Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. ~ The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Do Americans have a free press? One of the benefits of "democracy" we’re told is the gift of a free press, but what is a free press exactly and can it truly be said that Americans have one?
Certainly the news media in America does not resemble the mediocre and bland "news" put out by Soviet State media in the past, or say, Cuban newspapers or Egyptian TV news today, but in many ways American media is not free from State control by the U.S. government. For sure it is not direct control, such as in the Soviet model. Rather the control is indirect, exerted through the fear the U.S. government can generate through legal actions it can take that can destroy the value of any commercial enterprise or the career of any individual targeted for retribution.
In economics, private ownership of property that is controlled by the State through various regulatory methods is generally described as the Fascist or Corporativist model. Of course, State elites desire the cartelization and State oversight and indirect State control of news content in an effort to control information and manage public opinion — which are crucial to controlling electoral outcomes. And certainly the First Amendment required indirect methods of control rather than the outright control of the Soviet model. The key to this is the fascist model of allowing private ownership, but with state influence and control based on regulations, rewards and mutual financial interests.
A free press can exist only where there is private control of the means of production. ~ Ludwig von Mises.
One of the indirect methods that the State has to control and influence the media is through the training of would-be reporters in the pseudo-science of "journalism." It is in these State-funded, bureaucratic and cartelized educational institutions, such as Colleges and Universities, where reporters are trained by professors who are immune from the truths of the marketplace and where this contempt for freedom is passed on to their students. And even those institutions that do not accept State funding still are regulated by the State through accreditation.
Although newspapers are not subject to the same State regulatory controls, the broadcast media — and by far the vast majority of Americans get their news from the big TV news sources (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and FOX) — are subjected to a weight of bureaucratic controls on them that could only serve to restrict what they report on.
The controls on radio and later on television, unsurprisingly, originated with the crypto-fascist New Deal. Although the Federal Radio Commission was established in 1927, it actually had no control on content, though it immorally claimed a monopoly for the government over the radio spectrum. The FRC was replaced by the more powerful Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1934, as part of the New Deal program to cartelize industries in favor of established, big businesses, in this case ABC and NBC, and raise the costs for smaller competitors. The FCC regulates radio and television broadcasting, including interstate telecommunications by wire, satellite or cable and international communications that originate or end in the United States.
The FCC exerts indirect control over the content of broadcast media through its licensing of broadcasters and its power to fine companies over the highly subjective opinion of what constitutes "offensive" content. Every eight years radio and TV broadcasters must reapply to renew their licenses. This allows the State to apply pressure on the broadcast news media via the corporations that own them. The mere threat of a refusal to renew a license can wipe out the value of a TV news company. Obviously, those executives who manage these news organizations will be very wary of doing anything that could risk the destruction of shareholder wealth, and consequently their own careers. A conspiracy of mutual interests polices the content of the MSM.
“The imposition of the [income] tax will corrupt the people. It will bring in its train the spy and the informer. It will necessitate a swarm of officials with inquisitorial powers. It will be a step toward centralization…. It breaks another canon of taxation in that it is expensive in its collection and cannot be fairly imposed;… and, finally, it is contrary to the traditions and principles of republican government.” ~ U.S. Representative Robert Adams, January 26, 1894.
The other major weapon the State has against a free press is the income tax itself, which as many writers have said, from Thomas Jefferson, to Karl Hess and Frank Chodorov, is incompatible with a free society. As Frank Chodorov wrote "The composition of the ruling regime makes no difference; the Internal Revenue Bureau is a self-operating inquisitorial body. It has the means of harassing, intimidating, and crushing the citizen who falls into its disfavor." [emphasis in the original]
I think there is no underestimating the fear that the IRS instills in the minds of reporters, the same as it does in those of the public at large. Everyone knows that with one phone call from the IRS, your life is turned upside down, with the very real possibility of financial ruin and imprisonment. How often does the MSM report on the IRS? They are more likely to showcase the victims of IRS persecution and cheerlead for the destruction of capital and organizations rather than expose the everyday activities of an organization what can only be considered a disgrace to a society that claims to defend due process and freedom. As tax attorney and historian Charles Adams remarked "… in all fairness to the chicken media, it is well understood that the First Amendment’s right to criticize the government does not apply to the IRS."
It’s also well known that the IRS has often become a political weapon used to punish, harass and destroy just about anyone. FDR, JFK, LBJ and Richard Nixon are well known for having used the income tax system in this way to harass and destroy their political enemies, whether individual voters, organizations, or Congressmen and Senators. The IRS can destroy careers by leaking the information it has collected through its grueling audits. And should you think the Courts can protect you from the IRS, Judges are just as intimidated by the IRS as Congressmen. Supreme Court Justice William O’Douglas made himself a target of the IRS by dissenting against the IRS on many cases, and faced impeachment proceedings using information likely derived from his tax files. In another case IRS Commissioner Sheldon Cohen did a tax favor for the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas and actually stated, in writing, that the IRS may "need Abe’s vote one day." However, it seems Fortas crossed the IRS as later he was forced to resign based on information the IRS leaked to Life magazine. That’s two Supreme Court Justices that fell to the IRS. Surely this has not been lost on succeeding and current members of this body.
The sad truth is that the income tax destroys that old-fashioned concept of free government, that is, institutions that are free and independent from arbitrary pressure and corrupting interests.
Now, on top of all this, have come revelations about a lawless regime of wholesale wiretapping and data mining by the Bush administration. The fact that as a reporter, you now know that who you call, who calls you and even the content of your conversations has been swept up by the government, must have a chilling effect on what the MSM reports on and what stories reporters even chose to pursue. The fact that this program was hidden from the public for over a year at the request of the State is further proof of the MSM’s intimidation by the State. And even this exposure seems to be based on the fact that it is an illegal program, and not that the State claims the legitimacy to catalog the thoughts, actions and words of every American.
And this doesn’t include the pervasive culture of leaks and sources that so easily allow opportunities to corrupt information and mold public opinion in favor of some governmental interest. The practice of press manipulation through leaking or planting stories with corrupted or naïve reporters, which is then cited by the same sources as independent corroboration of their claims, was on full display in the selling of the colonization of Iraq. The administration would then export its press manipulation by subsidizing Iraqi newspapers and reporters (surely a practice that never happens in America?). The Pentagon even advocated deliberately planting fake news in overseas media, surely knowing full well these stories would then be told to Americans as genuine events.
"… among the evils against which America must protect herself one of the most destructive is the evil of modern propaganda techniques applied to the problem of government." ~ John T. Flynn.
Many commentators with access to the foreign-language news media outside of America have commented on the extent that information is hidden from the American people by the American media’s seeming deference to the U.S. government’s claims and assertions.
The MSM may expose a political financial scandal now or then, and regularly covers the follies of the Congress and President. But the MSM will never question the legitimacy of any State regulation or activity, whether its intervention is moral, reasonable or just, and whether regulation can ever achieve its stated intention or whether it might actually exist for nefarious purposes that they themselves are complicit in hiding from the eyes and ears of the public. The likely reason why the public holds reporters in such low regard is that they sense, perhaps subconsciously, that the mainstream media are little more than an arm of a State that is thoroughly corrupt.
The sad fact is that Americans no longer have a free press. A free press was an early legacy of the Revolution against British Mercantilism that achieved the independence of the American colonies, but soon this system too would be corrupted and collapse into Statist meddling and control in favor of special interests.
Although the web shows some promise of recovering the fallen standard of the free press, it too is not immune from the fear and controls imposed by the State via the income tax and general business regulations. What is needed to reestablish a flourishing free press is to reestablish laissez-faire through the abolition of all government intervention to tax, subsidize and regulate the economy and social relationships. What is needed is the complete separation of the State and the economy.
As Ludwig von Mises wrote, "Freedom and liberty always mean freedom from police interference." And this is the first prerequisite for a genuine free press.