Media critic A.J. Liebling is reported to have said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” Those words, perhaps, express the feelings of many people who see the First Amendment as protecting newspapers, radio and television, perhaps protecting movies and advertising, but probably not having a whole lot to do with the individual. For many people, the First Amendment, as an abstraction, is of no value.
Well, this Friday, October 20, marks an anniversary of sorts, that vividly illustrates the principle that the First Amendment protections belong not just to the media, but to everyone.
During the evening of Oct. 20, 1953, on “See It Now,” Edward R. Murrow aired “The Case of Milo Radulovich,” the story of an Army lieutenant who worked as a weather forecaster.
Radulovich’s father was from Albania, and he regularly received letters and newspapers from “the old country.” In the eyes of the Army, this made young Milo a security risk: his father was from a Communist country, he maintained close contact with people in that Communist country, and therefore his son was a security risk.
Milo was on the verge of being cashiered out of the Army when Murrow found out about his case. After showing a series of interviews with Milo, his father, and a group of Army officials, the investigation was dropped, and Milo allowed to continue his Army career.
What happened here was that the media, in this case a fledgling television network, exercised its First Amendment rights to protect someone. Radulovich had no prior connection with the press or media; he had no connection with the media industry; he had no way to use the First Amendment on his own. Yet because of the First Amendment, his rights were protected.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, his is not an isolated case. Every day we see examples of people whose rights are being diminished by overzealous officials, by unwieldy regulations, by self-important bureaucrats.
It is the First Amendment that allows the media to expose these abuses and excesses.
Does the First Amendment belong to the press? Yes, it does. But in the same way it belongs to everyone, and anyone, who wants to use it.
I’m Larry Burriss.