By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
The US constitution defines three branches of the government: the Legislative branch (Congress) writes laws; the Executive branch (President) signs or vetoes laws; the Judicial branch (Court system) interprets the laws. This is a delicate balance of checks and ccounter checks For example, if Congress writes a law, it can be approved or vetoed by the president. If the president vetoes, there are methods to override this decision. Once approved, the court system interprets the new law (hence the importance of exact wording) and can strike down laws that violate the constitution. The legislative branch then can write new laws to replace new ones if the judicial branch is not interpreting the laws in a manner that the legislative branch agrees.
Every step, then, is checked and counter checked, and can be undone by other branches. But there is, nonetheless, a weakness. If this were the end of the scheme, then the entire federal gogovernmentould be a “closed system”, meaning that there would be no external accountability save the election cycle. Even elections would be a problem because a closed government could operate in such a manner that no information regarding its activities would be available, or the only information that got out would be dictated by the government.
Consider, for example, the government of North Korea. Under the dictatorial hand of Kim Jung-un, the flow of information is tightly controlled. There is no external news source, only an official state-run news organization. The news from this organization is controlled and written by the government, releasing only the information they request. Any external news reporting is not only illegal, but treated as espionage and just as heavily punishable. If you are thinking that this might be a good think, keep in mind that the citizens of North Korea, even as they struggle with food and starvation, view their “Supreme Leader” Kim Jung-un as infallible, but more, as God, in the literal sense.
I believe the Founding Fathers recognized this danger. If they write in a fourth branch of government, a reporting branch, this would close the final door of the closed-system government. Currently, Kim Jong-un has an 80% approval rating. How can it be so high? The real question should be how can the remaining 20% disapprove, when the only news they hear glorifies their leader, whether it is true or not, and blames any problems in the country on scapegoats. Even with the checks and balances of the US government, this government, as well, could easily fall into such disarray.
What keeps this from happening here in the US is the independent press. Although it is not a part of the constitutionally defined arrangement of the government, the first right guaranteed in the Constitution is that of a free press, including but not limited to free speech. This is not an amendment to the Constitution, it is built in as a guaranteed right. This guarantees a window into the workings of the government, put in place by the people and for the people.
In an earlier blog, I argued that news, all news, is biased. This is simply because it is written by human beings, and we, all of us, carry our biases with us. But the twist in this story is that these independent news agencies not only keep an eye on the government, but they watch each other as well. When a conservative news agency decries other news agencies and liberal, or vice versa, they are, at least to some small extent, correct. When both sides call a third news agency biased, then it is probably correct (we are seeing this today).
The current administration has embraced one particular news organization and disparaged virtually every other outlet. He has gone so far as to suggest that the other news organizations should be sued or perhaps even shut down. If you’ve understood what I have written above, you should recognize the danger of a single source, government controlled news agency or government selected series of news outlets. Even if you support the current president, I hope that anybody reading this recognizes the importance of halting the assault on the media.