This is Chapter One of a three part short story on a Free Press.
Charles had a hard time sleeping that night. Next Wednesday was a very big day for him as he had an important presentation to give. He was not worried about what to say or how to fill the time allotted; that was all prearranged by the host. He knew that the host’s staffers were busy vetting the “real people” who would be reading the carefully prepared questions.
Charles was both excited and scared to be in the presence of American “royalty” and wanted to look his best. He was really worried that his glasses would slip down his nose and make him appear condescending as they did for his interview with Sarah. On that occasion, it was not so bad as most of his friends hated her anyway; she deserved to look bad. He smiled as he remembered all of the compliments he received on that interview.
This interview, however, was different; this would be almost like talking to god. As he mentally went through his wardrobe thinking about what suit he would wear, like some who count sheep to sleep, he dozed off only to be awakened by a sound coming from his closet. He was still a little fuzzy, but he distinctly heard something in his closet. “Was it a burglar?” he thought. As he rose to investigate, he started to wish that he had a gun, although he knew and had reported on numerous occasions how guns kill. He would feel more secure if he had one now; this was Washington D.C. after all.
As he was about to open the closet door, someone called out his name from behind. He was startled by the voice and turned quickly. A misty figure appeared above his bed. It was an older man dressed in clothes from hundreds of years ago. His clothes were a bit tattered and he actually looked a little familiar. “Who are you?” Charles asked.
“I am Thomas, the ghost of Free Press past.” the figure replied. Then it dawned on Charlie that this must be Thomas Edison. “What a great dream this was going to be.” Charles thought to himself. “Dream! This is no dream.” The figure screamed. “And my last name is Paine not Edison. What did they teach you at Princeton anyway? You try my soul!”
“What do you want here old man?” Charles shouted nervously. Paine replied that “I am here to take you on a journey to free press past. We founding fathers, you know we really did not call ourselves that, took great pains to ensure a free press when we prepared the foundation for America. We have been troubled over your mainstream media for many a decade, but recent trends have us petrified and you need to learn about the past. It is time for us to leave.”
Charles protested, but Thomas Paine would hear none of it and off they flew into the night. It was not the Peter Pan kind of flight, but more of the Star Trek kind of disappear from one spot and reappear in another spot kind of action. Much manlier Charles thought to himself.
They seemed to have landed in a dusky room filled with men dressed much like Mr. Paine. There were heated voices, arguments, and many side conversations. The men in that room seemed to be doing something very important. Charles had seen men dressed like this on his last visit to Colonial Williamsburg. He tried to talk to some of the men, but they ignored him. Charles was hurt. Didn’t they know who he was?
“They cannot see or hear you.” The ghost of Thomas Paine said. That made Charles feel better as he was the anchor newsreader on his network. That was a very important position. Charles was perturbed for a bit then was distracted from his self-indulgence by the voices in the room. The men seemed to be debating “free press.” As he finally looked around he recognized one of the men in the room; it was James Madison. The men were discussing what language to use to outline some article. This task seemed of utmost importance to the men; Charles had never experienced this type of intensity. He realized that the men with Madison were also politicians and they were preparing some document.
Charles did not understand this as everyone knew that legislation was prepared by congressional staffers and never even read by Congress or the media. Charles realized that this must be the way laws were passed in the old days. He thought to himself, “Why didn’t they teach me this at Sidwell Friends School or at Princeton University?”
His thoughts were interrupted by the ghost of Thomas Paine, “The educators in your life did not truly understand the importance of the Founding Fathers work. By the time you were in school, the Constitution was considered a relic and needed to be treated as a living document. A document modified to suit the needs of whatever party is in power.” he said. “Many now forget the sacrifice we made to ensure their freedom, your freedom. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”
Charles did not really understand all of this, but was too embarrassed to ask him to repeat it. The words the ghost of Thomas Paine were not Common Sense. Charles’ thoughts were interrupted when he noticed that the ghost was looking at him. “You would do well to pay attention.” The ghost scolded. As Charles was about to complain, he heard one of the men begin to read aloud.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Read James Madison. The other men nodded in agreement, obviously satisfied with the text. They quickly went back to work.
“These men risked a great deal to ensure freedom of the press, a freedom that you don’t seem to comprehend. Freedom of the press is not just being able to print or broadcast as you wish. It is a commitment to keep separate the free press and those in political power.” The ghost said. “My pamphlets helped Americans understand our government and I was privileged to be a part of that history even if those in your time fail to learn from our lessons.”
Charles could feel the heat rising from within and up his neck. He would not take any more lectures from this ghost. As he was about to speak, he awoke in his bed. He looked around for, but could not find the ghost. Charles thought, “Maybe that was all just a bad dream? I did have Indian food for dinner and the curry was pretty strong,”
Charles settled back in his bed, but a thought crept into his mind just as sleep arrived;
“The press is impotent when it abandons itself to falsehood.”
Chapter Two can be found here.