Defend Press Freedom

Editor, News-Register:

In 1776 Thomas Paine wrote: “these are the times that try men’s (women’s) souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Now is another time of grave crisis for men and women patriots to stand for the service of their country.

There is grave danger from global warming resulting in enormous natural disasters; a very real threat of an imminent war with Iran; and America’s intelligence system has been exposed to great danger — to persons and methods — for partisan political purposes.

The latest crisis, however, is foundation to our liberty. The new crisis is where the U.S. Justice Department has made an attack on the United States Constitution’s First Amendment Freedom of the Press.

That’s right, our basic freedom — Freedom of the Press — is under attack by Attorney General Barr at Trump’s direction.

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks leader, has been indicted on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents in 2010, the Justice Department announced on May 23 — a novel case that raises profound First Amendment, Freedom of the Press issues.

These unprecedented charges demonstrate the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to all journalists in their endeavor to inform the public about actions that have been taken by the U.S. Government.

For the purposes of press freedoms, what matters is not who counts as a journalist, but whether journalistic activities — whether performed by a “journalist” or anyone else — can be crimes in America. The Trump administration’s move could establish a precedent used to criminalize future acts of national-security journalism.

Trump, Barr, Mitch McConnell, et al plan is to intimidate the free press and have them become Fox like lackeys and allow Trump to be an unhinged despot.

Trump bellows “fake news” and attacks journalists as the “enemy of the people” like a light house continuously flashes its light and sounds its horn in fog.

Neil Sheehan of the NY Times obtained the classified Vietnam Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg, and after the Times and the Washington Post printed articles from the Pentagon Papers both papers were sued under the Espionage Act by the Nixon Administration. The Times and Post prevailed 6-3 and the the entire Pentagon Papers were eventually published in the public interest.

SCOTUS Justice Hugo Black wrote an opinion in his Pentagon Papers ruling against the Government’s Espionage Act charge that elaborated on his view of the absolute superiority of the First Amendment: “Reporters often seek out and publish secret information from sources who are not authorized to reveal it… Other times, news organizations’ assessment of the risks differs from the government’s, and publication proceeds despite officials’ objections. Without the freedom to do this work, some of the gravest government misdeeds would never have come to light.”

But will Justice Black’s opinion stand today with Trump’s Supreme Court? Trump and Barr are hoping not. They fervently wish to be able to run roughshod — shutting down America’s free press, intimidating journalists.

Neil Sheehan said, after he heard about the Espionage Act charges against Assange, “Reporters and editors are going to have to be very courageous in the times to come.”

I am hoping the freedom spirit of Thomas Paine, Daniel Elsberg, Neil Sheehan, and Hugo Black will prevail and continue to inspire journalists — it had better if America is to remain free.

Bill Bryant

St. Clairsville


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