Friday, May 17, 2013

How many rights are enough?

I am hardly following the dispute about why the government demanded Associated Press phone records, although it may be that it was unwise for the government to have done so. Here's why: I do not think newspapermen should have more citizen rights than anybody else. So, no shield laws. When I was a newspaperman, I was content to have the same civil liberties as my brother, who is not a newspaperman. There is, of course, an inherent tension, sometimes boiling over into bitter conflict, about the proper duties of government and the proper duties of a free press. The press is weaker but over the centuries, as the government evolved and became more self-aware, it tended to compromise more with journalists. The excesses of the first Adams administration were reversed, and the excesses of the Wilson administration were later seen, even by those in government, to have hurt even government's interests. It has not always been a one-way path to free expression. Think Nixon. But until recently, the public was doing better and better about being informed of what its government was doing, and fewer and fewer people were being punished for their opinions. The press, at its best, practiced some self-restraint in the interests of the wider benefit of society. This sort of negotiation of competing and, at some point, irreconcilable interests, is possible only when grown-ups are involved on both sides. In late years, grown-ups have in too many cases been chased off the field by the likes of, on one side, Roger Ailes, and, on the other, by Dick Cheney. We can see a like takeover of the childish in the field of the Second Amendment as well.

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