As long as there have been positions of power, there have been those courageous few willing to speak truth to power. And as long as there have been those willing to speak truth to power, there have been those trying to throw them in jail.
As the invention of the movable type printing press spread literacy to the masses and paved the way for newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsheets, the idea of the free press as a “fourth estate” began to take shape. This concept of news media as a vital check on institutional governmental power was taken to heart by America’s founding fathers, who took care to preserve freedom of speech, and the freedom of the press in particular, as a contitutionally-enshrined right in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
…or so the story goes. In point of fact, tyrants have always strained against a truly free and independent press and it was less than a decade before the Federalists under President Adams began to eviscerate the First Amendment. In 1798 they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing “scandalous” or “malicious” criticism of the government. Under the laws, which lasted until their expiry in 1800 and 1801, over 20 newspaper editors were arrested and several imprisoned.
If this story tells us anything, it’s that the war on the free press is nothing new. But even given this “proud” American tradition, the overt threat to journalistic truthtellers in the US and around the world, even from within the ranks of journalism itself, is reaching a fever pitch. (see this and this and this and this)…