In last week’s (newspaper), Jim Zachary made a fine and impassioned case for local print media. The accompanying cartoon, however, cast Mr. Zachary’s article into a questionable level of hyperbole. The notion that the Freedom of the Press is the “listed first because it’s most important” breaks down against two facts, one obscure, the other obvious.
The obscure fact is that what we know as The First Amendment wasn’t listed first. The original Bill of Rights, the transcription of which is available in the National Archives, lists two amendments before it. The first was never ratified, and the second wasn’t ratified until 1992, when it became the 27th Amendment.
If we follow the idea that the Amendments are listed according to their importance, we have to assume that our Founding Fathers held a free press as less vital to the country than providing the House of Representatives with at least one member per 50,000 people. I believe most of us, Mr. Zachary included, would have a problem with that interpretation.
The second, and obvious, fact that militates against that attitude is the very text of our official “First Amendment.” Mr. Zachary lists five rights preserved in the Amendment, adding a sixth which is implied. In his list, Freedom of the Press comes third, not first. Again, if we’re assuming importance by order of appearance, than the freedom to seek religious counsel and worship according to one’s conscious would be our paramount right, followed by our right to freely express our thoughts without fear of government intervention.
In short, if a Free Press is important enough to be listed first, shouldn’t it have actually been listed first?
I fervently believe that wasn’t the point that Mr. Zachary sought to make in his article. He considers the role of a free press vital to our country. And in that he makes an excellent point. Access to complete and unbiased information is as important to Americans as is our right to free expression, self-defense, security of property, access to due process of law, or even refusal to billet military personnel if we don’t want to.
The Bill of Rights is neither a shopping list nor a scavenger hunt. As a whole document, it is an affirmation of our national identity, a nation rooted in the recognition of the individual, and of the rights inherent in each individual simply by being. Mr. Zachary does well to highlight the importance, and the enormous responsibility, our news media bears in preserving that national identity.
Lanin D. Thomasma
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