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Why the First Amendment matters to you

Those of us in the news business love the Thomas Jefferson quote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

In fairness, at a less happy moment Jefferson, who was our third president and the author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote: “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”

That is the magic of our country’s freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Democracy and capitalism are messy. Sometimes they make people mad – even such a staunch defender of free speech as Thomas Jefferson. But at the heart of the messiness is the secret sauce of free government and free markets: free speech and a free press.

Both democracy and capitalism are based on individual decision-making. We each vote for who our government leaders should be. We each choose what we buy and sell, where we work, where we live. In a free society, no dictators or kings or autocrats or government functionaries make those decisions for us.

But making smart decisions requires an abundant and free flow of information. Without full information, you can’t make the best decisions for your family, your business or your government.

It is part of the enduring genius of our country’s founders: The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures the free flow of information.

Today is the beginning of Sunshine Week, a 10-year-old national effort to highlight the importance of open government and freedom of information. At The News, we fight every day for access to information. But the First Amendment creates no special privilege for news organizations. The rights we have are your rights. When they are curtailed, you lose.

News organizations are sometimes accused of favoring one side or another. On cable TV and the Web, you can find outlets that value opinion more than fact. But at The News, the only thing we favor is providing the most information possible – good or bad, pretty or ugly – so that you can make the best decisions in your lives.


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