The First Amendment, Georgia-Style

The First Amendment, Georgia-Style


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Tony Panaccio
Co-Founder of Bold Blue Campaigns
Award-Winning Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Here’s a club that six Georgia Republicans want the state to join:

  • Russia
  • North Korea
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Vietnam
  • Iran
  • China
  • Myanmar
  • Cuba

These are just a few of the countries who exercise government censorship of the press, and there are dozens more. Let’s just say most of them aren’t on America’s Christmas card list, and a small cadre of GOP lawmakers want to join their ranks by enacting Draconian restrictions regarding media access to the people who do the people’s business in government. Here’s a rundown of the authoritarian nonsense these small-government hypocrites — State representatives Andy Welch, Tim Barr, Rick Jasperse, Ron Stephens, Mike Cheokas, and Mark Newton — birthed in their addled raisin-sized brain meats:

The measure seeks to create a 9-member Journalism Ethics Board responsible for:

  • Accrediting journalists and organizations;
    • Entire news organizations would only be accredited if every journalist in the organization was accredited;
  • Investigating and sanctioning journalists after complaints are filed by the public;
    • Allows for public and private reprimand, probation, and revocation of accreditation;
  • Accepting and managing grants, donations, gifts, and other monetary awards;
  • Setting rules and standards to adhere to for ‘factual and ethical reporting.;
  • Additionally, the bill requires that media outlets turn over any video and audio recordings in unedited format as well as photographs taken during an interview at no charge upon request by the person interviewed. It sets a 60-day window from the date of the interview to request the files, sets a timeframe to fulfill the request, and allows for private action against the media outlet or journalist for failing to comply, assessing a $100 per day penalty.

Of course, liberals will start writing about this as the first step toward fascism (as if we haven’t seen that already), and quote everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Adolph Hitler to make their point, hyperbole be damned. But we’ve heard those arguments before. Instead, I think it’s important to hear what key conservatives have to say about the issue.

Donald Rumsfeld was a Republican figure for multiple decades, having served in the House of Representatives and later as everything from a senior advisor to Defense Secretary under presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush. Certainly, he would stand with Georgia Republicans, right?

“I recognize the need to provide the press – and, through you, the American people – with information to the fullest extent possible,” Rumsfeld was quoted as saying in a speech. “In our democracy, the work of the Pentagon press corps is important, defending our freedom and way of life is what this conflict is about, and that certainly includes freedom of the press.”

The late former Republican Vice President Spiro T. Agnew was dogged by investigative reporters and stories of corruption until he was forced to resign in 1973. Surely, he’d see the need for press restrictions.

“Every time I criticize what I consider to be excesses or faults in the news business, I am accused of repression, and the leaders of various media professional groups wave the First Amendment as they denounce me,” Agnew said. “That happens to be my amendment, too. It guarantees my free speech as it does their freedom of the press… There is room for all of us – and for our divergent views – under the First Amendment.”

Finally, no one in Republican politics has been pilloried quite like the Mama Grizzly herself, former Alaska Governor and VP candidate Sarah Palin. If anyone would have inspired Republicans to advocated press restrictions, it would have been her.

“I want to make a toast to all at this press event who agree with Thomas Jefferson, who said that our liberty depends on the freedom of the press,” Palin said at a press dinner. “So I want to lift a glass to those who defend that freedom. Our finest, the men and women in uniform who defend that freedom, our Constitution, and our exceptional way of life in America.”

Bottom line, you can’t be a defender of the Constitution and an advocate of deregulation and small government if you’re also willing to throw the First Amendment baby out with the Constitutional bathwater. These Republicans want a government just big enough to silence their critics. It’s hypocrisy, honed to a sharp, precision edge that would begin slicing all of our liberties to ribbons, and if enacted, it would be used at the pleasure of whichever political party is in power. Bad news for the GOP when it loses power. This measure needs to be rejected swiftly and soundly, and the pea-brains who came up with it need to be made to sit in the corner with dunce caps until the 2020 session.

(Tony Panaccio is a former award-winning journalist and the co-founder and Chief Media Strategist for Bold Blue Campaigns, a political services company that specializes in state and local campaigns, and one of the country’s leading sources for political polling.)

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