newswriters who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper." --Thomas Jefferson to G. K. van Hogendorp, Oct. 13, 1785.

And so, that's where we get the yammering Radical Right Republicans ludicrously calling for the investigation of the New York Times. Never mind that, as Thomas Jefferson spent a lifetime saying, a free press (love or hate what it reports) is the heart and soul of a free people. Having the heart and soul of a free people is not really foremost in the interest of the Radical Right.