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Letter writer: Freedom of press depends on truth


Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

In response to Ms. Beck’s column of Aug. 16: I commend her praise for journalism, which demands a free press. But it also demands honesty, as rooted in the famous Zenger trial, in which she missed the most important part:

In November 1733 John Peter Zenger of the N.Y. Weekly Journal accused William Cosby, the despotic British governor of New York, of corrupt politics.

Cosby was furious, the opposing paper fired back, and the fight was on until Chief Justice James DeLaney charged Zenger with seditious libel, and Zenger was jailed.

But he had friends who brought his printing material into his cell, allowing the gutsy journalist to continue his attacks until his trial in November 1734.

Zenger’s case seemed hopeless. He had broken the law, DeLaney was Cosby’s cat’s-paw, and few if any lawyers cared or dared to represent him — until Philadelphia’s Andrew Hamilton, “the most prominent attorney in Briton America,” took the case, full of fight. The trivial trial became a genuine drama.

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“The question,” Hamilton argued, “is not whether Zenger attacked the governor, but whether his statements are true! … It is not the cause of a poor printer, nor of New York alone … It is the cause of liberty … of exposing and opposing arbitrary power … by speaking and writing the truth!”

The jury listened closely. Their verdict: not guilty. Zenger was freed and continued to print. Hamilton had set a powerful precedent that has been ours for nearly three centuries: journalists are free to publish as long as they tell the truth.

Unfortunately, certain media, having already abandoned truth with coverups, and furious after the 2016 election, have gone wild in untruths. CNN, NBC and others on the air, and certain once-great newspapers — yes, even the New York Times — have caused public distrust in our journalism.

Happily, much of our media are still patriots, refusing to print, speak or broadcast lies or unproven facts. Among others, Fox News leads the truthful TV and radio, along with many newspapers who — along with “we the people” — remember that freedom of the press must depend on truth.

Dorothy Cave Aldrich

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