The Charlotte News
Wednesday, October 1, 1941
Site Ed. Note: "Freedom That Keeps Us Free" speaks of freedom of the press in a time when freedom of the press was being quelled and therefore threatened by the need for national defense. Implicitly, though not expressly, it asks where is the boundary. While newspapers for the most part had cooperated in the call for silence on the movement of British ships in U.S. ports picking up supplies, clearly not a newsworthy event as to its particulars anyway, there was active debate afoot as to what constituted, beyond those particulars, national security to warrant self-restraint. What about reporting the news of war generally, those stories which did not compromise troop positions or military secrets? Ray Clapper had told the previous month during his latter time of his visit to Great Britain that the British censors were quite lax, often to be found sleeping literally on the job, often coming from professions outside government, even finding among them professional musicians. As long as the print didn't carry a military secret, it was passed.
But, aside from overt censorship, what about chilling expression of opinion, the heart of freedom of speech? What about parsing speech until an expression even in private of an opinion premised expressly as such and containing stated and undisputed factual bases for its expression, is considered defamatory if the conclusion is not affirmatively demonstrable as fact?
Clearly, by the Supreme Court's pronouncements on the subject, that is protected speech. Opinions, said Justice Holmes, are protected by the concept of the marketplace of ideas where the listener or reader is free to accept or reject the opinion. "It is my opinion that San Nix is a drunk because I saw him repeatedly drinking in a bar on 44th Street during 1940, and I know he drinks to excess all the time at home, because I regularly visit Nix there while he is drinking, and he gets drunk," is an opinion, that Nix is a drunk, based on particular facts asserted as such. If those facts are unassailed or are proved otherwise to be true, then the opinion is not defamatory. The listener or reader is free to accept or reject the opinion that San Nix is a drunk based on those particular facts asserted, as to whether the opinion makes sense and follows logically from the premises. If, on the other hand, it is shown that the speaker never visited San Nix in his home at all, then one of the factual bases for the opinion has been shown to be false and the opinion, though couched in that form, is defamatory. The reader or listener has been led to believe a fact which is not true and thus his freedom to assess objectively the validity of the opinion has been skewed by a false premise. And that is as it should be.
But we know for a fact that there are other courts in this country which are trying now to say otherwise, that without affirmative proof of the opinion itself, without clear evidence, in other words, that Nix is a drunk, independent of the asserted facts, the speech is to be considered defamatory, even if uttered strictly in private telephone conversations and precisely as indicated, with the asserted conclusion stated as opinion and based only on the undisputed facts provided. That is of course an outrage to the First Amendment.
It hearkens back to fascism and Nazism, to barbarism. By design it is to chill free expression of opinions and ideas to the point of gaining an entry point to quash knowledge not acceptable to the ruling order. There is no way to sugarcoat it by any description other than what it is--authoritarian fascism.
All the more so that the subject of the alleged defamation is a corrupt court official and that the expressly stated opinion in private is that the court official may have taken a bribe based on stated circumstantial evidence, not leaving the listener to assume that there were any other cicumstances unstated on which the opinion was based, expressly stating that there was no direct evidence of the bribe. That is plainly within the marketplace of ideas concept of which Justice Holmes spoke as being protected speech. And unless court officials are to be considered royalty, the concept Montesquieu had, for instance, a person who also thought a little old-fashioned barbarism was a good thing, then it applies not only equally, but especially, to criticism of our courts and public officials. How else do we avoid corruption and despotism? If court officials are immune from even private criticism or expression of suspicion, how would the public ever protect itself from such corruption, especially if it were to gain such a foothold in government that government itself refused to police it, dismissed the complaints of the public of aberrant acts of public opfficials as paranoia by the public, or worse, chilled the public with threats of action against them for making the complaints in the first place? Such chilling of speech is more than despotic, it is covering up corruption with more corruption.
But to seek to punish such free speech and free expression of opinion, even in private verbal conversation, is the way the country has drifted under the eight years of the present Administration, hell-bent on destroying our Constitution on the premise of national security, while waging a petty little war in Iraq to make their oil buddies rich. With $4 per gallon gasoline prices at the pump and crude oil prices at record levels, between 10 and 14 times higher than when this Administration came to office, do we really need to lay out the argument again? How much is meat down at the market when compared to last year, compared to eight years ago? Do you understand the basic connection, that the meat and all the other commodities on which you depend for your daily sustenance are shipped to market by truck, and that those trucks operate on petroleum derivatives? When the petroleum goes up remarkably, so too do delivery costs and thus the cost of your meat.
All of that is the way of it when populations start electing fascists as their leaders, elections based on "Christian" moralist propaganda--just as the Nazis used in 1932, separating "them" from "us", the nefarious ones who use big words you can't understand to hide something from us good, humble people.
When populations start using the political system to throw out recently elected governors, for instance, by a ridiculously abused and outmoded system called recall, and replace them with actors who appeal to the colossally stupid, because of movie roles, not practical and demonstrated ability to govern, and do so based solely on the national economy over which the governors have little or no impact, not based on any corruption certainly for which the laws of recall were instituted to avoid, a political use for a tool meant only as a last resort against actual corruption, then we see these other things going along with it hand in glove, the Terminator's credo--greed, and limits to the freedom of anyone who dares to criticize it while promoting those dummies, the rabbits down the rabbit hole, the Punch and Judy puppets, allowing them to commit outright perjury against anyone so criticizing the Termination, something to afford the rabbits relief from their frustration in life for being lazy stupes who don't read or think for themselves, those who go along with the Termination to get their payback from it, that release of the powerful self into an actualization built on the Big Lie, the scapegoat to whom all troubles in society are ascribed and for which therefore punishment of Termination must be meted--just as the Nazis practiced it. In short, in the present context of which we speak, the dumb Republicans of the State of California--one of the most corrupt groups of fascists ever known under the sun, at least since Hitler and Mussolini and their minions of Europe in the 1930's. Those fascists who gave the country such wunderkind as Reagan and Nixon.
Is that mere opinion we assert? Far from it. Examine the facts over time, especially since 1966, and see if your opinion, when based objectively on facts as they occurred, does not come out precisely the same. If you need a reminder of that of which we speak, just take a look at the sign announcing the gasoline price down at your local service station, the sign in front of that nice cut of meat down at the local market, and remember the good old days of 2000, before it all began.
And if what we say is defamatory, Fascist, then try proving it in a court of law before a real jury of ordinary citizens for a change and not hide behind power games trying to ruin someone's life for expressing opinions which others accept as true because they know the facts to be true on which those opinions are asserted, and that the opinions are soundly based on the undisputed facts. If not, then why trouble with it at all?
As Shakespeare said...
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