In the editorial page of March 27 Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan, the deputy editorial features editor, attacked both James and Rupert Murdoch as "obvious prostitutes" for expressing their own views about China (a.k.a. as Freedom of Speech) and using news media under their control "to promote social-democratic governments" in Britain and Australia (a.k.a. as Freedom of the Press). In doing so, and abrogating their First Amendment right to express unfashionable opinions, he claims:

"From a philosophical perspective, the essence of James Murdoch's position, like that of his father, is contempt for the First Amendment bargain: to wit, that news media are generally protected from government interference on the understanding that they act as a check on government."

Has The Wall Street Journal Re-Invented the First Amendment?


There is no basis in fact for the bargain: that Tunku Varadarajan asserts exist. The First Amendment (passed in 1791) states unconditionally, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." It derives from the assumptions of John Stuart Mill and other liberal theorists, that the free market of ideas produces right conclusion if, and only if each member of the press (or public) is free the views he prefers to express. "The best test of truth," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market." The First Amendment, under this logic, serves not just the person who expresses of a view, but the public interest.

The claim in the Wall Street Journal that there is a condition to the First amendment, "an understanding" that journalists "act as a check on government" is a dangerous invention. What other "bargain" does the Wall Street Journal have in store?

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