Thomas Jefferson said that an informed citizenry is critical to a democracy, and with that as a cornerstone the Founders wrote freedom of the press into the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The most basic of ideas at play is that the government should in no way be allowed to control what information the press can report to the people, and cannot place restrictions on journalists. One of the principal characteristics of any fascist state is the control of information, and thus the press is always seen as a check on government power that needs to be stomped on. Ask any surviving journalist in North Korea, or Saudi Arabia.
And so it is with terror we learn the United States Secret Service, in the name of security, is for the first time in our Republic’s history running background checks on thousands of journalists who plan to report from this summer’s Republican and Democratic Party nominating conventions.
Journalists who don’t pass the security screening process, for which of course there are no publicly-stated criteria and which has no system of appeal, will be denied credentials to cover the GOP convention in Cleveland, and the Democrats’ in Philadelphia. As the Daily Beast writes, this is the government deciding who can and can’t be a journalist, and through that process, heavily influencing what will be reported. Happytime government stenographers from CNN? Step right in, sir. Investigative, real journalists from The Intercept? Um, maybe not. Will a journalist from an “un-American” news source such as The Daily Worker be denied simply based on affiliation?
Oh, the issues are many.
For example, security clearances are typically denied to persons with an arrest record. Will that also apply to journalists who have been arrested in protest situations while exercising one or more of their First Amendment rights? Drug use is also often a negative indicator for a security clearance, so does that mean a person busted for a loose joint in college may not report from inside the convention hall?
The Secret Service denies that a protest arrest will lead to a denial, though admits that arrests for assault, or domestic violence, charges could. At issue is that such arrests can cover a very broad spectrum of behavior, determined at a very local level. For example, imagine an African-American falsely charged with assault in some mean Texas backwater. Note also, as in most security clearance processes, the standard is an arrest, not necessarily a conviction.
Obtaining security clearances also involves the “voluntary” turning over of personal information to the government, to often include associations, employment history, professional affiliations, fingerprints, financials and the like. If a journalist wishes not to hand over that information to the Secret Service, does that automatically bar him/her from playing his mandated role of informing the public? Apparently it does.
There is also the question of control of all that personal information. The Secret Services states on its website that it has a contract with the Ardian Group, a private contractor, “to capture that Personally Identifiable Information for credentialing production” (though the Service itself makes the actual yes or no decision to allow access.)
In a widely distributed “Dear Colleagues” letter, John Stanton, Washington bureau chief of BuzzFeed, asked the capper question: “Should the Secret Service have jurisdiction over the First Amendment?”
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.
One thought on “Secret Service Handcuffs The First Amendment”
Leaving aside the notion that a group including slaveholders and Banksters, loosely defined but most people can only identify 40 or so of them as “The Founding Fathers” and that the impetus for establishing a Constitution was that more of the people who actually fought in the Revolution weren’t allowed to vote, due to not being wealthy… or white… or male…
and that the English Constitution which is much older than ours had a Bill of Rights (just, you know, not actually having a cohesive mechanism of enforcing such rights) there’s also the solid fact that the Constitutional Convention didn’t ratify the Bill of Rights at the start.
That’s the reason the Bill of Rights is known as the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. But let’s go back to them not being enforced. Like an unfunded mandate.
An amorphous group simply identified as The Police and other officers of the equally amorphous Courts are considered to be part of a triad of checks and balances. The notion of a Fourth Estate being the press is so crucial to any freedom surviving the process of bureaucracy (and both the Bureaucracy and The Fourth Estate are French definitions) … is so entrenched in our collective social being that it’s sometimes taken for granted. OK, MOST of the time.
Freedom is something we’ll have to take, and keep taking. And this in a rapidly failing society. We’re just as inconsistent today as in the time of Jefferson and Adams. Who both wrote great swelling words of Freedom and Equality in a society which has never yet achieved either. Adams who tried to imprison Jefferson for high treason (and the initial charge being that Jefferson called Adams some nasty names like “tyrant” and “traitor” in the “Free” press) and Jefferson imprisoned his own sons daughters and mistress for the rest of their lives as slaves.
The point is, we’ll have to keep working on building our own checks and balances for however long the US remains as a recognizable nation and even (especially) after.
Welcome to the struggle. There’s a show on the History or some such cable network about McCarthy airing in about an hour, in the Mountain Time Zone.
Shows how much we’ve advanced and how it really hasn’t changed in the past nearly 70 years. RaiseTheFist.com was taken down 10 years ago, actually 12 (I’ll have to look) and how many people even those reading this weblog can recognize the name Sherman Austin? This warning is on the top of the page of the wikipedia page about him
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of course it might just be my browser acting up, But the term “blacklist” holds special meaning to all of us. I was put on an FBI list as being a “known associate” of the Symbionese Liberation Army back in january of 1977 because we allowed a lady and her kids to stay at our house on Christmas Eve. The FBI showed up on Epiphany 12 days later.They told us her husband had escaped Christmas morning but you know what? I have no idea if the FBI which is an anagram acronym for False Information Bureau, was actually telling the truth. I’ve been lied to from cops long before and long after.
Hell, my entire History classes in school are a long series of government sponsored fudging of the truth. What I do know about the incident is that the FBI invited themselves into our house as we were packing up to move, and took the names and birthdates of everybody in the house Including my then-70-year-old grandmother and my then-3-year-old baby sister. Grandma was the type prosecutors love to get on juries. My sister and her? Why the hell did these federales take THEIR names? Just being thorough, I suppose.
Kind of like Arlo Guthrie in the Alice’s Restaurant Massacree song, the cop took out the toilet seat so he wouldn’t hit his head against it and injure himself and took the toilet paper so he couldn’t roll the t.p. out the window, slide down it and have an e-scape.
But if I scored enough bread and for some reason ain’t on a No Fly List and went to the Conventions as a reporter, would this incident from when I was a lad of 16 come up like yesterday’s sushi? A veritable legal poltergeist that will haunt me forever?
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