The War on Journalism

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by James Corbett
November 5, 2013

As long as there have been positions of power, there have been those courageous few willing to speak truth to power. And as long as there have been those willing to speak truth to power, there have been those trying to throw them in jail.

As the invention of the movable type printing press spread literacy to the masses and paved the way for newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsheets, the idea of the free press as a “fourth estate” began to take shape. This concept of news media as a vital check on institutional governmental power was taken to heart by America's founding fathers, who took care to preserve freedom of speech, and the freedom of the press in particular, as a contitutionally-enshrined right in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

...or so the story goes. In point of fact, tyrants have always strained against a truly free and independent press and it was less than a decade before the Federalists under President Adams began to eviscerate the First Amendment. In 1798 they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing “scandalous” or “malicious” criticism of the government. Under the laws, which lasted until their expiry in 1800 and 1801, over 20 newspaper editors were arrested and several imprisoned.

If this story tells us anything, it's that the war on the free press is nothing new. But even given this “proud” American tradition, the overt threat to journalistic truthtellers in the US and around the world, even from within the ranks of journalism itself, is reaching a fever pitch. (see this and this and this and this)

As worrying as this attack on the free press is, more worrying still are the proposed political “solutions” to this problem. Among them is the so-called “Free Flow of Information Act,” spearheaded by Senator Diane Feinstein and approved by the Senate Judiciary committee in a bipartisan vote in September. This bill purports to “protect” journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources in federal court. In reality, it allows the government a back door for defining what does and does not constitute journalism, a disturbing precedent that is the first step down the slippery slope toward censorship of criticism from unrecognized and non-establishment media entities like the report you are currently watching.

Given the high stakes involved in defining “journalism” during this age of internet journalism and the explosion of alt media sources, it is no surprise that many in that alternative media are perceiving this as a direct attack on their ability to perform the task of countering official government propaganda.

Earlier this week, Michael Vail of alt media news websites and joined me to discuss this war on journalists and its ramifications.

The term “war on journalism” is an apt description of the current state of affairs because there is a war being waged on the public right now. It is a war for the hearts and minds of the population, and it is being waged by the bought-and-paid for government and the compliant repeaters in the corporate controlled dinosaur media that is bleeding readership and viewership as alternative entities increasingly dominate the information battlefield.

The metaphor is now so common that it is routinely employed by the power structure itself, who now readily admit that they are losing that information war.

The problems facing modern society are complex and manifold. They span the political, economic and social spheres, and together constitute a nearly overwhelming challenge to the creation of a just, peaceful and free society of the future. But of all these problems, the threat to journalism is one of the most fundamental, and one of the most fearsome. For if the very ability to voice opposition and criticize the increasingly tyrannical aims of a government out of control is removed from the people, what hope is there of ever achieving true change?

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