(Editor's note: This article is in response to recent concerns about the Second Amendment, and should be interpreted as part of a wider debate, especially on gun control. This article was passed along from a deep thinker who uses a pseudonym. -- Editors)
The Constitution was ratified in 1789, but not until a few states (beginning with Massachusetts) voiced their intent to add a Bill of Rights to it. James Madison successfully authored and promoted an explicit Bill of Rights to the Constitution. He strongly believed that a free people should be afforded numerous rights and protections. Many of his exact phrases are now fundamentally inscribed, both literally and figuratively, in the government of the United States and its history.
We know the Bill of Rights as the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, which were ratified in 1791. There is actually an eleventh Amendment that can be considered part of the Bill of Rights, but it wasn't ratified until 1992. Of the twelve amendments passed in the first session of Congress on September 25, 1789, eleven of them were eventually ratified. Madison's work was a resounding success!
We need, however, to look at one amendment in particular which has not stood the test of time: the First Amendment. Although it fundamentally and logically describes the most important of rights known to man, it has been abrogated in so many ways as to make it worthless in certain aspects. And because it lists a plurality of rights, we need to lay out what parts of it concern us.
We need to carefully scrutinize "the freedom of speech, or of the press." These two clauses clearly state that Congress cannot abridge the freedom of two things: "speech" and "the press." Now, speech is used here as a control. We all know what speech is: it represents the words and utterances of a speaker. We know this of a surety. This definition has not changed in two hundred, nor, should I say, in 500 years. There are modern interpretations of this particular instance of speech, in this particular Amendment. Courts attempt to alter the meaning to say that the giving of money is "speech" for First Amendment purposes. There are other, more basic reasons why courts fabricate new meanings for the word "speech," but the vast majority of us understand what Madison meant and what the First Congress understood in 1789. They passed, and submitted for ratification to the several States, an article that would make the freedom of speech a right of the People. And enough of the States had ratified it in 1791 to make it the Law of the Land. Thus, "speech" is a Constitutional right of the people.
And so with that control case out of the way for now, let us look at the freedom of "the press." What is "the press," and what does this right entail? It's not immediately so obvious what "the press" means. The meaning has gone through so many changes, alterations, and mutations that would make Charles Darwin blush. Because "the press" has evolved so fast and so furious semantically that it bears no resemblance to "the press" as known to Madison. And he was intimately familiar with it, because he used it extensively. His Federalist papers, like those of John Jay's and Alexander Hamilton's, were published by "the press" in two ways: first, in newspapers; second, in a bound book called The Federalist.
So what do we call "the press" now? It certainly doesn't function like "the press" of Madison's day. Because "the press" refers to a device that could print, publish, and make widely circulated sheets of paper. All we have to do is apply that understanding to the historical and current right of "the press."
Let's start with the question: "Who is the press?" The press is the person or group of people who use a specific device, "the press." These people may in fact be either amateur or professional, and they may be conducting profitable or non-profit activities.
What is that device? "The press," as its name implies, is a device that causes ink to be pressed onto a surface using pressure. It would not include engraving, marking, writing, or etching. And purely electronic devices, like the one you are reading now, are definitely not using "the press."
Is "the media" synonymous with "the press"? No. The media would include publishers of content that do not use "the press." Film, video, radio, World Wide Web, and electronic publishing "media" are not "the press." In fact "the press" is a small subset of what we understand as "the media."
When Madison or my best friend writes a letter, seals it in an envelope, and mails it to me, is this "the press"? Certainly not. A private letter writer is not "the press." Nor, in fact, would it be "the press" if the handwritten letter was posted on a street corner. Without "the press" and its duplication by pressure and by ink, the letter is just an open letter. It is not a protected right of the freedom of the press.
And so in conclusion, we should understand that "the media" has now been erroneously conflated with "the press" of Madison's day and the First Amendment right of the freedom of the press. It is with great fervor that I write this open letter to the media, informing them to cease their lies. The media in the US has spread the lie that Congress cannot regulate them, cannot abridge its First Amendment right to be free. The media needs to either go back to printing books, pamphlets, and newspapers, or be shown to be the charlatans that they are. There is no freedom of the media; only the press is free!
Thus, we can state emphatically that the original, ancient, and proper "freedom of the press" written about by James Madison, and understood by the founders of this nation, was for there to be a freedom to publish by the use of a machine called "the press." An obvious corollary of this is: modern media is not protected by the First Amendment, and therefore Congress should act to heavily restrict and squelch this modern media. We must heavily regulate and cripple this (new) media, all of which are unimaginably more powerful than the media of the eighteenth century. We need stiffer penalties for the unlicensed use of media. We need regulations to keep the media out of the hands of criminals. And we need common sense rules for even newer versions of "the press," which are now capable of publishing millions of newspapers, books, and (YES, I WILL SAY IT) magazines per day. This proliferation of large capacity media magazines must especially be curtailed. Just look at the countries which have stopped the presses, and see how successful they have been in controlling the media: Communist China, Laos, Iran, Venezuela, North Vietnam, *East Germany and the *U.S.S.R. (*rest in piece).
One final postscript. I hope that soon everyone will renew their understanding of the freedom of the real press and not the other media that doesn't press ink onto paper. As for the rest of the First Amendment, I hope everyone continues to question the false use of the "freedom of speech" to mean something else. Texting, web articles, email, typing, and singing are not protected by the First Amendment because they are not speech!
Philo-Publius, June 2016