Logo for Joe Sobran¹s newsletter: Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 The Press and Patriotism 

May 17, 2005 
“Our enemies are nearer the truth in their opinions of us than we are ourselves,” wrote LaRochefoucauld. Something to ponder when we hear complaints about anti-Americanism. Today's column is "The Press and Patriotism" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.And there may be even more vanity and self-deception in the group than in the individual ego.

The White House is upset about the Newsweek story by Michael Isikoff and John Barry that a copy of the Koran had been flushed down a toilet at the Guantanamo detention center. After the report led to protests, rioting, and numerous deaths in the Muslim world, the magazine said it was “retracting” the story, whose source had “backed away” from his first account.

It’s a little late for the White House to worry about bad PR in the Muslim world now. U.S. foreign policy, two recent wars, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo itself have already had their effects on America’s reputation in the region. Most Muslims think of us as the enemy. Are they wrong?

People are always quick to believe the worst about their enemies. In wartime they don’t wait for confirmation of rumors of even the worst atrocities. Given what American interrogators have done in the past to provoke and insult Muslim prisoners, the Newsweek story seemed plausible even to Americans.

The White House is being disingenuous when it affects indignation at the very idea that Americans might abuse the Koran. Once again, it’s trying to redirect passions against the news media as a distraction from the Iraq war itself. Now it’s also demanding that Newsweek repair the damage it says the magazine has done.

But the Bush administration won’t even estimate the damage it has itself done to our national reputation. It might start by (for example) telling us approximately how many Iraqi noncombatants have been killed in the war. Then it might consider whether making bitter enemies is the natural price of making war.

[Breaker quote for The Press and Patriotism: Giving aid and comfort to the government]Even if the Newsweek story were true, observes the New York Post, “printing it would give aid and comfort to the enemy.” That’s what the White House wants to hear: even telling the truth is unpatriotic. Candor in wartime is treason. That’s what giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy implies. The press should publish only facts that support the government in its war effort. “Loose lips sink ships,” and so forth.

What does the phrase aid and comfort mean? It appears in the body of the unamended U.S. Constitution; unless carefully defined, it can easily become a rubber phrase. Does it mean intentional and material assistance to declared enemies? Or can it be stretched to mean even revealing certain facts that might embarrass the government?

If the latter, is that meaning superseded by “the freedom of speech [and] of the press” in the First Amendment? Just what did the First Amendment amend, anyway? Did it change the meaning of what had gone before?

If we merely mine the Constitution for convenient slogans, without bothering to ask how its parts are related to each other, there’s no limit to what it can authorize (or prohibit). We can wind up reaching conclusions as rabid as those of the aforementioned Post, which is so pro-war it seems willing to curtail press freedom, including its own. More liberal (but in their way equally rabid) papers take “freedom of the press” to be an absolute.

If we have to choose between these extremes, we should prefer the one that gives the government least power over us. In this case, the liberal side is right. Unless we are free to criticize the government, we are not its masters but its slaves. Jefferson said that it would be better to have newspapers without government than government without newspapers.

The notion that the press is a “fourth branch of government” is a particularly insidious cliché. It implies that the press should have some share in power, and it invites the three real branches of government to control it as they are supposed to check and balance each other.

The press isn’t always a good thing, but it is sometimes a dangerous thing, and its danger is multiplied when it’s controlled by the government. And this danger is always most acute during wartime, when the press feels pressure to be “loyal.”

Like right now.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of Griffin Internet Syndicate

small Griffin logo
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address:

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer
Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRANS home page.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 


SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

Reprinted with permission
This page is copyright © 2005 by The Vere Company
and may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.