For those of you who have not yet heard, The Boston Globe today started a hashtag campaign — #FreePress , explained in a nutshell on the Globe’s website as, “A central pillar of President Trump’s politics is a sustained assault on the free press. Journalists are not classified as fellow Americans, but rather ‘The enemy of the people.’ This relentless assault on the free press has dangerous consequences. We asked editorial boards from around the country — liberal and conservative, large and small — to join us today to address this fundamental threat in their own words.”
I decided to add an opinion to that mix, as the First Amendment has far-reaching effects beyond just news. It affects our art, our discourse, our very view of truth, collective experience and the world — shaping our common and socially-accepted view of what’s real.
I have deeply probed these First Amendment issues in editorials and especially in The 405’s interview with comedian Lenny Bruce’s daughter Kitty Bruce. It is worth reminding all Americans that it is not just our military who have fought so valiantly for freedom of speech — although their contributions, blood, sweat and tears in defending it should never be minimized.
Indeed, other kinds of warriors also fought valiantly — albeit, in very different ways than our brave military — for the freedoms we hold so dear in the First Amendment. Lenny Bruce was one such warrior, fighting the government’s efforts to censor and punish him for the CONTENT of what he said, not for violating the rights of another.
Lenny’s fight helped secure the rights we all enjoy today to say what is on our minds — unfiltered, without permission or encumbrance — something that is essential and vital to shaping our common conceptions of truth the way the cinematic and film arts also do. Lenny’s fight is essential to our understanding here also because it was modern too — this was not the 1700s or 1800s, it was the 1960s when he fought.
Furthermore, film — as a direct fruit of freedom of speech — helps us shape our truths as a people and examine these same truths in new, novel, and interesting ways which constitute the life-blood of a free society.
Journalism accomplishes much those same things as cinema and film. As an institution, it is vital to speaking truth to power and bringing We the People essential truths and happenings which shape our common views and by extension our common destiny. It’s brilliance is that it does all this in a free way too — it is not a view filtered through the lens of the rulers or the powerful — it is filtered through many different viewpoints because of its decentralized and free nature.
Of course, unscrupulous operators exist here too. Those purveyors of unfounded conspiracy, truly “fake news”, malicious and inferior sourcing, and outright intellectual fraud to sway you, as a consumer of their work, toward a particular opinion. Whether Russian bots, fake news sites, or people of any political persuasion who drape themselves in a dress of “impartiality” or being “fair and balanced” while simultaneously injecting opinion where it does not belong. It is imperative that we as consumers of the news counterbalance what media we consume with a healthy degree of skepticism and knowing how to spot biased, inferior, or outright untrue work, while real journalists have the responsibility of cleaving tightly to their ethics, lack of bias, and high standards. In fact, that tight cleaving is a huge part of what will bring journalism back from the cliff’s edge where it currently is — polls have found most Americans trust journalism, but distrust current media — and will restore the public trust by leaps and bounds. All sides carry some blame here, and all sides need to take the steps to restore faith and trust.
It is for these reasons and many others that the institution of free journalism under the First Amendment must be fought for and protected even more vociferously then in the past. Journalists — real journalists — are not “the Enemy of the People” (it is truly sad this even needs to be said), what they do is an absolute necessity in the modern world, made even more vital by these kind of hyperbolic attacks on what they do.
It should scare anyone who values freedom when a group is called an enemy of the state or the people for their practice of speaking truth to power — whether the President wants to employ the language he’s using as a reaction to those unscrupulous operators or not. I’m sure Josef Stalin, or Mao, or North Korea’s Kim, or Putin, or Hitler, or Mussolini would’ve been right at home with that kind of rhetoric as they shutter media outlets of those who ideologically oppose them while also throwing their opponents into prison, or just killing them as so often happens under totalitarian regimes.
We are better then that. As Americans, we have a responsibility to ask for better, tempered rhetoric and actions in our leaders and demand rigorous standards and high ethics in them and in our media. Our legacy of freedom is the antidote to totalitarianism — its exact opposite, and the antibodies that fight it in any body politic — but freedom must always be counterbalanced with responsibility.
Therefore, let us continue to celebrate and tirelessly fight for all our freedoms under the First Amendment, and directly oppose what threatens it at every turn — while not shirking the attendant responsibilities. Our rights to create and enjoy films, cinema, and visual art is tied at the most elemental level with those First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press. To defend and have one, we must defend and have the other.
Wess A. Haubrich is the contributing editor of the film section of The Nu Romantics and London’s award-winning culture website The 405. He is also a “top writer” in “movies”, “mental health” and “culture” on Medium.com. He can be reached on Twitter or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org as he is always looking for cutting edge undiscovered cinema especially and innovative forms of all kinds of art to bring to his readers by probing the minds of their creators in interviews and features.