Today my First Amendment series shifts its focus to the importance of Freedom of the Press. Of the “four freedoms” enshrined in the First Amendment, I take this one especially personally.

This cartoon by Jim Morin shows an old-fashioned manual typewriter with “FREE PRESS” on one row of keys. In the upper left corner, it says, “The Keys to a Strong, Enduring Democracy.”
(Morin-toons/Cartooning for Peace/Global Geneva)

My first paying job was writing stories for a local “shopper” newspaper (back when those existed). Journalism was my undergraduate minor (only because my school didn’t offer a major). I’ve been a freelance or staff reporter for several publications over the years. And I taught journalism or publications along with art for all but three semesters of my teaching career.

The past three posts in this series (from July 2, July 10, and July 16, 2020) have taken a look at the beginning of the First Amendment. If you’ve been following them, you probably can recite this article of the Bill of Rights with me from memory by this time.

The part relevant to today’s discussion is: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom . . . of the press.”

How important is this freedom?

The Founders were very clear about the importance of a free press. Thomas Jefferson (despite his deeply troubling record on racism) had a clear-eyed certainty when it came to free dissemination of the news.

This quote-image from Thomas Jefferson says, “If I had to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.”
(American Center New Delhi)

Jefferson wasn’t alone in his evaluation. Through the centuries since those words were written and ratified, other influential thinkers of their times have agreed.

This image-quote from Wendell Wilkie, an influential 20th-Century political voice in the USA, says, “Freedom of the press is the staff of life, for any vital democracy.”
(AZ Quotes)

Wilkie and his sometimes political opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, agreed on several issues. One was the importance of Freedom of the Press.

This quote-image from Associate US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter says, “Freedom of speech and the press are essential to the enlightenment of a free people and in restraining those who wield power.”
(AZ Quotes)

Justice Frankfurter and his near-contemporary Walter Cronkite occupied different spheres of the national stage. Yet they also both saw Freedom of the Press as essential for the health of the democracy.

This image quote from 20th-Century news anchor Walter Cronkite says, “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
(AZ Quotes)

In future posts, I plan to explore the most virulent forces threatening freedom of the press, and through it our freedom, and fate our form of government itself.


Many thanks to Jim Morin, Cartooning for Peace, and Global Geneva for the “Free-Press Typewriter” image. I’m grateful to the American Center New Delhi on Facebook, for the quote from Thomas Jefferson. Many thanks to AZ Quotes for Wendell Wilkie’s evaluation of democracy’s need for a free press. And to AZ Quotes again, for Felix Frankfurter’s observation on the importance of free speech and press. And finally AZ Quotes for yet a third time in a row, for the words from Kansas City’s own Walter Cronkite. I appreciate you all!