[this is the first of a three-parter]
The Founding Fathers were well aware of the importance of a free press and its role in keeping the terrors of tyranny at bay. It’s not exactly a rocket scientist concept; it has a rather “yeah no kidding, stupid” sense about it for many of us. But humor me as we state the obvious. With today’s higher education system crapping out legions of morons, and Democrats lurking under every rock, we can’t assume everybody gets it intuitively.
The first principle of the three we shall cover: A controlled press is essential in keeping tyranny in place
To keep your tyranny secure, keep the people uninformed. Use the news media to show that you are their ally, that life outside the walls is worse than on the inside, and have them constantly in fear of enemies and circumstances against which you are the only defense. A large and formidable enforcement arm of the law is the “muscle” side of this equation, but if the people are well-informed and able to communicate, no amount of subjugation will keep them down. You will eventually be overthrown.
The Soviet Empire stood for 74 years
The Communists of the USSR reigned over Russia and cast its shadow over much of Asia from 1917-1991, give or take. Their military might was formidable, and they eventually expanded their reach to Southeast Asia, Central America, and Africa. But as the post-WW2 West blossomed in prosperity, technology, and opportunity, the people of the Soviet Empire lived in dirt-poor squalor not so terribly advanced from a century previous. As in any tyranny, the “haves” did pretty well though.
The Soviet Empire in large part kept power because the state-controlled media (Tass and Pravda) for decades made the people think that America wanted to overthrow the USSR, and that the whole world was just as dirt-poor as the Russian people were. Obviously a whole class of people were in the know, but for the most part, the masses were given no hope that there was a better life.
The collapse of the Soviet Empire was relatively sudden. Starting in 1985, reform-minded Premier Gorbachev instituted two policies, perestroika and glasnost (roughly translated restructuring and openness). To make a fantastically deep and long (and wonderful in spots) story into a bite-sized nugget, glasnost (openness) involved freeing political prisoners and relaxing control (somewhat) over the press.
The crack in the door of information flow became a torrent by 1987, as the masses of people displayed a great thirst for knowledge and information, and champions of truth emerged as if from the ground. In 1989 the Baltic States peeled off to independence, and the Empire fell entirely in 1991. That’s how quickly the Empire fell. Six years of freedom of the press.
The easy 1-2-3 lesson? If you want to keep your empire, don’t let the people listen to anything you don’t want them to hear.
Because I get windy, but I still want you to read it all, I’m breaking this Freedom of the Press essay into a series of three: Kept Press and Keeping Tyranny, Free Press Keeps a Free People, and When Government Watchdog Becomes Government Attack Dog.