Sunday, June 25, 2006

Freedom of Speech and Responsibility

In a story released by the Associated Press, Representative Peter King (R. NY) is calling for the Bush Administration to press criminal charges against newspapers which release national security information to the public. Citing the New York Times specifically and their article about the CIA tracking terrorist funds. King plans to write to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and recommend “an investigation and prosecution of the New York Times-the reporters, the editors, and the publishers. We‘re at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous.” King would also go on to say that he felt the Times was, “more concerned about a left wing elitist agenda than it is about the security of the American people.”

This particular article comes off the heels of a previous article in which Democrats questions the validity of the CIA looking into international funds and whether or not it will violate people’s privacy. As the Associated Press reported, the Treasury Department obtained permission to use SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, which is a database that tracks financial messages in more than 200 countries.

There is seemingly two issues that are at the heart of this topic. The first is privacy and if the CIA can actually go into the financial records. Since the Treasury Department got permission to use this database, and the CIA is only tracking international funds to suspected terrorists, the privacy of the majority of people in the world is rather well protected. The second is the issue of Freedom of Speech. Should the press be allowed to publish information like this for all to see, including terrorists? For some people, the answer is no. However, others, like Rep. King, feel that this is an issue of national security. Attorney General Gonzales also agrees that the First Amendment’s freedom of the press does not apply when the interests of national security are in play.

Fact of the Matter

The fact of the matter on this is that sometimes we need to know things and other times we don’t. For instance, I love hamburgers. Anyone who knows me knows that my guilty pleasure is Wendy’s # 3 Biggie Size. Now, I love that meal, but I sure as heck do not want to know how the burger patties are made. The same could be said about fighting terrorism. We like the idea that the bad guys are being taken care of, in one way or another, but do we really want to know how every little detail is done?

Because our government is supposed to be an open one, certainly the public has a right to know what our leaders our doing. The issue I have is where do we draw the line. One of the greatest problems I have seen as of late in this country is that a number of people say things and when they are challenged on it, they hide behind the mantle of Freedom of Speech. Yes, our government does allow us to have this. However, with this freedom come a high degree of responsibility. If a person is going to say something, in my opinion, they bloody well better be able to back it up!

John Milton once said, “People prefer bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.” We say we have freedom of speech, but is that really true? Can I scream fire in a movie theater because I feel like it? Of course not, the mere thought of it is absurd. I am sure all of you now are saying that one would never do such a thing. Still, we can’t say it. We have language rules for television because we must be considerate when it comes to the viewers of certain programs, thus no cursing on television. So what does this have to do with the press?

Well, the answer is even the press needs to learn responsibility. They can hide behind the mantle of freedom of speech and the need to tell their readers the important facts, but at the expense of other people’s lives and jobs. Investigations take time and there are many people who work on these particular jobs. If one reporter comes out and says these people are doing these things, then the secrecy of their job is compromised and the people the investigators are after are now tipped off.

Another problem we seem to have is that the media, or at least most of them, seem to have an agenda where they want to “get the President.” If this were happening and a Democrat was President, do I dare say, the same kind of reaction would be made by those that, as I have just seen, call Representative Peter King coo coo, or other Republicans evil, and other nasty little names? I highly doubt it. In fact, I believe this is nothing more than harsh politics at the expense of the main objective: eliminating terrorism.

As Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that tries men’s souls.” Let us hope SOME PEOPLE learn a little more responsibility with their use of freedom of speech.

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