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Dumb and Dumber in the White House

Growing up in New York in the thirties and forties, there were at least eleven daily newspapers, all spouting varying opinions from both left and right perspectives. Offered by the news organizations were a potpourri of praise and anger, mostly anger, at perceived abuses, both social and governmental.

The din was loud, a Tower of Babel of opinions. There were public parades and protests. The Daily Worker was at its zenith. Hate speech and hate news outlets were commonplace. It was one big free speech and free press orgy, a massive free- for-all. 

Having grown up in that atmosphere, I am appalled by the White House’s attempt to put the squelch on Fox News. Free speechers and free pressers should be up in arms. Every media outlet in America should be castigating the administration for instigating such a desperate act of deliberate discrimination. It cannot masquerade as merely depriving access. You and I both know the dirty word, censorship, the enemy of free speech, the scourge of a free press.

Indeed, the first act of a dictatorial power grab is to silence critics. Hitler did it. Stalin did it. Chavez is doing it. Castro did it. And on and on, wherever a nation is under the heel of a dictatorial government. If the so-called powers that be can get away with this, then every outlet for free expression will soon be under siege. 

This is the way dictatorships acquire absolute power. If it works, expect other outlets to follow. It’s like a virus and, heaven forbid, it might even extend to the Internet, as it does in such places as China, Iran, Russia, and other nations that restrict free speech, especially in many Arab lands and Africa.

By the so-called acceptable media not standing up to this distasteful and dangerous act by a new and obviously inexperienced administration, the media is collaborating in this travesty. Where the devil are the critics? Where is the outrage? Does the President get a pass on this? 

And since when does the White House decide who qualifies as a news outlet? Obviously their definition is based on a blatantly false and ridiculous premise that Fox is “merely” nothing more than talk radio. Is that the next step? Muzzling talk radio hosts?

My defense of Fox News is based solely on their right to say whatever they damned please, whatever their biases and predilections. I once got into a fist fight in a Washington bistro with a major newscaster after alleging that TV News was becoming little more than entertainment. Pow! was the newscaster’s immediate response. He considered himself a serious journalist and he was. It happened around midnight and we were both two sheets to the wind, but, in an odd way, we were both partially right.

Nor is this the first time that Presidents have tried to isolate their critics. Imagine if George Bush decided to take action against his critics. His press conferences would be the least attended events since Mark Twain cancelled a performance because of a sore throat.

It was Harry Truman, when President, who said if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Our new President and his advisors, who are obsessed with control, just can’t get it through their heads that an open society demands differing opinions, debate, protest, rudeness, emotional outbursts, loud noises, strained nerves and bad tempers. Democracy is a sloppy form of governing. But our shrewd founding fathers instinctively knew the dangers of forced censorship and made the free speech and our free press the very first amendment to the Constitution.

Don’t think our Constitution came easy to those august participants. They were a recalcitrant group of strong minded cunning argumentative individuals and what they hammered out was nothing short of a miracle. The sycophants around the President should reread the travails of President John Adams and how his attempt at censorship trampled his political career.

The President has said he doesn’t lose sleep over this attempt to throttle a free press. He might slumber peacefully, but there are a lot of us out there whose worries about encroaching governmental attempts at censorship interfere with our tranquility and do induce some bad dreams. 

Frankly, I do believe that there are many journalists who are offended by the White House’s heavy-handed tactics. It has got to make them uncomfortable, even if their bosses are not losing any sleep over this tactic. The fact is that trying to pull the curtain down over Fox news, whether you agree with their predilections or not, is an egregious wrong-headed stupid, dumber than dumber and chilling idea.

Perhaps this rant might seem somewhat hysterical. No, I don’t believe the White House has a sinister long term plan to control the media, although it certainly might want to slap down its opponents. But perception presents its own dangers and to be perceived as deliberately punishing one’s critics does induce in some of us an inflammatory reaction….like this one.

Worse, as was true of all Presidents who tried this before, it does reflect a certain naivete and inexperience and is bound to create, aside from outrage, a loss of credibility.

Maybe some smart staffer should poke the President in dreamland, disturb his sleep and tell him that this action was a stupid idea.

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A very insightful analysis

A very insightful analysis and commentary, Warren.

We've seen this situation before, of course. Every Administration has had the occasional fit of pique over the media.

JFK, as I recall, once famously canceled his subscription to a major newspaper in a paroxysm of irritation over criticism in the venue; Nixon ordered his staff to "freeze out" the Washington Post's access to official sources. JFK had the grace to finally realize it merely made him look silly; Nixon found that his order merely energized his target.

As for the current effort you cite: well... IMHO, there's a philosophical consistency involved in all this: if one is suspicious of the marketplace in general, why would one favor a marketplace of ideas?

There's often merit in consistency, of course. But like so many previous attempts by so many of the powerful in history, there are times when adherence to what sounds like a workable theoretical consistency falls woefully short in real-world applied pragmatism.

Free speech in a democracy is often messy, usually infuriating to all sides... and always essential. But any attempt to stifle the free market of ideas has ended in embarrassing retreat. Thus far, thank God, that's been an axiom in the United States.

But every Administration, it seems, has had to learn this lesson for itself.

--Earl Merkel