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The mythical “public’s right to know” is why journalists almost never make the right decision on whether to cooperate with government 2/20/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in PublicsRightToKnow.
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Journalists could make their lives a whole lot easier if they stuck with our nation’s original script. The First Amendment makes it clear that journalists’ top priority is to help preserve everyone’s individual rights (e.g. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) from the power of government. But, Big Journalism thought the Bill of Rights needed a rewrite, so it invented out of whole cloth a totally new right that takes precedence over the First Amendment. Deceptively termed “the public’s right to know,” it essentially amounts to “the exclusive right of journalists to say whatever they damn well please, no matter how it might hurt anyone else’s individual rights.” As a result, journalists never seem to come-up with the right answer when confronted with the power of government.

In one recent incident, Hillary Clinton expressed her “deep offense” at MSNBC reporter David Shuster’s strange, but innocuous statement that daughter Chelsea was “being pimped out” in her campaign work. She threatened to boycott an upcoming debate on MSNBC. Instead of doing the right thing — standing-up to a powerful politician to preserve its own and everyone else’s freedom of expression — MSNBC folded like a cheap suit and suspended Shuster indefinitely. Defending individual rights was less important to MSNBC than their own freedom to influence the election.

In a second recent incident, a reporter was cited for contempt of court for refusing to reveal sources who erroneously named Steven Hatfill a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Hatfill’s reputation, and thus his ability to pursue happiness, was destroyed by reckless reporting, and he is seeking to identify those responsible. But after violating Hatfill’s individual rights, the reporter is now preventing him from seeking justice by citing the non-existent “public’s right to know.”

Finally, there is the case of the NY Times leaking classified information on terrorist-monitoring efforts that use the Brussels-based SWIFT financial system. Although the program was perfectly legal and a bi-partisan delegation pleaded with the NY Times to spike the story, Editor Bill Keller insisted: “We remain convinced that the administration’s extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest.” The mythical “public’s right to know” trumped the public’s need to have their individual rights protected from terrorists seeking to extinguish them. But the good news is that at the same time journalists invented a new right for the themselves, they also invented one for everyone else — the right to seriously entertain the possibility that modern journalism is among the greatest threats to our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Comments»

1. Jon Ham - 2/21/08

Dyn-o-mite post, Steve.

2. reuben - 2/25/08

Re: “pimped out”

Strange that Hillary failed to stir herself into such a high moral dudgeon when the State Police in Arkansas (and later the White House staff and DNC) were literally pimping out women much younger than her daughter for her husband to molest, and allegedly even rape. One could make the case that Hillary, by ignoring the serial abuse and philandering of her husband for almost thirty years — and then destroying the women who dared to speak out — is the real pimp.

Small wonder she is so defensive at the use of the word. Methinks she doth protest…


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