THE PRESS ON TRIAL!----TODAY--- AND IN 1735
The chief White House strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, has told the press to “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” The press should listen and maybe will listen---to History.
The battle between Bannon and the press may have an interesting parallel from 283 years ago. Back in January 1734, John Peter Zenger was accused of seditious libel for printing in his weekly newspaper, the New York Journal, strong criticisms of the British governor of New York, William Cosby.
Zenger attacked Cosby as a “rogue” for committing “public wickedness.” He called Cosby “spiteful, greedy, jealous.” Zenger was put on trial. A distinguished Philadelphia lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, defended him.
Even though Chief Justice De Lancey told the jury that the mere publication of the libels meant that Zenger was automatically guilty, Hamilton insisted that wasn’t so. If the words printed in the Journal were true, the lawyer said, then Zenger should be acquitted.
Hamilton declared: “The question before the court----and you gentlemen of the jury---is not of small or private concern. It is not the cause of a poor printer nor of New York alone…it may in its consequences affect every freeman that lives under the British government on the main of America! It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty!”
Hamilton said that the people of the colonies had a right, “the liberty both of exposing and opposing arbitrary power—in these parts of the world at least----by speaking and writing the truth!”
The jury ignored the admonition of the chief justice and, after only a few minutes of deliberation, returned a verdict of “Not Guilty.” The courtroom burst into cheers. And a great victory had been achieved for freedom of the press.
Getting back to the present, Stephen Bannon says “the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
He added: “I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still don’t understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
Hamilton said, back in 1735, that the press has “a right publicly to remonstrate against the abuses of power in the strongest terms.” But Bannon says, in 2017, that the media is the opposition party and President Trump calls journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.”
The French have a saying: The more the world changes, the more it stays the same.
BY: Gabe Pressman