1000 Words: Enemy of the People

Lucky you, for I’m about to add to the list of things you ought to be scared to death about.

In this year of somebody’s lord, 2023, each of us on this planet has plenty of things that keep our eyes saucer-like as we lie in bed at night. And here I am with more news, as if you needed to be reminded, that we’re living in an era when authoritarianism and neo-fascism are becoming seductive to a growing swath of the American populace.

To wit: armed police busting in on newsrooms. Y’know, the kind of thing they do in Putin‘s Russia, Orban‘s Hungary, or any other locale ruled iron-fisted-ly. It happened again this past week, right here in the Land of the Free, and it wasn’t a one-off. Punishing the press has happened too often of late within this great democratic republic whose Constitution’s very First Amendment calls, unambiguously, for Freedom of the Press.

I stress the word unambiguously because, over the last 50 or so years, an entire major political party on these shores has built a foundation upon the mistaken belief that the Constitution guarantees plainly, obviously, and explicitly that every citizen herein ought to be able to pack as much heat — handguns, shotguns, rifles, automatic firearms, military-grade assault guns; in short everything and anything that can fire metal projectiles either into you or through you — as his/her budget and storeroom can allow. It doesn’t, of course. The Second amendment contains the qualifier “well-regulated,” although the gun fondlers of this nation blink when their eyes pass over that phrase.

Here, we’ve been fighting like cats and dogs for a half century over the existence of that hyphenate. We haven’t needed to fight all that much about the contents of amendment No. 1 because it’s clear. Freedom of the press, along with the other liberties guaranteed by the amendment, is a given.

So sacred is the Freedom of the Press idea that the US government, for chrissakes, even dropped a lawsuit against several publications in 1979 that wanted to print a step-by-step guide to making a thermonuclear weapon. Now, we’re not taking about possessing a thermonuclear weapon, a putative right that, I’d guess, any number of Second Amendment fetishists might say every American was born with. The Progressive magazine and the University of California at Berkeley’s The Daily Californian student newspaper both published the info, both were hauled into court and, ultimately, both were allowed to publish the stuff.

Not that it would make any difference in your or my everyday life inasmuch as building a hydrogen bomb entails the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars to employ countless physicists, metallurgists, chemists, mathematicians and other assorted technicians as well as the building and maintenance of sprawling laboratories, uranium refinement reactors, huge gas centrifuge factories, vast tracts of land on which to test explosives, and all the restrooms, cafeterias, and HVAC facilities needed by the aforementioned employees.

Nevertheless, the US Gov’t got jittery when it found its most cherished secrets were about to be disclosed and then stood on its head to prevent it from happening. The US Supreme Court said, in effect, Well, let us think about this for a bit, until events and the understanding that Freedom of the Press is largely absolute caused the Feds to back off.

But that was all more than 40 years ago. This is a new day and age.

It’s a day and age, though, when the leading Republican candidate for the presidency has already told his followers that the news media is the “enemy of the American people.” Hitler’s Joseph Goebbels and Stalin’s Lavrentiy Beria would have slapped him on the back. And he’d have said, Thanks, guys.

Police in a tiny Kansas town raided the newsroom of the local newspaper this past Friday, seizing computers, cell phones, and other materials, the result of a spat between the paper and a local restaurant owner. The restaurateur carries a lot of sway in the town, especially with its police force. The police chief of the town — Marion, pop. 1922 — says the raid was carried out because the paper had violated the restaurant owner’s privacy. The paper, The Marion County Record, was investigating the politically active restaurant owner’s past drunk driving citation. The paper already had decided against running a story about the incident.

The Record‘s publisher and editor, Eric Meyer — whose home also was raided for materials — said:

This is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimar Putin does, that Third World dictators do. This is Gestapo tactics from World War II.

Meyer and his staff of a half dozen are trying to figure out how to publish The Record‘s next edition without their computer files and notes. The raid, by the way, may have contributed to the death of the paper’s co-owner. A story published yesterday on the paper’s website says the co-owner, whose home also was raided, was unable to eat or sleep after the raid. “Stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief after illegal police raids on her home and [the newspaper’s] office,” the owner collapsed and died Saturday afternoon.

Nothing new here. The publisher of a small weekly newspaper in Concord, New Hampshire was arrested a year ago this month for failing to clearly mark political advertisements as such. The law requires such markings and the publisher was obviously wrong in failing to do so. Cuffing and booking the publisher, though, seems a tad…, well, fascist.

A Clark County (Nevada) official who was being investigated by a Las Vegas newspaper stabbed to death the paper’s reporter assigned to the investigation last September.

In the last half decade, newspapers in Colorado, North Carolina, New Jersey, California, and New York have been financially punished by local governments for what elected officials deemed to be less than fawning coverage. In all of the cases, the papers were denied local announcement ad placements, usually a key element in a newspaper’s yearly revenue. “Such retaliation is not new, but it appears to be occurring more frequently now, when terms like ‘fake news’ have become part of the popular lexicon,” writes New York Times reporter Emily Flitter.

Fake news. One of the former president’s favorite ejaculations.

Enemy of the people indeed.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: