Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Audio and Transcript – Here’s a special one for you: Mike’s full speech from LPAC in both audio and text format! Don’t feel like reading? Listen to the audio! Can’t listen to the audio at work? Read the text! As usual, Mike has some great things to say about the NSA/FBI/CIA and any other Federal department with three letters. There’s also a great story about Ben Franklin and an ass at the end (pun intended) so be sure and stick around!
Greetings and thanks for attending. Tonight marks the 5th consecutive year the Campaign for Liberty has invited me to speak at their annual event and I am very happy about that. I suppose if I ever wanted this streak to end I could just demand a speakers fee above and beyond the free photograph with the Ron Paul cutout I receive every year. I am hopeful tonight I can get a picture taken with Dr. Paul and for a real treat find out that the picture wasn’t immediately zapped off my phone and posted on the “most likely to not comply” message board at the NSA headquarters a few fortnights from here.
Speaking of the NSA and “The Spy Who Loved Me and My Metadata” the discovery of the spyfare state has caused some folks to resort to more traditional methods of communication, in fact, studies show that a record number of Americans are now turning to carrier pigeons.
The White House has directed federal agencies to prepare for a government shutdown if Democrats and Republicans fail to find a budget compromise by the end of September: If there is a shutdown, 800,000 nonessential federal employees would be suspended. 800,000!? How many “non-essential” employees do you think Wal-Mart has? The “non-essential” workforce of 800,000, if it were a country, would rank 157 out of 193 countries on the planet(1) and I know just what to call that country: Parisitistan.
Tonight’s topic is the How The Founders and an Ass Solved Leviathan’s War Against The Press but it should be titled The Leviathan’s War Against the Incompetent Hacks Masquerading as the Press. Earlier this year, James Rosen of Fox News was singled out for surveillance by the FBI, his phone was tapped, his emails were read and monitored(2) and his movements were physically tracked by FBI spooks(3). Of course this was done as nearly every attack on civil liberties is these days, in the name of “protecting the American people” from terrorism. In Rosen’s case, the Leviathan wanted to know what Obama Administration adviser Stephen Jin-Woo Kim knew about North Korea’s rumored desire to test a nuclear device in 2009 and what he was telling Rosen about it. After the story was broken by the Washington Post, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Rosen would not be prosecuted but even more amazing was that the FBI never intended to prosecute him(4). This begs the question: why would you clandestinely interfere with an investigative reporter who was doing his job? The answer I think is not what conventional libertarian thinking has produced. Rosen was targeted specifically because he is actually very good at what he does and poses an existential threat to Leviathan’s corruption but Rosen is the exception and therein lies a bigger problem: there are not nearly enough James Rosens. To put a point on that, I doubt the Feds have any interest in the emails of Shepard Smith, Pierce Morgan or the entire writer’s pool at the Huffington Post. Add Matt Drudge, the Blaze News and Ann Coulter to that list, although I suspect some FBI/CIA/NSA spooks hope to be snooping on Coulter’s webcam after she’s had a few martinis just before bedtime. In short, what we call “The Press” today are more like electronic versions of the old party-line telephones. “Hey Midge, didya hear what the widow Jenkins did with Mayor Kennedy last Thursday after the church pancake dinner!?” But it wasn’t always this way, or was it?
It might be helpful then to figure out exactly what colonial Americans, turned Founding Fathers thought “The Press” was and why it’s freedom must not be infringed upon.
In the Federal Convention of 1787 on 20 August a motion was made to include some rights in the Constitution then being drafted, among these were the suggestion of Ellbridge Gerry that “The liberty of the Press shall be inviolably preserved.” As the convention was nearing its end on Friday, 14 September, this clause was still not part of the Constitution but a vote was taken on Gerry’s motion to insert it into Article 1, Section 10, right after the right of Habeas Corpus. Delegate Roger Sherman answered Gerry that “The power of Congress does not extend to the Press.” The vote was 5 “aye” and 6 “no” and so the liberty of the press clause was killed.
As the Constitution was set to be signed by the delegates, George Mason whom Jefferson called “the wisest man of his generation” rose to announce he would NOT sign the Constitution and gave his reasons for doing so. “Under their own construction of the general clause, at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their powers… There is no declaration of any kind, for preserving the liberty of the press, or the trial by jury in civil causes; nor against the danger of standing armies in time of peace.” Here we see that Mason’s fear of a standing army was paramount to his fear of the Press’s freedom being compromised. Gerry would also refuse to sign citing similar reasons but why, why was the security of a free press so important to them?
Our most common answer to this is so “we can keep tabs on the government, report its corruption and extremely rare acts of virtue.” Others might say that the Free Press must escape Leviathan’s war against it because failure to do so will embolden the tyrant and rally the recipient of the public treasury. Both answers have merit but neither answers the question completely. So let’s go back to 1788 and poke around a bit and see if we can solve the puzzle.
In Virginia’s famous ratifying convention of 1788, the subject of securing the liberty of the press was very popular. The Federalists (proponents of ratification) claimed there was no danger to the press because the Congress was granted not a single power that could let the Leviathan make war against the Press. Governor Edmund Randolph went so far as to tell the convention(5) this could never happen, say-ing “The liberty of the press is supposed to be in danger. If this were the case, it would produce extreme repugnancy in my mind. If it ever will be suppressed in this country, the liberty of the people will not be far from being sacrificed. Every power not given [the Congress] by this system is left with the states. This being the principle, from what part of the Constitution can the liberty of the press be said to be in danger?” I wonder what Randolph would think of the NDAA, Patriot Act, CIA and NSA? Well if something were repugnant to a man of Randolph’s era, the person causing the repugnancy would be challenged to a duel. This is why I celebrate what I call Vice President Aaron Burr Day every July.
In the same convention, Federalist George Nicholas went as far as to say that even IF the freedom of the press were endangered, the People would never stand for it because that’s the way it was in England. “The liberty of the press is secured. What secures it in England? Is it secured by Magna Carta, the Declaration of Rights, or by any other express provision? It is not. They have no express security for the liberty of the press. They have a reliance on Parliament for its protection and security. In the time of King William, there passed an act for licensing the press. That was repealed. Since that time, it has been looked upon as safe. The people have depended on their representatives. They will not consent to pass an act to infringe it, because such an act would irritate the nation.” (6) Of course today’s British press is more concerned with which British celebrity was seen naked, mired in drug use, with which other British celebrity than they are the tyrannies of Parliament but they did have the good sense to hire Glenn Greenwald!
George Mason, ever the gentleman, sat through Nicholas’s propaganda session and then rose to set the record straight and accurately predict the future. “Now, suppose oppressions should arise under this government, and any writer should dare to stand forth, and expose to the community at large the abuses of those powers; could not Congress, under the idea of providing for the general welfare, and under their own construction, say that this was destroying the general peace, encouraging sedition, and poisoning the minds of the people? And could they not, in order to provide against this, lay a dangerous restriction on the press? Might they not even bring the trial of this restriction within the ten miles square, when there is no prohibition against it?” (7)
Mason knew of what he spoke. He was the main author of the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights. Let’s stop right here for a moment and consider the timing of this Declaration of Rights and who it was aimed at. The Virginians had just declared their independence from Great Britain on 15 May, 1776 and were meeting in a convention to frame the planet’s first Constitution written by the people to be governed by said Constitution, but governed by whom? In a word, themselves. So as the convention worked on the State’s Constitution, Mason began work on his Declaration of Rights. On the 12th of June the Declaration’s 16 articles including two that were written by the great Patrick Henry were submitted to the convention and approved. That Declaration said of Leviathan’s War against the free press. “Section 12. That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.” (8) As we have heard, Mason knew what happened if a government ever seized control of the press but this government his Declaration would cover was a new government. It’s Constitution wasn’t yet written. It had not authorized its first election. There hadn’t been one single law passed under it nor any officer appointed and yet Mason, Henry & those men we call The Patriots of ’76 did not even trust themselves with the power of government without an ironclad set of protections for their civil liberties. That tells you everything you need to fashion a response to the next dubious assertion from an employee of Parisitistan that “this administration, the NSA, the CIA et cetera has the highest respect for the civil liberties of the people.” Sorry, Barry but if Patrick Henry and George Mason could not be trusted with the reigns of government power without a Bill of RIghts, you certainly cannot be trusted with those reigns, on Barry Bonds caliber steroids, backed up by a zealous court system and $3.7 trillion worth of spending power.
We can safely conclude from this brief and all too short history of the protections erected for our defense in Leviathan’s War on The Press that the last generation of Americans to live before the Constitution was ratified were as mortified of a muzzled press as the first generation living under it even though our definition of what the “Press” is has radically changed.
Lest we think though, that we are the first generation to live alongside a Press that was interested in the trivial as well as the serious, it might help to gain some perspective from that most lovable yet wise of all the Founders, Ben Franklin. No American knew more about The Press or the business of the Free Press than Franklin did. He, it could be said, single-handedly created what we call the newspaper business way back in the 1720’s. In one of those creative moments and to help pay the bills, Franklin accepted an advertisement to run in one of his papers. The ad generated bags full of what I like to call “hate mail”. To respond to the furor, Franklin penned a response, An Apology for Printers(9), that I think aptly describes the purpose of the free press and simultaneously cautions anyone, government, business, your ex-husband or wife from waging an opinionated war against it.
“That it is unreasonable to imagine Printers approve of every thing they print, and to censure them on any particular thing accordingly; since in the way of their Business they print such great variety of things opposite and contradictory. It is likewise as unreasonable what some assert, That Printers ought not to print any Thing but what they approve; since if all of that Business should make such a Resolution, and abide by it, an End would thereby be put to Free Writing, and the World would afterwards have nothing to read but what happen’d to be the Opinions of Printers.”
“That notwithstanding what might be urg’d in behalf of a Man’s being allow’d to do in the Way of his Business whatever he is paid for, yet Printers do continually discourage the Printing of great Numbers of bad things, and stifle them in the Birth. I my self have constantly refused to print any thing that might countenance Vice, or promote Immortality; tho’ by complying in such Cases with the corrupt Taste of the Majority, I might have got much Money. I have also always refus’d to print such things as might do real Injury to any Person, how much soever I have been solicited, and tempted with Offers of great Pay; and how much soever I have by refusing got the Ill-will of those who would have employ’d me. I have heretofore fallen under the Resentment of large Bodies of Men, for refusing absolutely to print any of their Party or Personal Reflections. In this Manner I have made my self many Enemies, and the constant Fatigue of denying is almost insupportable. But the Publick being unac- quainted with all this, whenever the poor Printer happens either through Ignorance or much Persuasion, to do any thing that is generally thought worthy of Blame, he meets with no more Friendship or Favour on the above Account, than if there were no Merit in’t at all.”
“I take leave to conclude with an old Fable, which some of my Readers have heard before, and some have not.”
“A certain well-meaning Man and his Son, were traveling towards a Market Town, with an Ass which they had to sell. The Road was bad; and the old Man there- fore rid, but the Son went a-foot. The first Passenger they met, asked the Father if he was not ashamed to ride by himself, and suffer the poor Lad to wade along thro’ the Mire; this induced him to take up his Son behind him: He had not travelled far when he met other, who said, they were two unmerciful Lubbers to get both on the Back of that poor Ass, in such a deep Road. Upon this the old Man gets off, and let fis Son ride alone. The next they met called the Lad a graceless, rascally young Jackanapes, to ride in that Manner thro’ the Dirt, while his aged Father trudged along on Foot; and they said the old Man was a Fool, for suffering it. He then bid his Son come down, and walk with him, and they travell’d on leading the Ass by the Halter; ’till they met another Company, who called them a Couple of sensless Blockheads, for going both on Foot in such a dirty Way, when they had an empty Ass with them, which they might ride upon. The old Man could bear no longer; My Son, said he, it grieves me much that we cannot please all these People: Let us throw the Ass over the next Bridge, and be no farther troubled with him.”
Thank you and God Bless.
5. Jonathan Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions of the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, vol. 3 (Virginia)