Time To Stand Up For The First Amendment And Press Freedom

November 18th, 2023 4:00 PM

Say what?

As China’s President Xi Jinping is hanging in San Francisco with President Joe Biden, Fortune headlines this: 

Ex-Fox News reporter refusing to divulge sources over Chinese American espionage reporting risks contempt order

The Fortune story reports: 

In a case with potentially far-reaching press freedom implications, a federal judge in Washington is weighing whether to hold in contempt a veteran journalist who has refused to identify her sources for stories about a Chinese American scientist who was investigated by the FBI but never charged.

The judge previously ordered former Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge, who now works at CBS, to be interviewed under oath about her sources for a series of stories about Yanping Chen. Chen, who was investigated for years on suspicions she may have lied on immigration forms related to work on a Chinese astronaut program, has since sued the government, saying details about the probe were leaked to damage her reputation. 

But after Herridge refused to divulge to Chen’s lawyers how she acquired her information, the scientist’s attorneys are asking U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper to hold the reporter in contempt — a sanction that could result in steep monetary fines until she complies.

As something of a First Amendment fundamentalist, one can only shake one’s head in astonishment at this news.

Put aside that Herridge had a long career at Fox News as a cracker-jack investigative reporter. Put aside that she switched over to the liberal CBS.

The central fact here is that whether it’s Catherine Herridge or any other journalist no matter who their employer may be, we have a First Amendment for a reason. And that reason is to provide protection in the Constitution for a free press.

In the 21st century and the relatively recent arrival of the Internet and social media, the urge to both force a journalist to reveal sources or to outright censor opinions to silence them has become a real problem. Whether demanding a journalist reveal their sources or, as is in the news frequently these days, having the government working with Big Tech to censor and silence opinions the government doesn’t like, these problems are decidedly problems.

In the latter case of government censorship, over there at Outkick is the tale of Outkick’s Tomi Lahren versus the Biden administration. 

The Outkick headline from January of this year: 


Outkick reports: 

Well Tomi Lahren certainly got under the skin of the Biden Administration.

What got them so upset? She dared to say publicly that she had no intention of getting one of the COVID vaccines.

Newly released emails show that White House Digital Director Rob Flaherty got very upset with Facebook for not censoring her opinions. 

It’s yet another example of the federal government using tech companies to violate first amendment rights.

Flaherty’s cozy relationship with Facebook, as he references a phone conversation, meant he could reach out to get unfavorable opinions ”reduced.”

Sure enough, just a couple hours later, he got a response saying Facebook was ”running it down.”

Private companies censoring users at the behest of government is a direct violation of the First Amendment. But Biden and many on his ideological allies on the left don’t care much for freedom of speech.

Well exactly.

Again, pulling back to the proverbial 30,000 feet view and what is abroad in the land is an all too frequent willingness by government officials in one or another branch of government to simply ignore the First Amendment when not trashing it outright.

In the Herridge case it’s a judge demanding a journalist reveal her sources. In the Lahren case it’s a White House official demanding of Facebook that the social media cite shut down Lahren’s posts on the Covid vaccine. 

In the latter case this came to light thanks to House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican.

As reported by the Heritage Foundation back in August:  

New documents uncovered by Rep. Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who heads the House Judiciary Committee, reveal the Biden White House furiously pressured Facebook to censor content that raised questions about or criticized the COVID-19 vaccine—and Facebook surrendered and did so.

‘These newly subpoenaed meeting notes continue to show the Biden White House’s desire to direct and control content on Facebook,’ writes Jordan.

On yet another occasion the Daily Caller headlined this in July of this year: 

Facebook Suppressed Tucker Carlson Video That Did Not Violate Content Policy After White House Demanded It, Judge Says

Reported the DC: 

A federal judge accused Facebook on Tuesday of coordinating with the White House to censor posts that did not violate its content policy, including a video by former Fox News host and Daily Caller co-founder Tucker Carlson

One of the famous lines that emerged out of the NASA space program was a line to the NASA controllers in Houston from a space traveling astronaut after an explosion on a moon-bound spacecraft. The actual line was from astronaut Jim Lovell, who said: “Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem.” For the hugely popular movie of that voyage - Apollo 13- the line was slightly altered to “Houston, we have a problem”

And as happens in American culture the movie version of the line entered American culture itself. It has come to symbolize the idea of a seriously big problem that needs solving ASAP.

Safe to say, the reality that a federal judge on one hand is trying to force Catherine Herridge to reveal her source in violation of her First Amendment rights, while on the other hand the Biden White House has used the weight of the federal government to pressure Facebook to silence Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson is most assuredly that might be termed: “America, we have a problem.”

Until and unless Congress gets into this situation to make certain the First Amendment - in theory already protecting a free press - is decidedly protected? And protected with iron clad guarantees? Until then it is reasonable to believe neither Herridge, Lahren or Tucker or anybody else can be certain their rights as journalists or simply private citizens expressing their free speech are protected.

Not good.

Not good at all.

It is time - more than time - to stand up for the Constitution and the First Amendment that are central to it.