Wednesday, October 17, 2007


We're 48th!!!

An old Cold War joke: An American was bragging to a Soviet: “In America, if I want to go print in the paper that President Reagan is an ass, I have the freedom to do so". The Soviet smiled and said “In my country, I, too, have the freedom to print that President Reagan is an ass.”

I bring up this bit of nostalgia because it is time once again for the 2007 edition of the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Good news, we’re now 48th – up from 53rd – and I couldn’t be prouder.

Despite our progress, we apparently are still being held back by “…the detention of Al-Jazeera’s Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August..."

Here’s what I wrote last year about Sami Al-Haj:

“Sami al-Haj was first detained by Pakistani authorities before being transferred to U.S. authorities. He is surely not being held because the US thinks that the detention of an assistant Al-Jazeera cameraman will cripple word-wide reporting efforts.” Maryland Conservatarian: We're 53rd!!!

I’ll stand by that. As to the murder of Mr. Bailey, as tragic as that was, it is hardly a systemic indicator. The Oakland police have a suspect in custody and the investigation continues. It is certainly not being institutionally ignored or countenanced.

I also stand by my previous point that it is hard to believe that American journalists sit around moping that their counterparts in Slovakia (#3), Trinidad and Tobago (#20) and Nicaragua (#47) have it so much better than they do.

Our 1st Amendment is a model of brevity for what it seeks to outline:

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

But that freedom of the press is no greater a freedom than our freedom of speech; the press badge or a pay stub from the NY Times does not grant the holder any more freedoms, particularly from the responsibilities of citizenship - which is what many in the press seem to think is their due. It would be nice if the so-called working press respected our rights to free speech with anywhere near the fervor they express in trying to carve out special privileges for their work. If our reluctance to grant them additional rights and privileges beyond what the rest of us enjoy is what keeps us out of the Top 20 - so be it.

Side Notes: Denmark is ranked #8 but just try and publish a cartoon depicting Mohammed there…and which do you think is the better long-term bet: publishing something harshly critical of our President (see e.g. almost any editorial published by the NY Times since 2001) here in the US (ranked #48) or being consistently harshly critical of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua (#47)?

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