That Pesky First Amendment
Wednesday April 14, 2010
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I have not jumped into the anti-Obama hay wagon with those of you who have claimed he might signal the end of American civilization as we know it.
I may have been wrong. I am now doing stretching exercises in case I need to make the leap.
There is a reason that the First Amendment to the Constitution is the first and not the eighth or the tenth.
In case you skipped social studies this is the text:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
We're pretty clear on the Religion clause. The Freedom of Speech clause has been well defined: You can't be, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes taught us, "falsely shouting fire in a theater" and claim freedom of, but you can say awful things about the President of the United States and not be clapped in irons.
It's that next clause; the one about the press, that concerns us today.
For the past two days, the United States has been host to more than 40 heads of state. If you lived here, you would expect to have the sounds of motorcades dancing in your head for the rest of the week even though the nuclear summit ended yesterday.
The United States has been the most open society in the history of mankind, when it comes to the press being able to watch, and tell us about, what our government is up to.
However, Barack Obama has departed from the modern custom of allowing the press to watch what he is up to.
The other day, Obama left the White House without the normal press "pool" to, according to White House staff, watch his daughter play in a soccer game. Ok. I understand that sometimes a dad just wants to watch a soccer game.
But Obama is not just a dad. He's the President of the United States and if, God forbid, something had happened either to him, or around him, there would have been no press to report on it.
As the Associated Press gently put it, by sneaking out of the White House,
"Reporters and photographers didn't have a chance to see him or his vehicle to verify his presence at any location."
Whoa! Check, please. Unable to "verify his presence at any location?"
I wonder if any reporter has checked with any of the other parents at this secret soccer game to determine if Obama was even there.
Forget about soccer games, Obama has not held a press conference since July 21, 2009. Think about George W. having gone nearly nine months without a formal press conference.
Chris Matthews would be apoplectic. Keith Olbermann would have had another nervous breakdown.
There has been no coverage of this nuclear summit because Obama didn't want reporters … reporting on it.
Dana Milbank, columnist for the Washington Post, began his complaint about the way the press has been treated during this summit thus:
"World leaders arriving in Washington for President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit must have felt for a moment that they had instead been transported to Soviet-era Moscow.
No reporters were permitted in the sessions, and the amount of time the press was permitted to be in contact with any national leader was measured, literally, in seconds.
This was a summit to deal with the control of nuclear materials. It is a far cry from sneaking out to allegedly watch a school soccer game.
Like them or not, the tiny White House press corps is the eyes and ears for the other 300 million of us. Ignoring, hiding from, shutting out, and refusing to let those handful of people do their jobs on our behalf is a significant - a very significant - red flag.
If Barack Obama were simply exhibiting contempt for the press corps he might find many who agree with him. But, Obama is revealing disdain for the concept of being President in an open society.
The national press corps - whether they want Obama to succeed or fail - cannot ignore his scorn for the First Amendment.
Every other freedom depends upon it.
On a the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the AP story about the alleged soccer game and to the Dana Milbank column. Also a sort of amusing Mullfoto and a tasty Catchy Caption of the Day.
[The] "leader of the free world" was putting on a clinic for some of the world's greatest dictators in how to circumvent a free press."
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