Censorship: State and Corporate
When we speak of “freedom of the press,” one of the promises of the Constitution’s 1st Amendment, we usually do so with an air of self-praise and self-applause.
Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the greatest observers of America, saw this feature of this nation, and criticized it in his classic 1835 work, Democracy in America.
But the Constitution speaks to the role of the state: Congress. It is silent on the powers of private corporations, those who own the press, radio and TV, and those who hire and fire those who work in these industries.
And that’s where the rubber hits the road, for Congress is a thousand miles away, but your boss, or his agents (your editors) are right here—at your shoulder.
And while no reporter, broadcaster or DJ fears a summons from Congress, they dread a call from the boss, and are therefore attentive to the ways and whims of those who sign their paychecks. They learn the temperature of the workplace, and fear rocking the boat.
Iraq was the perfect example, as seen in the case of then-CNN’s foreign correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, who said on CNBC:
“I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I’m sorry to say, but certainly television, and, perhaps to a certain extent, my station (CNN) was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did.”1
There you have it—journalists censoring themselves, in a time when the nation faced the most critical questions a nation can face: war or peace?
To shatter that self-censorship would mean challenging not only the administration, but their bosses as well.
Despite the horrific costs, millions of displaced Iraqis, their shattered cities and atomized societies, the reputation of the U.S. in tatters, the deaths of perhaps a million Iraqis and several thousand Americans, this they could not do.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Richard III, the king, facing imminent ruin, laments the absence of a horse. For want of a horse, the kingdom was lost.
For want of a media, the nation was lost.
—PrisonRadio.org, April 14, 2013
1 Source: Johnson, Peter, “Amanpour: CNN practiced self-censorship,” USA Today, 9/15/03, Mon., 40