Jan 24, 2011 9:44 am


I know I am waving a red flag in front of free speech absolutists, but I am livid. For the second time in the past couple of weeks, ambitious reporters and their editors not only knowingly put their careers ahead of the safety of their fellow citizens but did so during a time of war. I am referring, of course, to Donna Priest and her Washington Post editors and to James Risen and Eric Lichblau and their New York Times editors. The Law dictionary defines"prior restraint" thus:

an attempt to prevent publication or broadcast of any statement, which is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and free press (even in the guise of an anti-nuisance ordinance). Stemming from the First Amendment to the Constitution, the ban on prior restraint allows publication of libel, slander, obvious untruths, anti-government diatribes, racial and religious epithets, and almost any material, except if public security or public safety is endangered (false claim of poison in the reservoir or exhortation to commit a crime like a lynching) and some forms of pornography. The theory, articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Near v. Minnesota (1931) is that free speech and free press protections have priority, and lawsuits for libel and slander and prosecutions for criminal advocacy will curb the effect of defamation and untruths. Most other nations permit prior restraint by court order or police action when the material appears to be defamatory (hurtful lies), salacious (nasty), or"improper, mischievous, or illegal" (in the words of Sir William Blackstone).

In his recent press conference, President Bush intimated what David Brooks asserts: We have to"face the fact that the odds of an attack on America just went up." If so, President Bush should have sought an injunction to prevent the publication of the articles and the upcoming book containing those revelations on the basis that they will"endanger public safety."

The fact that there is a heavy presumption against such an injunction should not have prevented the attempt. On the contrary, it would have communicated to both reporters and their"anonymous sources" the seriousness with which those placed by the American people in charge of their safety take their irresponsible revelations. Similarly, it would have forced judges to reevaluate anew the proper balance between national security, public safety, and free speech, not to mention have bought all of us some invaluable time.

The recent Pew poll revealed the growing disconnect between the American people and the liberal elite dominating the media. These recent irresponsible revelations merely served to exacerbate the unhealthy schism. Power corrupts and unlimited power corrupts absolutely. Since at this moment, it is the media which enjoys unlimited power, it is absolutely time to challenge the judiciary to restraint it.

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Lorraine Paul - 12/28/2005

Are you sure? I would hardly lay that title on Rupert Murdoch.