The University of Connecticut has just published a study of high school students and their attitudes about the freedom of the press.
And, apparently, our school system is busy turning out a fresh crop of fascists. One third said the press in this country needed to be restricted in what they can say. Thirty-six percent said that the government should approve all news stories before they’re allowed to run.
This isn’t cute. Most folks here have never actually read the Constitution, and that’s fine, I suppose. This creates embarrassing moments, however. Back during the sixties, smart-ass protesters used to hand innocent civilians two pieces of paper (pretending to be part of a study), and asked if the person agreed or disagreed with what was written on each sheet.
It was fairly frightening to watch. One sheet listed the Bill of Rights (without identifying it as such)… and average “man in the street” types often found that document offensive. Too many risky rights, too many uncontrolled freedoms. Made people nervous.
The other sheet was a list of talking points from an Adolf Hitler speech in the thirties (his name did not appear on the paper)… and a lot of folks agreed with what that nutcase had to say about reigning in bad elements and setting up restrictive rules. Just what this country needed — a little hard-nosed authority.
Of course, fights often broke out when the smug students pointed out that you’d just trashed the foundation of our democracy, and gave a thumbs up to totalitarianism. The sixties were like that, you know. Lots of fighting. Lots of ideological trickery.
Now, it’s easy to see why a writer would want to enshrine the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”). I wanna write what I wanna write, and who the hell are you to tell me I can’t write about “that”. And — as infuriating as the press can be — it’s the ink-stained wretch who mans the front line of liberty here. Not the politician. Not the entertainer. Not the latest incarnation of Elmer Gantry.
It’s the journalist.
However, it’s not quite so easy to see the connection of all this to business. But it’s there — and it’s critical. The U.S. is the leader in entrepreneurial projects… and it’s because of the First Amendment. Us upstarts can go against entrenched corporations for a piece of the pie because we are able to lay out our offers, in front of God and everybody. Without unfair restrictions.
And let the best marketer get the sale.
Other countries are only now starting to catch on. Every marketing seminar I go to now has an astonishing high number of people from Asia, Europe, Australia, even South America. They’re getting the hang of hard-ball direct marketing… but ten years ago, it was almost unheard of outside of the U.S.
We’re spoiled. We’re not just comfortable with the right to say what we please, without fear… we take it for granted. The rest of the world is still acting like a kid who just said a dirty word at the dinner table… and they’re waiting to see what the reaction of authority will be.
So far, so good. I know a 21-year-old kid in Japan who is using what he’s learned from me and others to make a killing over there. That market has never seen this kind of advertising message before. And they’re eating it up. Next stop: China.
Meanwhile… America seems to be sliding backwards. Two kids out of every five think the government should approve stories before they get published? Are you friggin’ kidding me?
Yeah, yeah, I know there are restrictions on what we can say. Can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, can’t promise a pill will make you lose weight while you sleep, can’t slander someone. But most of these restrictions involve some type of damaging larceny or lying.
As of today, however, you still can’t get thrown in the hoosegow for telling the truth. The burden of proving what you say may be on your shoulders at times, but we still have the power of the First Amendment behind us.
And it truly is one powerful mutha. You want that amendment on your side. You want it watching your back, even if you don’t regularly write incendiary stuff. Cuz the road to fascism starts with allowing someone else to start censoring what you think and say.
So do yourself a favor. Google the Bill of Rights, and download it. (The copy I just printed from usinfo.state.gov is all of one and a half pages long.) The Constitution laid out the workings of the government… and these amendments were added to ensure that individuals were still, without question, top dog in the country. Regardless of your status.
This was radical stuff two centuries ago, and it’s still causing a fuss.
And even good people don’t quite understand what that fuss is all about. Your neighbors, often, are quite willing to trash the Bill of Rights, because they don’t see how it affects them personally.
Don’t be like them. It won’t kill you to read up on the foundation of the society that has created such a wonderful business climate for you. You know I’m not a sappy guy… but people died for this. People died so you have the right to use balls-to-the-wall copy to sell your widgets online.
That is not a small thing.
And never forget that there are people out there who despise these freedoms. They aren’t all foreigners, either. Some of them are growing up next door.