Benjamin, Aaronson, Edinger & Patanzo, P.A.

Freedoms in times of crisis

    While listening to National Public Radio the other day, we heard a commentary on the restrictions of our freedoms in this country.  The focus of the commentary was that in times of crisis, our country has traditionally scaled back Constitutional rights only to have these Constitutional rights restored when the times of crisis were over. 

    The commentator went on to explain that we had the internment of the Japanese during the Second World War as a safety measure.  At the time it was viewed as necessary and in hindsight it is reviewed as being reprehensible.  The commentator talked about the Alien and Sedition Act along with other legislation throughout the country’s history that curtailed rights.  In every instance, the commentator explained do not worry that when the crisis is over the pendulum swings back, freedom is restored and the democracy in America is once again vibrant.

    The commentator failed in one respect in this analysis.  World War Two was going to have an end.  Hopefully we would be the victors, which ultimately was the case, but if not there still would have been finality.  Yet, no government official, political pundit or even man on the street can ever say that the war on terrorism will come to an end.  No, rather most of us must acknowledge that the war on terrorism may be an ongoing fight that is never won or lost, but goes on infinitum.  Should this be the case, does this mean that the freedoms that we are having taken away by the Patriot Act and other legislation will never be restored?  Unfortunately, from our prospective that may be the case.  That is why we sit in fear of where this country is heading.

    The Constitution, and more specifically the First Amendment to the Constitution, speaks of freedom of the press.  However, no place in the Constitution does it define the role of the press.  The way this country has evolved, there really are four branches of the government.  The three, the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive Branches all are governmental employees, all are mentioned in the Constitution, and all have specific defined roles.  The fourth branch of government, one that is not been alluded to in the Constitution is the press and mass media.  This unofficial branch of government has as much power as the other three.  It forms public opinion.  It calls our government to task.  It is the watch dog of our country and many times its conscious.  That is why we find this time in our history to even be scarier.

    During the Iraq war, we saw a different war then the rest of the world.  Our press intentionally avoided showing Iraqi deaths.  They intentionally avoided showing the gruesome details of war.  They intentionally made the war more palatable to the masses.  They choose terms such as “war of liberation” and avoided use of the word “invasion”.  Although there were numerous rallies around the country in opposition to the war, they were given short shrift on the news.  In fact, by and large the press became cheerleaders. 

    If there ever was a time in which we needed the press, not to be the voice of opposition, but rather the voice of other opinions it is now.  If ever we needed the press to be vigilant and note the Constitutional rights that are being taken away from us it is now.  If there ever was a time that the First Amendment was needed to truly serve this country is it now.  From our perspective the press seems humbled by this President.  The press seems cowed at fear of being called Pinko Leftist Liberals.  The press seems intimidated not to oppose this President.  The press from our standpoints seems to basically be sitting this one out.

    Only with a vibrant press, one willing to stand up for its freedoms and everyone elses, can we be assured that at some time the pendulum will be swinging back and restoration of rights will occur.  Therefore, if this press lies down for too much longer, who knows what rights they will have left in order to be able to cause that pendulum to swing back in the future.

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