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Caseythoughts Even though I spent almost twenty years on radio in the 'news/talk' format, and am also a self-admitted 'news junkie', there are days when I just don't want to listen to it all. Not having owned a television for almost two decades, 'turning it off' means refusing to listen to radio for an unspecified period of time... maybe a day, maybe two. Right wing, left wing, news, opinions, I hit the point more and more frequently when I say out loud 'enough' and go into a self imposed hiatus on listening to broadcast news and opinion.

These past two weeks have been deluges of more arguments about the Second Amendment, but I have begun to fear that perhaps the real threat to the Bill of Rights, OUR Bill of Rights, is to the First Amendment. Let me give you a few examples, starting with our so-called state assemblywoman in Albany, Barbara Lifton, and the scene is the Ithaca Town Hall last Friday evening. On February 23rd, Ms. Lifton scheduled a well publicized town meeting at the Ithaca Town Hall (a public space). The public invited to 'share their thoughts and concerns'. When at least one news organization (WSKG, out of Binghamton) showed up to record the event, Ms. Lifton immediately told them they were not welcome to record the event in any way, and demanded they stop recording, stating this would intimidate and inhibit the attendees. She then delayed the meeting for an extended period of time while discussing by phone with an unnamed attorney, while it was pointed out by the public that the media had a perfect right to be at and record the meeting, asserting the right to a free press. The meeting eventually proceeded, and several asked the wry question: 'Intimidated? Ithaca?' Just where did this arrogance on the part of Assemblywoman Lifton have its genesis?

I would like to suggest that she scheduled it on a Friday evening with full knowledge and intent knowing that local media would not show up on a Friday evening, and my radio experience consistently confirms this: there is no news coverage after Friday afternoon until at least Monday morning in this area, and Lifton must have been shocked and distressed to realize she had been flummoxed in her effort to muzzle the media (she doesn't give interviews, either).

Of course, it's not too difficult to ignore or minimize the media in Ithaca. The radio station that touts its 'news' credentials in its marketing phrase (my former employer, in the interest of full disclosure) never even mentioned (or perhaps was even aware) of this incident at Ithaca Town Hall. Nary a peep about this flagrant affair on their news broadcast Monday the 26th. Because they weren't there, and apparently neither was any other organization which purports to report 'news'. Maybe not surprising: this 'news' station is one of nine stations in Tompkins County owned by one man in Michigan, who owns over seventy stations in the country (mainly in college and military towns). Cayuga Radio Group is merely a dba; the company's name is Saga Communications, publicly traded on the NY Stock Exchange, and has a strangle-hold on local radio news coverage, if such coverage can be called that. And, with this monopoly, shockingly, not a peep of protest from Ithacans.

And, with the same wonderment, Ithaca's pay print news is also in the strangle-hold of a monopoly called Gannet, the international oligarchy. The Ithaca Journal's masthead should read 'DIS-established in 2015'. And Ithaca raises not so much as a peep of protest at this diminution of their ability to know what is going on locally, or the world. So much for a 'free press' (including broadcast) which could be interpreted (and has been by court opinion) as the right of the people to be given every opportunity to express opinions and know the source of these opinions and events that are neither censored, nor are they restricted by neoliths of media concentration.

Yet, we are now debating issues concerning censorship and 'free speech' following a deluge of fake news, allegations of fake news, planted articles and photo-shopped pictures, and demands that FaceBook, Google and Twitter (who together are pulling down a lion's share of advertising revenues in the world) monitor and police their content. How will they do that without damaging free and unfettered expression? We have no 'local' and honest outlets for our news and opinions, although we have a few free print sources with, frequently, very one sided news and opinions, not surprising in a college town. To exacerbate this trend, a tech savvy area like ours gets much of its news by default online: and now many are demanding a form of censorship, while our outlets are disappearing one by one.

Item: Amy Wax, a distinguished professor of law at Penn Law School, wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled 'Paying the Price For the Breakdown of the Country's Bourgeois Culture'. It was controversial, but it was, again, an op-ed from a distinguished law professor. But, it was not what would be described as 'politically mainstream', in other words, to the right of center politically. What happened? A raft of screaming letters calling her a racist, sexist, xenophobic hate speech purveyor. Demands that she be removed from the classroom, without a rational discussion of the issues raised by her editorial. Labels and accusations with no rational debate on the points.

Item: The Cornell Daily Sun reported that Cornell Republicans are inviting former VP Dick Cheney to campus and have been notified that 'due to threats of demonstrations and disturbances' they will probably be billed $17,000 for security. No purported 'left wing' speaker has prompted threats of demonstrations or potential disturbances of the peace, or potential of billing a campus club for security.

Item: A Muslim female civil rights attorney reports in Wired Magazine that when she expressed ambivalence about American Memorial Day (not anything close to condemning it, just questioning the loss in the Middle East of thousands of lives with American military presence) that she has legitimate fears for her life; death threats on the internet and various 'troll sites'. She states: 'Some right wing supporters of the military will say the army men died to preserve my freedom of speech (she is American born citizen, by the way). But if I use that speech, they say they want to kill me.'

Item: Ben Shapiro, co-founder of The Daily Wire, is an outspoken 'Never Trump'-er who is also a conservative columnist. When he posted on his blog his gratitude to God for the birth of his son, he 'immediately got a flood of anti-Semitic messages including gas chamber memes from the alt-right'. He says that complaining to Twitter would result in Twitter arbitrarily deciding 'who to ban', so he decided in the interest of freedom of expression to just 'accept the garbage'.

Item: The University of Chicago will be hosting a speech by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former Svengali. Turns out that student body meetings have decided that peaceful, silent protest is a better example of campus freedoms, not violent or extreme dissent. Free speech, yes? But over 100 professors are proposing (demanding?) a ban on his appearance due to their descriptions of Bannon's 'xenophobic, racist hate speech'. Seems the students might have a better idea of their freedoms and responsibilities than their ivory tower teachers.

Item: When Congressman Tom Reed attempts to have a 'town hall' meeting in Tompkins County, he is shouted down by people who not only disagree with him, but have decided that he does not have a freedom to express his opinions when asked a question by a constituent. His right to speak his opinion (whether deemed right or wrong) is being denied by those who feel his opinions are just mirrors of the Trump White House (resist, as opposed to oppose: big difference). Maybe his opinions are the party line of the Trump administration, but that does not diminish his right as an American, does it?

I have heard it said more than a few times over the years that without the First Amendment (freedom of speech, press, religion, and to assemble peaceably) the other nine 'rights' in the Bill of Rights are moot. People on the left AND right (Man, I'm really beginning to despise those descriptors) that are denied the right to freely express their opinions are having their citizenship diminished. And it's not just a matter of shouting down those whose opinions are not mainstream: it's also depending more and more on anonymous, self-serving, distant purveyors of news and opinions and then finding ourselves accepting what we're being shown and told (Russian disinformation and altered photos are at the top of this list, but a gradual elimination of diverse news sources also play into this). Then, here we are demanding that news be filtered and checked by humans (without prejudice or bias?) or algorithms while we argue about standards of truth, correctness, or the full story.

I think and feel that we are being threatened as a free people by megaliths who control our news and thinking: Saga Communications who controls most of Ithaca radio, Gannet who controls a majority of the print media, Spectrum eliminating PBS broadcasters from their basic lineup, college professors and radical groups like antifa who purport to know 'the truth' and all of these are squelching our need, and hunger, for news and knowledge that will be accompanied by thoughtful debate and discussion. Not to mention so called government representatives (read: Lifton, but there are many more) who feel that their lack of reasonable opposition entitles them to muzzle the media at public events.

We're on a slippery slope here, perhaps already twisting and turning, out of balance, waving our arms like out of control skiiers, allowing ourselves to be told what's news, what's acceptable, what's OK to ban or shout down, without a real understanding that while the words of the First Amendment may stand, we are allowing the meaning of those words to be hollowed out by purveyors of less than truthful media, court decisions which diminish our freedom to express our opinions and choose our media outlet, as well as arbiters of what 'truth' might be on any given day. We're in a danger zone these days, all of us, regardless of our political persuasion, and it's not about forbidding the 'yell of fire in a crowded theater'. It is, as Thomas Jefferson said in reference to another Constitutional crisis which eventually led to Civil War, a 'fire bell in the night'. And we're watching it. Wired called it the 'Golden Days of Free Speech', not without irony and fear.

This opinion brought to you by the unedited, unapologetic First Amendment. May we continue to honor it, defend it, and just as importantly, understand it in all of its imperfection.

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