What Did You Do When the First Amendment Died?


The Issy Hissy, right on schedule, has already produced several fully formed mountains of armchair bullshit. My favorite part so far is how people who are pounding Newsweek for attributing information to an anonymous government source who was either misconstrued or changed his story post-facto, have reckoned that the best way to respond to this mistake is by blatantly mischaracterizing it as a deliberate "lie." We may yet come to discover that the Newsweek reporters knowingly misstated the truth, but I've seen no evidence so far. Also, I've heard rumors before that government officials have been known to lie in the name of National Security.

Rather than deal with any of that, I would like to zero in on an arcane side-argument from Glenn Reynolds:

I WARNED EARLIER that if Americans concluded that the press was on the other side, the consequences would be dire. […] I'm a big fan of freedom of the press. I think it's too bad that the journalistic profession is ruining things for everybody through the hubris, irresponsibility, sloppiness, and outright agenda-driven bias of its practitioners.

There are three things to respond to here. 1) If Americans conclude that "the press was on the other side," I am utterly, 100 percent convinced that Americans would be wrong, a point I tried to make last July, when Reynolds was praising a Mort Kondracke column that claimed "The American establishment, led by the media and politicians, is in danger of talking the United States into defeat in Iraq." Why do I think it's wrong? Because I've known maybe 300 American journalists fairly well in my life, and not one—really, 0 out of 300—could accurately be described as being "on the other side," actively rooting for the United States to lose wars. There's a selection bias, I'll grant you, and I'm not the sharpest cookie in the barnyard, but realize also that the majority of those people are on the political left, and quite a few on the Progressive Naderite end. If the press was indeed on the other side, wouldn't at least, I dunno 100 of those people be rooting against the home team? Or are they all just sleeper agents? (Reynolds also knows scores of journalists; I wonder how many he considers to be Benedict Arnolds….) 2) If "Americans concluded that the press was on the other side," not only would Americans be wrong, but it would be their own damned fault, and not because "the journalistic profession is ruining things for everybody." Why? Firstly because the journalistic profession, as we are reminded daily by people like Glenn Reynolds, has less and less power to do anything, let alone ruin things for everybody. But mostly it's because people are responsible for their own behavior, especially in a society blessed with as much information and freedom as ours. If they choose to form their opinions based on those who are too quick with the Treason card … that's on them. If I choose to support the shredding of the Second Amendment, is it my fault, or the fault of the NRA, or of legal gun owners who commit crimes, or of a media that feeds me anti-gun messages? I vote me. 3) Without question, there will continue to be more, not less, "outright agenda-driven bias" in journalism, as the market becomes richer with choice. And much of that output will continue coming from the right side of the political spectrum, as a corrective to the fish-don't-feel-the-water bias of the dreaded MSM. If that's a key factor in undermining public support for the First Amendment, then we're in for some rough seas ahead.

Reynolds has written on this theme many many times before, usually asking leading questions like, "What happens if the public comes to regard the press as untrustworthy and un-American?" Well, the legal climate for speech may continue to contract (even as the practical climate expands), and each and every person who actively participates in the de-liberalization should be called very nasty names from a distance of 10 paces. And yes, I can see where journalists would have some soul-searching to do about their own unwitting contribution to the process (though my beef is more with their fair-weathered support of the First Amendment, their enthusiasm for McCain-Feingold, and their eagerness to expand police power). But if we're to ladle out blame for the pending First Amendment collapse on journalists who have a dispute with one source, let's save a drop or two for commentators who have encouraged their readers to believe the falsehood that professional reporters have been showing up to work all these years to carry out a specific agenda to undermine America.