When a journalist disappears in Russia or is murdered in Iraqi Kurdistan, his or her colleagues in safer climes stand up to be counted. No one should be killed, tortured, or imprisoned for publishing information or opinions that the powerful find inconvenient. Organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19, and PEN regard it as their duty to defend writers’ and publishers’ rights, as PEN famously did for Arthur Koestler against Nazi tyranny in the 1930s. Index on Censorship, a publication with an honorable pedigree, came into existence to publish the samizdat articles and stories of writers who risked the gulag for expressing themselves.
In journalism schools, they teach aspiring reporters it is their duty to ferret out information the state and other power centers conceal that affects ordinary people’s lives. Bringing information to the governed about their governors is the breath of democracy, the exposure that animates liberty’s spirit, and a necessary check against the world’s imbalances in wealth and power. When Upton Sinclair revealed the way meat was packaged in America in The Jungle, when Lincoln Steffens told the truth about municipal government corruption, when Ida Tarbell exposed the Standard Oil Company to public scrutiny, when I. F. Stone published the truth behind the Gulf of Tonkin lies that Lyndon Johnson used as an excuse to escalate the war against Vietnam (the Weapons of Mass Destruction of its time), when Seymour Hersh reported the American massacre at My Lai, when Ray Coffey of the Chicago Daily News broke the story of America’s illegal bombing of Laos, did their colleagues rise as one to defend them?
The hell they did. A few stood with the investigators, but most condemned them. Hearst columnists and other guardians of the public’s right to ignorance railed against the muckrakers for betraying American values. Who could be against Rockefeller and Standard Oil apart from a traitor? The good burghers of the popular press turned on them like a pack of hounds for questioning the wisdom of duly (albeit corruptly) elected rulers and daring to publish documents that God had deigned as comprehensible only to a bureaucratic inner circle.
Read the rest of this article in Taki’s Magazine.