Photo-Shopping the First Amendment

When I wasn’t paying attention, World Press Freedom Day came and went and now it’s ten days in the past tense, way off what serves for current copy. 

And yet there’s a shocking statistic that bears yanking us all back into taking another look.  Did you know—I certainly didn’t—that in country rank for free and unencumbered press, America is tied with Estonia, Latvia and Barbados at 24th out of the 194 countries ranked.

Barbados?  We rank with Barbados? Nothing against that lovely island nation, but gosh, we used to think of ourselves as leading the pack in that category.  Finland, Iceland and Sweden now lead that most attractive of lists and North Korea, Burma (I refuse to call it Myanmar), Cuba and Turkmenistan bring up the rear.

What the hell is going on? The first thing that springs to our lips when queried about our freedoms is that knee-jerk response that we pride ourselves in our freedom of the press. 

What the hell is going on is the current administration’s foisting off ‘infomercials’ as news stories, the whole ridiculous don’t-disturb-Robert-Novak flap, the pervasive hiding of war-crimes in Iraq, Bushies paying Armstrong Williams a quarter-million bucks to write nice things about No Child Left Behind and a series of successful stonewallings on democracy held in secret (ala Dick Cheney).

It seems the world noticed.

We Americans haven’t noticed all that much, but New York based Freedom House noticed and we sank like a stone on all three of the measurements they feel are basic to a free press in their annual rankings;

  • political influence on reporting and access to information
  • the legal environment in which media operate
  • economic pressures on content and dissemination of news

If we were a fifth grade class, we’d be held back a year for not working and playing well with others.

Ever since the advent of Adobe PhotoShop, we’ve become used to strange heads appearing on bodies other than their own.  Those of us who have the program and like to tinker with computers have all fooled the truth on a Christmas card or baby picture.  We’re comfortable with not really believing that Jeep got to the top of whatever rock it’s shown on and maybe that’s okay, but maybe it’s not, not without a disclaimer. 

It’s dangerously close to PhotoShopping the news to have an actor pretending to be a newsman while ‘reporting’ a ‘top story’ for those watching TV.  We don’t expect the Armstrong Williamses of our society to offer their opinions on an ‘as paid’ basis, but it’s been happening.  Stooges in the White House press room?  Not funny.

In a weird twist, our present day society points accusatory fingers at judges who follow the letter of the law and shrugs off conflicts of interest in reporting by our government, columnists, military, media outlets and virtually anyone who rates a press pass.

Every time there’s a jitter, such as the private pilot lost near the White House, the move Dick Cheney to ‘a secure location.’  I posit that America’s freedom of its press is more in need of a secure location than Dick Cheney.   

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