Home > Uncategorized > The Difference Between Free Speech And Free Press is Accountability

The Difference Between Free Speech And Free Press is Accountability

Let’s stop pussyfooting around the Shirley Sherrod story and go for the jugular. I don’t give a poop whether Andrew Breitbart and his Big Government website is a conservative post dead set on destroying the Democratic Party.

What I do care about is that Breitbart, artificially inflated with a profile in New Yorker Magazine and a darling contributor of false stories to Fox News, the Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh, fashions himself as a member of the “Free Press.”

He is not. He is only exercising his right of free speech under the First Amendment.

There is a difference. One of which the public needs to be educated.

A free press abides by a code of ethical standards. Breitbart and the ilk like him on both the conservative and progressive sides of the political spectrum do not.

How else can one explain the stampede to crush an innocent pawn such as Sherrod in the middle of a dispute over ideological turf of “getting even” with the NAACP for its audacity of calling out some fringes of the Tea Party movement “racists”?

There were more errors in judgment in the Sherrod story from the White House to the lowliest blogger such as myself than we saw by those officiating the World Cup games in South Africa.

Despite being caught cold turkey in his scam, Breitbart still probably will emerge a winner because he conned us. That’s his game. Not mine. He has the following in which the end justifies the means.

When these cyber sites start attracting a million hits a month, they no longer are rank amateurs expressing First Amendment privileges but stepped up the ladder to Free Press without accountability.

I interviewed Michael Grant today, a former columnist for the San Diego Union and TMV contributor. He is passionate about ethical standards in the news media and has called upon his colleagues to establish rules and standards for the millions of citizen journalists now writing blogs without a clue of ethics inherent in the craft.

Grant can draw on the resources of nearly 500 current and former employees of the former Copley newspaper chain. He is confident rules can be established and published but, as with me, doesn’t know how to enforce them. Yet.

“We have to educate readers the difference between free speech and a free press,” Grant said.

Greg Sargent, writing on his blog Plum Line, says an egg-on-his-face Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, offered this suggestion in an email to him that might spark “some soul-searching by members of the media about their willingness to legitimize bogus stories, particularly ones pushed by the right.”

Wrote Gibbs:

“Just as the Department of Agriculture and this Administration will review its actions, I also hope this starts a conversation in the media about how it operates.”

Says Sargent:

It drives the White House bananas when big news orgs are all too willing to demand responses to stories ginned up by the right before anyone determines whether they’re legit. That’s because this paradoxically confers more crediblity on them, making it harder to undo their damage once they’re shown to be bogus.

What’s remarkable about the Bretibart Sherrod story is he was so over the top, even conservatives balked.


“It’s unfortunate that whoever laid this out there didn’t lay out the whole story, as opposed to a part of it,” House Minority Leader John Boehner on Wednesday told journalists at a lunch function. “They only put a little piece of the story out there, and people make judgments and they rush and they make bad decisions.”

And Shepard Smith, an anchor at Fox News — which has heavily promoted Breitbart’s prior work — pointed out Wednesday that his show had not run the Sherrod video because Smith, who has bucked his network’s right-leaning tendencies, did not “trust the source,” calling Breitbart’s Big Government a “wildly discredited website” that posts “inaccurate” and “edited” videos.

In its editorial Thursday, the New York Times after crucifying the government and NCAAP handling of the Sherrod fiasco, wrote:

The administration’s haste to fire Ms. Sherrod was unfair and unseemly. She told of how an agriculture under secretary phoned her to demand she resign instantly via her BlackBerry. The official anxiously cited the likelihood the furor would “be on Glenn Beck tonight.”

By the time the conservative commentator took up the issue, the full transcript of the speech was out and Mr. Beck was citing Ms. Sherrod — but as a victim of administration recklessness. This time, he was right.

I would offer a simple bromide such as ignoring these ultra-biased websites which is the only way to muzzle them. Eventually, they will self destruct. But I won’t.

It’s not that simple. People want to read that crap. It reinforces their own preconceived notions how the world spins. In the days of the Bush administration, the liberal media from newspapers, network television stations and bloggers, were equally vicious.

Michael Grant, myself and Joe Gandelman, editor-in-chief and TMV founder, abide by those old newspaper standards. The formula works. TMV is slowly gaining traction as a respected, reliable forum despite some of us contributors falling off the wagon occasionally.

As for Breitbart, a seasoned publisher and entrepreneur, he should be ashamed for manipulating free speech for financial gain at the expense of the jobs he cost Sherrod and thousands of low-income ACORN employees.

According to Wikipedia:

In the hours immediately following Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death, Breitbart called Kennedy a “villain,” a “duplicitous bastard, a “prick,” and “a special pile of human excrement.”

Whether you agree with him or not, this is a man who wields a big stick who has earned it with slime on his hands.

For my conservative friends, I have equal disdain for the far left when they step from free speech into the free press arena. Mark my word. Their time will come. In another news cycle.

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