2018

1 March 2017: A free society depends on a free press

Loaded language. Loaded gun. They infer the same: A weapon to intimidate, harm, or death if needed.

Besides meanings, words have power. Consider junk food versus a healthy meal. From a nutritional perspective, junk food—e.g., fast food and potato chips—implies obesity and clogged arteries due to sludge blood, while a healthy meal of steamed carrots and broccoli infers a fit body, perhaps toned and active. But then, junk food connotes pleasurable taste—sweet and salty—while the healthy meal reminds one of his mother nagging him to eat gummy, unpalatable vegetables.

In the campaign, Hillary Clinton was eviscerated for her “basket of deplorables” comment, an unfortunate faux pas, made in a moment of exhaustion. It painted her as a judging elitist looking down her nose at everyday people. Had Hillary used the term deplorable as an adjective describing bigoted behavior, it might have been heard less harshly by her opposition. It’s the difference between defining or characterizing a person as this or that and calling him/her down for exhibited behaviors over which he/she has choice.

The Enemy. The Enemy as opposed to adversary. Today, I am He. I am part of the Fourth Estate, the Press. The Man declared it so.

One’s enemy is one’s implacable foe, the One that must be conquered, if not destroyed. The enemy is verily the outsider seeking to lay waste and to destroy the innocents.

Enemy implies zealot, one not just impassioned about his/her cause, but possessed with over-the-top zeal that takes no prisoners. Zealotry, in turn, has a religious connotation. Zealots are fire-breathers for a cause, transcendent or secular. Radical Islam and radical Christianity are the same animal with alternate stripes. We know of radical Islam because the notion is trumpeted incessantly, quite successfully as it has now become for many the caricature of Islam itself. But we’re not likewise reminded about radical Christians, such as Robert Dear who shot up the Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs.

The ultimate enemy in both Islamic and Christian myth is Satan, the prideful destroyer of God’s Kingdom. The Devil. Fundamentalist Muslims call America the Great Satan. The Evil One that must be destroyed. In turn, fear-filled Americans paint Islam as a monolithic threat to civilization, likewise to be destroyed. Crusades. The struggle for religious supremacy. One would think those ancient wars inflicted enough carnage.

In his classic work, “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller brings to life the confluence of the transcendent with the secular, heaven and earth, when it comes to good and evil. Miller says the Devil is a “necessary part of a respectable cosmology.”

“Ours is a divided empire,” he writes, “in which certain ideas and emotions and actions are of God, and their opposites are of Lucifer. It is impossible for most to conceive of a morality without sin as an earth without ‘sky.’ Since 1692 (the Salem Witch Trials), a great but superficial change has wiped out God’s beard and the Devil’s horns, but the world is still gripped between two diametrically opposed absolutes.”

Lately, God’s beard has been replaced with a comb-over and the Devil’s horns with eyewear slid down the nose of a reporter digging for that which only a Deep Throat knows.

Thomas Carlyle, a noted early nineteenth-century Scottish essayist, wrote in 1841 about Edmund Burke, the British parliamentarian considered to be the founder of modern conservatism. “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

More important than they all. More important than the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.  “A Fourth Estate,” Carlyle wrote later, “of Able Editors, springs up, increases and multiplies; irrepressible, incalculable.”

A free society depends upon an irrepressible, incalculable press playing an adversarial role. Its duty is to challenge presumptions of power. Only an insecure leader—dictator or would-be dictator—becomes fearful of the press. Only such is paranoid to label his rightful adversary an enemy.

Thomas Jefferson famously proclaimed, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Well said, Mr. President.

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