Rich Macke: Post, Port Arthur not so unlike

Published 10:24 am Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A good friend sent me a text last weekend that said, “Watching ‘The Post’; you, my friend, are a rock.’”

As I had not seen it yet, and didn’t understand what he meant by “a rock,” I decided to check it out. Sunday, I had the couch and TV to myself so I said, “What the heck” and rented it.

For those that have not taken the time to see it, you’re missing out on a great movie. And I’m not just saying that because it’s a newspaper movie. But it lays out what our industry was built on, and why the First Amendment is so crucial to our ability in covering government issues.

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“The Post” stars Meryl Streep who plays Katherine Graham, who is the first female owner/publisher of a major American newspaper, the Washington Post. Set during the early 1970s, Tom Hanks plays Executive Editor Ben Bradlee.

In short, the Washington Post gains access to top-secret information from the federal government on the Vietnam War, showing years of deception shared with citizens of our nation. In an attempt to keep the top-secret information from being published and shared with the world, the federal government filed an injunction to halt publishing the top-secret information.

Both the Washington Post and New York Times appear together before the Supreme Court to plead their First Amendment case for the right to publish the material. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the newspapers’ favor.

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, shared his opinion on the ruling publicly.

Our government was launched in 1789 with the adoption of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, followed in 1791. Now, for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says, but rather means that the government can halt the publication of current news of vital importance to the people of this country.

In seeking injunctions against these newspapers, and in its presentation to the court, the executive branch seems to have forgotten the essential purpose and history of the First Amendment. When the Constitution was adopted, many people strongly opposed it because the document contained no Bill of Rights to safeguard certain basic freedoms.

They especially feared that the new powers granted to a central government might be interpreted to permit the government to curtail freedom of religion, press, assembly and speech. In response to an overwhelming public clamor, James Madison offered a series of amendments to satisfy citizens that these great liberties would remain safe and beyond the power of government to abridge.

Madison proposed what later became the First Amendment in three parts, two of which are set out below, and one of which proclaimed:

The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments, and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.

Now, The Port Arthur News is not The Washington Post nor is the city of Port Arthur the federal government. But similarities exist. For example, when the Port Arthur City Council threatened to stop using The Port Arthur News to publish their city legals and public notices because they did not like editorial content, that placed the council in a negative light to citizens. This is a direct violation of the First Amendment.

Not stopping there, any elected official or entity that feels independently that reporting on one’s actions, questioning their motives and seeking truth for citizens is a violation of their own rights, needs to gain a better understanding of the First Amendment before jumping into the political sphere.

No, we are not living in the 1970s anymore and social media has done its darndest to minimize the importance of print media. But as long as the First Amendment is a part of our industry, print media will remain important.

Interestingly enough, former 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, with whom I don’t agree with much, surprised us by her recent comments on fake news: “It means calling out actual fake news when we see it and supporting brave journalists and their reporting maybe even by subscribing to a newspaper.”

Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News.