MEDIA THREAT TO FREEDOM


CONGRESS ACTION: September 05, 1999
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Largely unnoticed amid other news, there is a storm of Constitutional proportions brewing at the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. At stake are the concepts of the consent of the governed and the separation of powers which are essential for the survival of a free republic. The storm involves that committee's investigation of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign fundraising activities. Throughout the investigation and public hearings, republicans charged that democrats blocked the probe and showed more interest in burying evidence of wrongdoing than in uncovering any crimes that may have been committed. Congressional oversight was effectively blocked. Democrat obstruction was obvious to anyone who watched even a few moments of the televised hearings in either the House or the Senate, and saw Senator John Glenn and Congressman Henry Waxman (and virtually every other democrat) making objections and taking every opportunity to delay, divert, and otherwise obstruct the investigations. This is not new. What is new are the allegations made by democrat fundraiser Johnny Chung in an interview on the FOX network. Chung claimed that democrat committee staffers advised him how to assert the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination; in effect, claiming that democrats advised him how to become part of the cover-up. He also claimed that he was repeatedly solicited for contributions by various federal officials, in their offices on government property, which is illegal. Separate from Chung's claims, the Washington Times recently ran a series of articles based on documents obtained from the House committee itself. The Times claims that democrats went beyond mere partisan politics and actually engaged in criminal activities to cover-up crimes. Those activities, according to the Times, included using questionable evidence to impeach witness credibility, advising witnesses to avoid or ignore committee subpoenas, and the intimidation of witnesses. If this nation still respected the Rule of Law, a federal grand jury would now be probing the documents and Chung's claims, and if true, handing down indictments.

Whether members of Congress can be indicted for conduct related to their official duties is at best doubtful. Members of Congress are permitted quite a bit of leeway in their official conduct. Under Article I, Section 6 of our Constitution: "The Senators and Representatives shall.in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place." If the conduct related by the Times can be attributed to members as well as staffers - no such allegations have been made -- the next question would be whether that conduct is protected as "speech and debate". That would be for a court to decide, but any court would be loathe to get into such a political dispute. Especially since another remedy is already provided by the Constitution, Article I, Section 5: "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member." A republican majority with any backbone would at a minimum pass resolutions of censure against some of their members, if nothing else for their shameful conduct during the hearings which prevented the Congress from getting at the truth. And unelected staffers and appointed federal officials enjoy no Constitutional protection against criminal charges.

There have been denials all around by democrats, and not much apparent interest by republicans in pursuing these matters. Chung's allegations, based on his own experiences, and the committee documents as they have been portrayed, paint a picture of a criminality by congressional staffers and routine illegality by federal officials. Whether Chung's charges are true or not cannot be determined by private citizens, and it is doubtful whether Congress will ever find a definitive answer. The Justice Department under this Attorney General cannot be trusted to act responsibly, which leaves only one avenue for citizens to learn the truth: tough investigative reporting by the media. But there is an almost total lack of interest by the media, most of those self-proclaimed "watchdogs" of government corruption couldn't care less. The Washington Times and FOX have been in the forefront, and a few scattered accounts have appeared in some newspapers and on the news wires. But the mainstream media has instituted a virtual blackout.

It is not the purpose here to attempt to ascertain the veracity of the allegations against democrats and their coterie. The evidence of their obfuscation, however, is obvious, and should be sufficiently damning by itself to outrage anyone concerned with maintaining a Constitutional republic. But the allegations go beyond partisan stonewalling, and include charges of criminality. And the issue also goes beyond mere media bias. The issue, rather, involves freedom, and the very nature of self government. A free press, as our Founders understood, is essential to effective self government. An independent press, free to obtain and publish the truth -- and willing to do so -- is vital to the maintenance of freedom in a self-governing republic. An independent press looks over the shoulder of those in government and keeps the people informed. In a free republic, an independent press acts as the early-warning system against threats to our freedom. If that early-warning system is disabled, the threat can become a reality before we are aware of its existence. "The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and claws after he shall have entered." -- Thomas Jefferson

In order for people to make intelligent decisions, in their own personal lives or in relation to government policies, they require full and accurate information on which to base their decisions and actions. Although many people make ill informed decisions every day, it is clear that faulty or incomplete information will result in faulty decisions. As a free people, we are free to make decisions about how, and by whom, we will be governed; that is the "consent of the governed" which underlies our form of government. But that consent cannot be valid or effective if such consent is based on false information. If we know that a candidate for office has engaged in a conspiracy to cover-up crimes, we might decide to vote for him or her anyway. Or we might conclude that electing people with criminal tendencies to high office is not appropriate. But what if we have no knowledge of the allegations or the evidence against the candidate in question? Is our freedom to govern ourselves thereby imperiled? Indeed it is, because our decisions are made - our consent is given -- on the basis of faulty information. How do citizens obtain the facts upon which to base their decisions? In our society, we rely on the extraordinary freedom of the media, protected by the First Amendment. We rely on the media to dig out the facts about the activities of government and those in government, and to provide citizens with the relevant facts with which to effectively judge a candidate's fitness for office. Under our form of government, there is no other way for citizens to obtain accurate information upon which to act responsibly. Voters are free to vote for whatever candidate they choose, but if the information upon which they base their decision is inaccurate and distorted, is that vote truly free? Was the choice truly voluntary? To a voter who doesn't care about the character of a candidate, the lack of information about the candidate's character is irrelevant. But what of the voter to whom character does matter? The lack of relevant information could very well induce him to vote for a candidate he would never consider if he had all the available information. The net result? An open invitation to candidates with questionable characters and things to hide, as long as the media shares their ideology.

How has our media fulfilled its duty? By their silence on the issues raised by Chung and the committee documents, the media has gone beyond mere bias and favoritism, and has progressed to outright cover-up. Faced with substantial credible evidence, the media is, for the most part, silent. Chung's claims may ultimately prove false and the documents may have been mischaracterized. But the allegations are certainly more than wild unfounded speculation, and there is significant evidence supporting them. They need not rise to the level of courtroom proof in order for an honest and unbiased media - a free press - to investigate and report them. Contrast this with the media's hysteria over the Bush cocaine issue, and objectively compare the two: On one hand, there are allegations about criminal conduct by a candidate for office, not supported by any evidence whatsoever, which is claimed to have occurred in that candidate's private life over a quarter of a century ago. On the other hand, there are allegations about criminal conduct by officials already in office, or by their staffs, for which there exists substantial and credible evidence from multiple sources, claimed to have occurred within the last 3 or 4 years and directly involving their official duties. Any objective observer should have no trouble discerning which of those two matters is more important to the nation, and therefore which should be the focus of media inquiry. But then there are two additional facts, which prove the media's lack of objectivity and shows how low they have sunk: the first scenario involves a republican, and the second involves democrats. And now we know why the first scenario is reported, probed, and investigated; while the second scenario is all but ignored.

What are the implications for a free society when the media no longer fulfills its role as the neutral watchdog of government, no longer seeks to obtain the facts or report the truth, but instead buries evidence because it casts their preferred politicians in a bad light? Under those circumstances, the "free press" reduces itself to nothing more than the propaganda organ of a political party, simply regurgitating party hand-outs, assisting in the character assassination of opponents of its chosen party, and blindly accepting the most ludicrous excuses for blatant abuses of power. When the free press surrenders its independence and prostitutes itself to a political ideology, our freedom is in serious danger. This is all the more critical as daily revelations demonstrate the deceptions and irresponsibility of the official organs of our government, and as our government poses an increasing danger to its own citizens. Either the FBI, BATF, or the Justice Department covered up evidence in the Waco fiasco. Either the FBI or the NTSB covered up evidence in the TWA 800 crash (as shown by "newly discovered" radar data). The Attorney General long ago lost her credibility. The President was impeached, and has been fined by a judge for obstructing justice. The Executive Branch pursues increasingly intrusive plans to invade our privacy, control our lives, and limit our freedom. Many federal activities already violate the Constitution. Criminals are freed to roam the streets while the rights of honest citizens are curtailed. What should be benign regulatory agencies deploy heavily armed paramilitary units against US citizens. The Judiciary routinely overrides popular will to impose its ideological preferences on the nation. Congress, dominated by left-wing extremists and weak-kneed republicans, does nothing. Our government has broken faith with the American people and has shown that it cannot be trusted. Our Founders knew the potential dangers which any government can pose to its citizens, which is why they put their faith in a free press to keep the people ever vigilant. But most of the major media has proven that it cannot be trusted either. And too few of our jaded and increasingly lazy population takes the trouble to seek out alternate sources to educate themselves, preferring to switch on the nightly media propaganda broadcasts for a few minutes and thereby consider themselves educated. This is an extremely dangerous state of affairs.

Protected by the First Amendment, the media enjoys extraordinary independence, to reveal the truth - or to spread lies. But as with all freedom, such independence entails responsibilities. A free people will not allow the media to have things both ways: to act as an adjunct to a particular political party, and yet to remain independent of all control which a free people exercises over its political institutions. And the people of this country better wake up to the fact that their very freedom is in danger. Continued partisan propaganda by the media will have one of two results: elimination of the freedom which the media enjoys, or the end of our nation as a free, self-governing republic.

FOR MORE INFORMATION.
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House Government Reform and Oversight Committee


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