Got Rights? A panel of professors, journalists, and state officials gathered at Keene State College to discuss issues regarding the United States Constitution.
In a crowded Mountain View Room in KSC’s L.P. Young Student Center, panel members answered questions on constitutional issues regarding free press, government control, WikiLeaks, and their thoughts on the amendments and documents as a whole.
NH Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said he deals with this document on a daily basis and shared an anecdotal story regarding his pursuit of a murder suspect from the Dominican Republic.
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“We were able to get in touch with the chief of police in the Dominican Republic about this runaway guy, and he asked us, ‘What do you want us to have him say when we find him?’”
Strelzin expressed how surprised he was after the police chief asked him this and replied, “I just want you to find him so we can talk to him about it.” Strelzin tied this to how he thinks it is important that we have protection from instances like that through the rules and laws of the Constitution.
Panel member and KSC Professor of Journalism Chad Nye said, “My interests are in the First and Sixth amendments. Those amendments clash in what we call free trial versus free speech,” Nye said. “It’s an important battle to test the doctrine developed to mitigate the clash between those two.”
Nye mentioned the cases of the Oklahoma City Bombing, which he covered during his time as a broadcast journalist in Oklahoma, and more recently the murder trial of Casey Anthony as continuing conflicts that test the Constitution. He pointed to the Internet and social media outlets, referring to them as “new battlegrounds” for these clashes to appear.
Much time was given to issues of the press and how much the public knows and what the government allows it to know.
Donna Moxley, an editor at the Keene Sentinel and panel member, made reference to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy,” and how, if the protagonist in that book only looked at what was available to him, he would have known what to expect.
“That’s what journalism is all about,” Moxley said. “To ask questions, look at those plans, and inform the people on what is going on in their towns and in their country.”
Arnie Arnesen, a media commentator and former NH state representative, to quote James Madison, said, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.”
Arnesen stressed the importance of public knowledge of information and jokingly said, “It’s great for the government to classify everything because then you can’t know anything and you can’t make an informed decision.”
She also talked about the government’s increase in classifying documents, its attempt to make them secret, and said, “What they’re labeling as ‘secret’ is history, and the people that need to know better are the people that elect them, you all.”
Arnesen added that in 2010 a record 76 million classification decisions were given by the government.
To that Chuck Weed, NH state representative and KSC professor of political science, said, “In 1990 there were 14,000 people in Washington with the power to classify. My bet is that part of our problem in this country is we don’t know what the U.S. is doing with our name, with our tax dollars because we’re uninformed. I think the press has let us down and one of the best things to happen recently was WikiLeaks.”
Weed added how WikiLeaks takes an approach where they do not edit the material or put their own spin on stories, rather they simply make it available to the public.
“I think they do a great service and, yes, I think they should be treated like journalists,” Weed said.
“We need people like the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and WikiLeaks,” Arnesen said. “Unless you can expose it, how do you know where they’ve drawn the line?”
Strelzin, who works with secret information, said, “The information is secret for a reason, because the bad guys can’t know what I know or what I’m doing to try to catch them.” He mentioned his appreciation for the system of checks and balances and how it spreads the power out over everyone and does not leave one person with too much.
This year marks the 40 anniversary of the Pentagon Papers released by Daniel Ellsberg, as another topic of wiretaps and phone hacking was brought to the attention of the panel.
Nye addressed the state of journalism and said, “The amount of Americans taking in journalism has been on a downward slide in recent years.” Nye also pointed out the decreasing level of trust between journalists and their audience and said, “Broadcast journalists have fallen below used-car salesmen on the level of trust.”
Strelzin said, “The bigger the story, the competition is more intense when these stories are on a national level.”
Arnesen, mentioning the recent investigation into the wiretapping involving Rupert Murdoch, said, “They were able to fictitiously keep the story alive. It was all about money.” Of the story Arnesen also said, “It was both unethical and there was no justification for the murder.”
Media coverage, namely of the Casey Anthony trial in Florida, arose as another topic for discussion, in a question posed by an audience member.
“Florida was one of the first states that began experimenting with using cameras in the court rooms,” Nye said, “It allowed for more and more coverage of courtrooms.” Nye added he would like to see expanded use of video cameras in the federal courts.
Arnesen said, “Can you imagine if they covered the 2008 economic meltdown like they covered Casey Anthony? You would be outraged!”
Panelists also addressed the growing power in advertising and how it is taking more and more control over the media. Arnesen, who is also a former radio personality, said she lost her show because of advertising.
“Who demanded that I leave the radio but the biggest advertisers,” Arnesen said, “Because they didn’t want the facts out there that people can make an informed decision with.” Arnesen also said, “The line between advertisers and reports is getting more and more porous.”
At the closing of the day, when asked about people being informed and involved in the media, Weed cited I.F. Stone’s book “All Governments Lie,” insuring that people cannot rely on the government to get the truth.
Kevin Butler can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.