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In the U.S., we proudly point to the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights that was adopted in 1791.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Unfortunately, this freedom is not as absolute as it sounds.

As Howard Zinn pointed out in an excellent and informative piece, we cannot rely on this amendment to protect our freedom of speech. For example, just seven years after the Bill of Rights was adopted, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts that explicitly abridged this freedom. Fortunately, the Sedition Act expired in 1801.

Shortly after the U.S. entered WWI, Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917. This Act was similar, but broader than the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Further, the Woodrow Wilson administration determined that any written materials violating the act or otherwise “urging treason” were “nonmailable matter.”

The Wilson administration particularly targeted:

  • The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the union that was the most radical, anti-war and uncompromising in standing up for workers’ rights
  • The strongly anti-war Eugene Debs and the Socialist Party.

By 1918, in actions that seriously threatened First Amendment freedoms, the Post Office denied mailing privileges for 74 newspapers, including the IWW’s newspapers and those of the Socialist Party.

There is much more that could be said about the attacks on the freedom of speech and of the press. However, it is also important to consider the ability to have your speech amplified.

As Zinn pointed out: “In other words, freedom of speech is not simply a yes or no question. It is also a ‘how much’ question. And how much freedom we have depends on how much money we have, what power we have, and what resources we have for reaching large numbers of people.”

Over the years, vitally important restrictions on the ownership of the news media have been greatly weakened, leading to a consolidation of the mainstream news media under the control of giant corporations, hedge funds and wealthy individuals. Unsurprisingly, their interests do not necessarily align with the best interests of the nation or of the great majority of the population.

For example, the mainstream news media coverage reflects a bias against: Medicare for All, an increase in taxes on the wealthy, limits on corporate consolidation, controlling the price of prescription drugs, unions and ending war.

In foreign policy, the mainstream media strongly supports the government through spreading its propaganda. By now it’s not debatable that George W. Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. However, mainstream media (with a few honorable exceptions) abrogated its responsibility to the public by going along with the lies. MSNBC had one program, its highest-rated program, hosted by Phil Donahue, that challenged the Bush administration’s claims. However, MSNBC cancelled the program about one month before the U.S. illegally attacked Iraq.

Before the U.S. war crime in Iraq, there was the U.S. war crime against Vietnam. After WWII, the Harry Truman administration thwarted the Vietnamese independence effort by returning control of Vietnam to France, Vietnam’s former colonial master.

The independent Vietnamese movement defeated the French despite strong U.S. support for France. The terms for ending the struggle called for a free election in 1956. However, the Eisenhower administration acted against democracy by preventing the election and setting up a puppet government in South Vietnam. Would the U.S. have attacked Vietnam if the U.S. media had informed the U.S. public of this shameful history?

There are numerous other horrific examples of U.S. crimes unknown to the U.S. public, e.g., see William Blum’s “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.”

Julian Assange is one of several courageous whistleblowers who followed in the footsteps of Daniel Ellsberg (The Pentagon Papers) and have laid bare more of the U.S. criminal behavior. The U.S. persecution of Assange is a major threat to the freedom of the press. Foolishly, the U.S. press has not strongly pushed back against this present threat.

The U.S. and its complicit media’s current propaganda campaign is about the Russian war with Ukraine and NATO. The U.S. claims that the Russian attack was unprovoked. The mainstream media mostly ignores voices challenging this blatantly false claim, and other media sources challenging the claim, such as RT (formerly Russia Today), are taken off the air.

So much for freedom of the press.

Editor’s note: This is the last “Peace Train” for the Colorado Daily. Keep up with our friends over at Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center at rmpjc.org.

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