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.
It's right there in our First Amendment to the Constitution, the right of such primacy that it supersedes all others: freedom of the press.
There's a historical reason for this, as most of us plebes know:
The English government monitored colonial newspapers and levied charges of seditious behavior against authors who criticized the government. Frustration and anger toward English rule were widespread, but restrictions on the press forced colonists to suppress their criticism.
In 1735, John Peter Zenger was the editor of the New York Weekly Journal, a publication critical of English rule. English soldiers entered the Journal offices, burning newspapers and charging Zenger with printing false and seditious statements, which at that time was punishable by death. The judge in the case was pressured to convict Zenger and send a message to other rebellious colonials. Zenger's lawyer argued that his client's publications were accurate and, therefore, did not constitute libel. The jury agreed and found Zenger not guilty of all charges. The Zenger case established the precedent for freedom of the press in America.
There has been since a constant balancing act between the actions of the government and the reportage therein. Certainly, there are legitimate state secrets that could endanger national security to be revealed. But what we've seen since the Bush administration is the kneejerk classification of everything and more disturbingly for the Obama administration, the all-out prosecution of whistleblowers for letting us know what's being done in our name. Mother Jones:
In November 2012, Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), a law that improves protections for federal employees and makes it easier for the government to discipline employees who retaliate against whistleblowers—a crucial provision, given that many whistleblowers lose their jobs. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 also includes a section that strengthens protections for government contractors—a law that would have greatly helped DeKort's case.
"We've never had a president more supportive of federal workers who blow the whistle—except when it comes to national security," Angela Canterbury, director of public policy at the Project On Government Oversight, where I used to work, tells Mother Jones. National security and intelligence employees were left out of the WPEA, and even though the president issued a policy directive extending protections to these employees, Canterbury says that the directive has inherent problems. For one thing, it protects only whistleblowers who report wrongdoing internally—which can be self-defeating when your employer is behind the wrongdoing. Tom Devine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project, also notes that Obama is seeking new rules that would allow the government to fire thousands of employees without appeal if they work in the national-security arena. "We've warned the White House many times, if you put whistleblowers in jail your legacy will be defined for prosecuting them for exercising free speech rights," says Devine.
I'm really glad that there are people like Robert Greenwald out there, making noise about these violations to our Constitutional rights and greater threat to our liberty than any of the birther/truther/NRA conspiracies floating around and distracting the public with their inherent bread and circus loudness.
Greenwald, to his ever-loving liberal heart credit, is making "The War on Whistleblowers" DVD available for free on his website, as well as an action guide. Check it out. Set up community airings. Donate it to your local library. Let's stand up for the whistleblowers.
About Nicole Belle
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