Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Weasels on the loose

There's a lot of interesting stuff to talk about in the FTC's upcoming roundtable about the purported reinvention of journalism, not least Jeff Jarvis's petulant wah-wah-they-didn't-say-"blog"-enough rant. (Yeah, we'll get to that shortly; do you people not realize how busy it is around here?) Meanwhile, enjoy this paranoid fantasy from a longstanding pillar of the far-right press. It's mostly straight-up ZOMG the Kenyan Muslim Socialists are Coming:

Mark Tapscott: Will journalists wake up
in time to save journalism from Obama's FTC?

Release of the Federal Trade Commission's working paper on "reinventing journalism" makes it clear that there is no more time for diplomacy about this issue: President Obama is determined to federalize the news industry just as he has banking, autos, and health care.

... but there's a particular touch toward the end that helps put into perspective the deep, ahem, reverence that these people have for the Constitution:

Conservative journalists will do well not to roll their eyes impatiently with liberal colleagues who don't understand that government always expands its control over any activity it either funds or regulates, and therefore must be limited at every level to well-defined, narrowly circumscribed powers that only it can fulfill, as was done by the U.S. Constitution.

Better to explain yet again that the original intention of the Founders with respect to the media -- "Congress shall make no law respecting ... the freedom of the press" - is the key to saving independent journalism.

We have no idea what the Founders' "original intention" was "with respect to the media," any more than we can comprehend their original intention with regard to powered flight, the internal combustion engine and the ability of those phenomena to deliver nuclear weapons around the globe. Those things were simply inconceivable when the Founders got around to the Bill of Rights. We're fairly sure of what they thought about "the press," though we really have no idea whether "the press" as operated by Ben Franklin's older brother is supposed to be the same thing as when it's operated by Gannett or McClatchy or News Corp.* That's sort of the practical minefield we operate in when we genuflect toward the 18th century.

More to the point, though, that third graf is a remarkably incompetent -- or dishonest -- elision of a fairly plain bit of text. The First Amendment doesn't say anything about the making of laws "respecting" speech and the press. The "respecting" clause is about religion (as is the subsequent one, in which the verb is "prohibiting"). The clause about the press says that Congress shall make no law "abridging" freedom of the press. The federal Freedom of Information Act is self-evidently a law "respecting" the freedom of the press, but it doesn't "abridge" that freedom. You'd like to think the "buh-buh-buh ... the CONSTITUTION!!!!" crowd could figure that out -- certainly in the guise of an alleged journalist warning other journalists about the coming Kenyan Negro Muslim Socialist apocalypse.

We have in many ways a very Miltonian -- which is to say blinkered, naive and culturally biased** -- concept of the virtues of free speech. But it's the one we have: the cure for weasel-speech is more speech, not restrictions on speech. Go forth and do battle against the weasels.

* Starting to see where we're going to go in class tomorrow?
** Good thing I'm driving in the morning, as it more or less ensures that Language Czarina will not kill me before 10 a.m. for this.


Anonymous raYb said...

Click on the link to the Wash Examiner for really disorienting popup: get in on Obama's debt relief (?) Obama insurance rate reduction (?), along with the obligatory attractive women and a targeted "make more money" pitch. Odd that Obama's the fiend from the Koran (or Revelation) in Tapscott's world but the site advertises stuff he's done.

11:26 AM, June 02, 2010  

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