The first words in the supreme law of this nation are “We the people.” Power in our country resides with the people and not with the administrators of our public affairs.
In order to ensure that the people’s power continued to reside with the people our founders broke our government into three parts called the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. Their intention was that no one person or part of government should be able to steal the people’s power.
Integral to the preservation of our freedom is the right of the people to know what our politicians and our police are doing and have done. So a fourth, diverse, unofficial branch of governance – the ruling elite’s court jester, our free press – has been recognized since our beginnings. Saying what we damn please is a joyous expression of our most basic, human rights. So is saying what we damn please on behalf of everybody else. In the words of H. L. Mencken, late of The Baltimore Sun: “As I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.”
The press’s only obligation in return for all this fun – for getting to write celebrity gossip, and political gossip and restaurant reviews and movie reviews and sports and so on – is our duty to be the people’s witnesses of what the official branches of government are up to. It is in service to that necessary chore that the First Amendment forbids our official government from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Thomas Jefferson, one of our founders whose memory may have recently been vilified more than it deserves, said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
James Russell Wiggins, formerly of The Washington Post, observed that freedom of the press implies five more specific rights: “(1) the right to get information from the government, (2) the right to print it without prior restraint, (3) the right to print without fear of reprisal for publication that does not offend the laws, (4) the right to have access to printing materials, and (5) the right to distribute.”
The words of these esteemed men must be mentioned because right now in Waco, Texas there is a situation controlled by local scoundrels that insults the free press’s right and obligation to witness the people’s public affairs. Local politicians and police have arbitrarily and illegally trampled on the rights of almost two hundred citizens in an obvious attempt to protect themselves from the embarrassment and liability that might result if their own stupidity, cruelty and contempt for our Constitution were exposed.
Politicians and police in Waco appear to have arranged, encouraged and anticipated a confrontation between two antagonistic motorcycle clubs at a restaurant last May 17. Their intention was to catch red handed some members of those clubs committing various crimes of violence. It is a matter of irrefutable fact that violence did result from this prearranged affray. Autopsy reports and statements by witnesses imply that police using military weapons fatally wounded at least six people. Local police and politicians have deliberately lied about and obfuscated the basic facts of this tragic encounter since it occurred and as a result the people of this nation have been lied to and misinformed.
The press, most notably and recently CNN, has been manipulated and bullied into sensationalizing and misrepresenting the truth about this grotesque tragedy. Just last week, defense attorneys representing more than 100 indicted defendants in the case revealed that the prosecutor has refused to release certain key evidence to them unless they agree to hide that evidence from the press and the public.
A unilateral demand by Waco public officials, disingenuously titled “Agreement on Discovery and Nondisclosure of Evidence,” states in part: “The attorney representing the defendant and any investigator, expert, consulting legal counsel or authorized agent for the attorney will not disseminate any discovery provided for any reason to any media outlet or any person or agency not specifically authorized in this Agreement.” Defense attorneys have been further advised that Texas Department of Public Safety “pole cam video and (police officer’s) Michael Bucher in car video” will not be released to them until they promise to abet local police and politicians in frustrating the peoples’ right to know what this hidden evidence reveals.
Enough is enough.
I appeal to my fellow journalists to unabashedly pursue the truth about what happened in Waco last May 17; to scrupulously review the official actions that preceded that tragic encounter; to skeptically report official conduct regarding the tragedy after the fact; and to courageously and self-critically examine the press’s own coverage of this event.
This is an important story. Please pay attention to it. Demanding to know the truth will not imperil our national security. It will not very much distract the people from their fascination with the adventures of Caitlyn Marie Jenner. But, it may in fact buttress the people’s freedom to be informed. J.R. Wiggins was right. The press does have a right to get information from the government by any reasonable means necessary including leaks from confidential sources. The people have a right to know what happened and they are not well served by expurgated police propaganda.
The pen is mightier than the sword.