In the editorial page of March 27 Wall Street Journal,
Tunku Varadarajan, the deputy editorial features editor,
attacked both James and Rupert Murdoch as "obvious prostitutes"
for expressing their own views about China (a.k.a. as
Freedom of Speech) and using news media under their
control "to promote social-democratic governments" in
Britain and Australia (a.k.a. as Freedom of the Press).
In doing so, and abrogating their First Amendment right
to express unfashionable opinions, he claims:
"From a philosophical perspective, the essence of
James Murdoch's position, like that of his father, is
contempt for the First Amendment bargain: to wit, that
news media are generally protected from government interference
on the understanding that they act as a check on government."
Has The Wall Street Journal Re-Invented the First
There is no basis in fact for the bargain: that Tunku
Varadarajan asserts exist. The First Amendment (passed
in 1791) states unconditionally, "Congress shall make
no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press." It derives from the assumptions of John Stuart
Mill and other liberal theorists, that the free market
of ideas produces right conclusion if, and only if each
member of the press (or public) is free the views he
prefers to express. "The best test of truth,"
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "is the power
of thought to get itself accepted in the competition
of the market." The First Amendment, under this
logic, serves not just the person who expresses of a
view, but the public interest.
The claim in the Wall Street Journal that there is
a condition to the First amendment, "an understanding"
that journalists "act as a check on government"
is a dangerous invention. What other "bargain"
does the Wall Street Journal have in store?