The Founding Fathers Guaranteed Freedom of the Press … Even For Bloggers

Reprinted from Washingtonsblog

Freedom of the Press Geared Towards Protecting Critics of Government Corruption, Not Government Apologists

The First Amendment to the Constitution provides:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The powers-that-be argue that freedom of the press only applies to large, well-heeled corporate media. For example, the Nation noted last year:

When the Department of Justice rolled out new policies intended to “strengthen protections for members of the news media” this summer, it wasn’t clear who belonged to the “news media.” Other DOJ documents suggest a narrow application to professional, traditional journalists. (The DOJ did not return a request to clarify the agency’s definition of “news media.”) The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide excludes bloggers from the news media, along with “persons and entities that simply make information available,” like Wikileaks. These policies are guidelines, not directives, but as the Freedom of the Press Foundation points out, they are “part of a broader legislative effort in Washington to simultaneously offer protection for the press while narrowing the scope of who is afforded it.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein argued for an amendment that would have restricted the shield to salaried journalists. “Should this privilege apply to anyone, to a seventeen year-old who drops out of high school, buys a website for five dollars and starts a blog? Or should it apply to journalists, to reporters, who have bona fide credentials?”

(This is a silly distinction, given that many of the world’s top experts have their own blogs.  And as the non-partisan First Amendment Center notes: “Traditional reporters now blog daily, and prominent bloggers show up in traditional media.”)

But the Free Speech and Free Press Clauses of the First Amendment don’t distinguish between media businesses and nonprofessional speakers (see thisthisthis and this).

And the courts have ruled that the freedom of the press applies to everyone who disseminates information … not just giant corporate media companies who can afford to pay “salaries”.

For example, the United States Supreme Court has consistently refused to accord greater First Amendment protection to the institutional media than to other speakers:

  • In Branzburg v. Hayes (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court  described freedom of the press as “a fundamental personal right” that is not confined to newspapers and periodicals
  • In Lovell v. City of Griffin (1938), the Chief Justice of the Supreme court defined “press” as “every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion”
  • First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978) rejected the “suggestion that communication by corporate members of the institutional press is entitled to greater constitutional protection than the same communication by” non-institutional-press businesses
  • In Bartnicki v. Vopper (2001), the court could “draw no distinction between the media respondents and” a non-institutional respondent

Earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a blogger is entitled to the same free speech protections as a traditional journalist and cannot be liable for defamation unless the blogger acted negligently.  The Court held:

The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist.

And the First Circuit agrees. As Gigaom reported in 2011:

One recent appeals court decision specifically referred to the fact that the ability to take photos, video and audio recordings with mobile devices has effectively made everyone a journalist — in practice, if not in name — and therefore deserving of protection.

In the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, released just a few weeks ago, the judges pointed out that the First Amendment’s protection for freedom of the press “encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information,” and that citizens have the right to investigate government affairs and share what they learn with others. Judge Kermit Lipez also specifically noted that these protections don’t just apply to professional journalists. He said in his decision:

[C]hanges in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders [and] and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.

The First Amendment Center correctly notes:

The purpose of the free press clause of the First Amendment was to keep an eye on people in power and maintain a check on corruption.

Indeed, the Founding Fathers made this clear even before the Revolutionary war started.  Specifically, the Continental Congress – the legislative body of the Founding Fathers – wrote in 1774:

The last right we shall mention regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honourable and just modes of conducting affairs.

These are the invaluable rights that form a considerable part of our mild system of government; that, sending its equitable energy through all ranks and classes of men, defends the poor from the rich, the weak from the powerful, the industrious from the rapacious, the peaceable from the violent, the tenants from the lords, and all from their superiors.

These are the rights without which a people cannot be free and happy, and under the protecting and encouraging influence of which these colonies have hitherto so amazingly flourished and increased. These are the rights a profligate Ministry are now striving by force of arms to ravish from us, and which we are with one mind resolved never to resign but with our lives.

In other words, the Founding Fathers understood that people who stand up to “oppressive” government officials are to be zealously protected …  because “shaming” corrupt, powerful people “into more honourable and just modes of conducting affairs” is the only way to preserve liberty, justice and prosperity, and to remain “free and happy”.

Indeed, the Freedom of the Press which the Founding Fathers enshrined in the First Amendment was the opposite of prosecution of reporters critical of government and protection of the big lapdog press which is subservient to government.

In Praise of Warriors, Not War

Editor’s Note: I reprint this essay each Memorial Day.

By Don Pelton

On this Memorial Day, I must speak a few words in support of warriors, and in opposition to war.

Despite reaching my formative young adulthood during the anti-war 1960s, and despite my minor experience with something remotely similar to combat – in the National Guard at the Watts riots in August of 1965, and at Berkeley’s People’s Park in May of 1969 – it occurred to me sometime in the early 1990s that I knew almost nothing about the “Good War” that our father’s fought, which left us with a world mostly free.

I studied American history in college, and read good histories such as William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but aside from reading Shirer’s reporting from Berlin in the early years of the war, I had never listened to the voices of those who experienced the frontlines of World War II (and Korea soon after) first-hand.

So I began to read many personal accounts of those wars, and the harrowing reports that haunt me still are – particularly – E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa ((, Farley Mowat’s And No Birds Sang ((, and a report I’ll never forget, by U.S. Army historian S.L.A. Marshall in a collection I can no longer locate, about the hand-to-hand combat of an American squad against some Chinese infantry during the Korean War.

This effort to study war by reading first-hand accounts and by viewing documentaries and films on the subject serves as my poor but only possible substitute for the actual experience of combat. Every citizen who understands that some wars are unavoidable and necessary owes this same effort – to understand what combat really is – to those whom he may ask to risk their lives.

E.B. Sledge described the horror on the island of Peleliu in the Pacific, digging in to fight the Japanese, who were holed-up in caves. By the time he arrived on that island there had already been so much close fighting that he could find no place to sink his spade to dig a foxhole where there weren’t chunks of human flesh mixed up like rotting compost in the loose soil. If that isn’t a description of Hell, I don’t know what is.

Farley Mowat spoke of his upbringing in a patriotic Canadian family, and how the old stories of war filled him with a keen desire to find glory in combat, but not necessarily in the infantry (where he ended up). He finally found combat in the campaign to force the Nazis out of Italy. His vivid description of the savagery of war includes the awful poetic detail of his title, “… and no birds sang.”

S.L.A. Marshall told the story of an American squad that attacked a hill held by the Chinese in Korea, and despite heavy losses – with only three surviving the fight – they prevailed, killing all of the enemy. But the hand-to-hand combat with bayonets had so unleashed the blood-lust of the Americans that – with no more enemies to kill – they went on and slaughtered a small herd of horses that the Chinese had corralled there.

The power of this account – and the sadness of it – is in the awful realization that each of us is capable of such blood lust, given the same circumstance.

I take it as axiomatic that in war, all sides lose some portion of their humanity.

It also seems to be axiomatic that those who are least experienced in war are often the most gung-ho to start it, and those who are most experienced are most reluctant to undertake it lightly.

Then there’s the lethal shallowness of a man who experienced combat, but whose motives for taking us to war – when he became president – may have included personal insecurity. There have been plausible suggestions that George Herbert Walker Bush undertook the invasion of Panama in part to solve the problem of his “wimp image.”

As citizens, we must weigh the inevitable horror of war against the justness — or unjustness — of waging it. Anything less is a betrayal of those whom we claim to hold dear.

We honor the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers and remember them on days like this not because war is always glorious and just, but precisely because – whether just or unjust, whether noble or ignoble — it is always Hell, and we have asked them to go into Hell for our sake.

Statue of soldier (at Vietnam Memorial, Capitol Mall, Sacramento)

Don’t Dan Miller Nevada County

By Mike Pasner

The united voice of our 5 County Supervisors is what represents all of us.

Dan Miller got a special variance to increase density around our County’s airport. Federal aviation standards want very few homes near airports. Dan knows better? Miller is in the pocket of the Nevada County Contractors Association, heavy industry and large developers.

At the League of Women Voters forum Miller said “I’m not up to speed on local mine issues”. What’s up with that? As a G.V. City Council member he has been sitting judgment on the Idaho Maryland Mine project for 8 years. Mining is an important, current issue.

Terry Lamphier will continue to be the representative of balanced community values! He’ll help keep the Empire Mine State Park open.

Terry is for keeping our county’s small towns, beautiful, ecologically sound and financially viable.

Lamphier is asking all the right questions as mines try to reopen in our county. Asking all the right questions is the best reason to re-elect a supervisor. Terry is honest, sincerely listens to all sides, and is well informed on the issues.

I’ll take the smart supervisor please!

Yes to Terry Lamphier for district 3 Supervisor.



Larry Hoffman: Dan Miller is Unfit to Represent All of Us

By Larry Hoffman

The idea of Dan Miller running for a county board position is frightening, because he’s demonstrated repeatedly over the years that he does not respect those with whom he disagrees. Here’s one specific example that I personally witnessed at a Grass Valley City Council meeting on May 13, 2008.

Councilman Dan Miller attacked the efforts of a local citizen who was leading an initiative (a right granted under California state law) to allow residents the opportunity to vote on Grass Valley land use changes.  After ranting about representative government, Miller said this about that individual and his supporters (2 hours and 29 minutes into the meeting – you can get a copy of the DVD at City Hall).

“I parallel it with the fact that — and this is historical fact — that Lenin started with a very small group of people, and got defeated several times, but he kept going until communism succeeded in the Soviet Union and spread throughout many nations of the world, and we know what happened to communism. Except for a couple of countries, communism spelled ruin and despair, and crisis for every one of those countries. I don’t want that type of individual sitting up here making decisions for the city of Grass Valley, for me and for my children.”

I was, and still am, outraged that Miller compared local citizens exercising their rights to Lenin and communism.  Earlier in the same meeting, Miller said about these same residents, “I feel like we’ve been beset upon by a small group of con artists.”  Is this the kind of supervisorial behavior we want for District 3 – name-calling, polarizing, labeling, disrespectful? I say it is not.

I am voting for Terry Lamphier because I see him treat everyone with respect and dignity.

Larry Hoffman is a former Grass Valley Planning Commissioner.

Op-Ed: Ralph Silberstein, “Retain the Good Supervisor” (Terry Lamphier)

By Ralph Silberstein

Terry Lamphier is a polite, open-minded, hard working Supervisor and should be re-elected. He studies the issues and has the interests of the community at heart.

Dan Miller, who is running against Terry for District 3, is not qualified to be on the board. He does not seem to understand the issues and rudely condemns those who disagree with him.

One example: In spring 2011 the Nevada County Airport Land Use Commission was fulfilling its mandate to update the Grass Valley Airport Land Use Plan and had identified a conflict with the proposed Loma Rica housing project and Airport Safety Zones. Proposed units in Loma Rica’s McBoyle Lake area were in a potential hazardous air traffic zone. The City of Grass Valley clearly knew this before approving Loma Rica in May 2011, and certainly City Councilman Miller, who was also on the Airport Commission, should have known it. The conflict was even pointed out in the final Loma Rica Environmental Impact Report.

The approved Loma Rica project left 243 units within the new Safety Zones.

Miller subsequently sat through the Airport Commission’s final review of the draft Airport Land Use Plan on July 20, 2011. During the CEQA review period, which ended August 8, no actions or comments were submitted by Miller or City to the Commission about the Loma Rica problem, although the City did submit written comments on other aspects of plan.

When someone finally woke up to the problem, Miller supported the effort to delay the Airport Commission’s final vote. In his dual role as Airport Commissioner and City Councilman, he did not seem to understand that the Airport Commission first and foremost has a responsibility to address safety concerns. And instead of correctly representing the Commission’s responsibilities to the City Council, he belittled the commission’s actions, claiming “no one on the [Airport] Commission understands planning or land use…” [GV City Council, 9/13/11, video, 01:47]. The Airport Commission included County Supervisors Nate Beason and Ed Scofield, among others.

Sept 21, 2011, the Airport Commission approved the Safety Zones despite strong pressures from developers and City representatives. Miller, now occupying his seat on the Airport Commission, cast the only NO vote.

A subsequent waste of time and public resources ensued in which the City joined the developers in an embarrassing lawsuit against the Airport Commission.

A year later, Miller’s reply to LAFCO’s request that the lawsuit go away: “…they stuck their nose into something they shouldn’t have…” [GV City Council, 9/11/12, video, 00:55]. LAFCO is the state mandated agency that oversees regional planning decisions.

In the end, the Airport Commission stood by its approved Airport Plan, so the City Council voted to override the Safety Zones for the benefit of the Loma Rica project and other developers. When a local jurisdiction decides to overrule airport Safety Zones, the proposal must be submitted to the CalTrans Division of Aeronautics for review. The CalTrans review came back as harshly critical of the City’s proposal to override and pointed to numerous inconsistencies and safety conflicts.

Miller’s response to the CalTrans review consisted mainly of ridiculing the CalTrans representative for ‘not setting the blocks when he parked the airplane’ following an onsite evaluation.

Throughout the entire process, Miller seemingly failed to grasp the idea that, for the Airport Commission, public safety should come before the profits of some developers. After the City concluded their actions, Miller said “And Keoni [developer Keoni Allen] is correct in that … we should have had more support and more understanding by the different agencies in our area that oversee these, but instead we get sticks being stuck in our spokes that slow us down…” [Grass Valley City Council, video, 9/11/2012, video, 01:07]

Miller’s final rant on the debacle is an ironic testimony to his own failings: “And to have this type of opposition and this type of unnecessary interference, it wears on me, ….to get this close and have to go through this and where do we end up and after all this is said and done the developer has to spend money, we waste time, and we are right where we really were when this all started. Go figure.” [Ibid]

This reminds me of the famous Pogo quote: “We have met the enemy, and he is us”.

I’ll vote for Terry Lamphier.

Ralph Silberstein is a former Grass Valley Planning Commissioner.

” … a Hannity-shaped hole in the studio wall at Fox News.”

I’ve read William Rivers Pitt’s writing before, but never anything as remotely entertaining as this inspired article. Excerpt:

“Every right-wing media personality and politician who had rushed to publicly embrace Cliven Bundy immediately fled his presence as if he was covered in Goliath tarantulas. I think there still may be a Hannity-shaped hole in the studio wall at Fox News.”

More fun — and good sense — here:

               William Rivers Pitt | Cliven Bundy: Clown Car or Trojan Horse?

A Creek Runs Under It — Part 2

A large group of students, teachers and parents from Grass Valley Charter School arrived this afternoon with tons of colored chalk and drew (above ground) the path (under ground) that Wolf Creek follows beneath the parking lot at Holiday Inn Express in downtown Grass Valley, before it emerges again into daylight beyond Safeway a couple of blocks away.

Spirits were high among the Charter School artists, and among the onlookers, who included Parkway Steward Bruce Herring, WCCA president Jonathan Keehn, District 3 Supervisor Terry Lamphier, Sierra Fund’s Izzie Martin and many others, including officials from the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, who were also there for a ribbon cutting ceremony welcoming the Wolf Creek Community Alliance as a new member of the Chamber.

It would be wonderful if all those young chalk artists could now become Wolf Creek ambassadors to the rest of the community, carrying the message that the Creek is an important — though neglected — part of the environment, and could be — if the Wolf Creek Parkway were completed — an important part of the economic life of Nevada County.

Below is a photo of the design schematic used by the artists, and a photo of the chalk work in progress.




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