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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of September 4 - 10, 2002

Opinion Columns

Some Americans yearn for less freedom

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

What happened in Singapore to the global Bloomberg News Service should positively thrill a 49 percent slice of the American public.

Heavy-handed Singapore dictator Lee Kuan Yew gloated as Bloomberg (founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg) groveled, publicly apologized and paid a $334,000 fine for a column offensive to Yew.

The offense? A comment that Yew appoints his children and in-laws, short on skills, to powerful posts in government and government-owned businesses in acts of "nepotism" – that is, favoritism based on kinship.

Yew, who keeps Singapore media in line with tough laws, wants no imported First Amendment nonsense from U.S. media.

So, lest it be cut off from reporting from Singapore, Bloomberg prostituted its way back into the tyrant’s favor, but leaving Bloomberg news consumers wondering if they’re getting the truth out of Singapore.

Now, about that 49 percent of Americans.

According to a University of Connecticut Center for Survey Research and Analysis poll commissioned by the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., 49 percent believe the First Amendment goes too far with freedoms. They favor restrictions on the press, especially criticism of the military and government during wartime, plus allowing government agents to spy on religious activities, especially but not limited to Muslims.

That presents a chilling portrait of a future America with a watered down First Amendment. Americans would be under surveillance to prevent them from exceeding their rights.

We’re now getting a taste of heavy-handed government.

Attorney General John Ashcroft is clapping hundreds of alleged war on terror "suspects" in prison without benefit of hearings, without charges and without lawyers, and essentially telling inquisitive judges fretting about constitutional liberties to take a hike.

If press freedoms were limited because of President Bush’s ersatz "war" on terrorism, news organizations could face government reprisal for exposing Pentagon waste, criticizing connections of Secretary of the Army Thomas White to the corrupt Enron corporation, or reviling Vice President Cheney for secret negotiations with energy tycoons behind closed doors.

It might even be worse for pundits criticizing Bush’s threat to attack Iraq. If the press could be muzzled, would Bush critics in Congress be far behind?

Restricted freedom of speech obviously also would target hundreds of thousands of Internet chat rooms where language about government, politicians and the military gets irreverent. Ashrcroft told Congress he considers criticism unpatriotic aid to the enemy.

Who would decide which First Amendment freedoms should be rewritten and how far government could go in controlling the First Amendment? Attorney General Ashcroft?

The notion of government using muscle on media is spreading. CNN found itself bowing to pressure in Israel and Washington: CNN rushed its senior news executive, Eason Jordan, to Israel to apologize for its coverage when Israeli TV threatened to dump CNN; CNN president Walter Isaacson rushed to Capitol Hill to make peace with Republicans who claimed CNN was too liberal.

Count on this: the 49 percent that’s so enamored with less freedoms would howl bloody murder if speaking their mind to pollsters was restricted, or they were banned from writing nasty letters to the editor about their government.

The 49 percent seem to forget that less freedom means more tyranny.

But there’s this possibility: maybe the 49 percent – described by pollsters in an Associated Press report as adults without a college education, evangelicals and Republicans – actually want a world of controlled and limited information.

Eighteenth century English poet Thomas Gray had a lament for that mentality.

"Thought would destroy their paradise. No more; Where ignorance is bliss, ’Tis folly to be wise."



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