Free Speech Under Siege

Civil Liberties and the Press

Image by Cartoonistarif: CC BY 2.0

The protections guaranteed to Americans by the First Amendment of the Constitution are under assault, and they have been for some time. In 1947, ten Hollywood writers and filmmakers were summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee for alleged ties to the Communist Party. The artists were unconstitutionally summoned and upon refusal to testify, were held in contempt of Congress in what boiled down to red scare kabuki theatre. While the U.S. constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the right to speech, dissent, and press freedom from government intrusion, these artists were deprived of that right. This policing of thought would prove to have lasting consequences, the evolution of which can be seen today.

While much has changed since the days of the second red scare and McCarthyism, the tactics of suppressing dissent and press freedoms have remained effective. Similar to the days of the Hollywood Ten, now anyone who doesn’t follow the neoliberal corporate line or objects to the national security state is slandered, dismissed, or unjustly persecuted. Rather than being unconstitutionally hauled in before a McCarthyistic hearing, civil liberties are quelled by the U.S. national security state talking heads, a dominant corporate media infrastructure, and unaccountable social media corporations.

Ultimately, for the press and dissent, First Amendment protections and freedom of thought are heading down a dangerous, authoritarian path. Only solidarity through the ordinary banding together can preserve the few civil liberties that remain and maintain democratic values. Pushing back on state and corporate control over permissible speech must become a priority for the left and those that wish to preserve some semblance of democratic norms and principles.

Assaulting The Press And Dissent

In recent years, the slow roll to repression heightened during the Obama administration and comes as the media environment becomes growingly consolidated in the hands of a few corporations. Under the Obama administration, more whistleblowers who leaked information to the press were prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all other presidents combined. Some of those whistleblowers leaked truthful, substantiated information and materials to award-winning Australian journalist and Wikileaks publisher, Julian Assange.

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Jack Delaney is a former policy analyst. He worked on issues relating to health care, disability, and labor policy, and is a member of the National Writers Union. 

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