Will we notice when Freedom of the Press or Freedom of Speech are in danger? What might the signals be?
Could the signs be belittling, demeaning, threatening or attacking the credibility of long-standing trusted institutions? Could charges of “Fake News” intimidate and reduce candor? Can there really be “alternative facts”?
Could restricting news organizations from political rallies, press conferences or meetings with foreign dignitaries damage the flow of information? What signal is sent by canceling security clearances for people speaking out? Does declaring media institutions an “Enemy of the People” when they publish unfavorable stories have chilling effects?
What do these behaviors bode for openness and transparency of a Democracy?
Timothy Snyder, a survivor of Hitler’s Germany and author of “On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century” writes, “The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century …”
Snyder reminds us to: “Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”
He encourages us to support and trust historic news institutions that are focused on the truth, who vet the accuracy of their stories and require substantiation of their sources before they print or broadcast.
This guidance is critical.
In 1971, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in New York Times Co. v. United States, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”
Will Freedom of the Press or Freedom of Speech survive the current onslaught? Will our Democracy?