Censorship in the Heartland

By Michael Kleen

Published August 13, 2012 at Disclosure News

As fans of Disclosure know, I recently returned to Charleston, Illinois to publish a Disclosure franchise called Disclosure Heartland. Starting a newspaper of this kind is not easy. It takes hard work, a lot of travel, and a lot of time and money. It is hard enough on its own without all the obstacles put in its way.

What obstacles are those, you ask? Well, it turns out that some of our good friends and neighbors do not like when a new newspaper comes to town, especially not one like Disclosure. It is not just a sense of competition with the other local newspapers, although there is that too. It is a hostility to the very notion of a news outlet daring to shed light on things that many people would rather not be seen.

For most of my life I had a rather naïve understanding of the place of the press in this country. Of course I understood that most newspapers shied away from controversy for any number of reasons, whether it be to placate advertisers, to follow a particular political or social agenda, or simply out of laziness.

Regardless, I always assumed that it was the news outlet that dictated its content, and everyone else respected the importance of the press and its place in our society. I naïvely believed that even if an individual person disagreed with a newspaper and quit buying it, stores, libraries, and other traditional news vendors and providers would happily offer as many sources of news as their patrons were willing to read.

In the United States, we hold freedom of the press to be a pillar of our society. It is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution—among the first right in the Bill of Rights. It is sacred, is it not?

Wrong. What I have learned in the few weeks since releasing the first issue of Disclosure Heartland is that some people have no problem at all with suppressing freedom of the press, as long as the press is reporting something that they do not like.

First there was the librarian in tiny Martinsville, Illinois, who declined to order our paper for the public library there because she did not agree with statements made by eyewitnesses interviewed for one of our articles. Worse, her husband and she had been marginally involved in the case discussed by the article in question. She apparently had no problem with using her position at the library to suppress information that contradicted her understanding of events.

Did it matter that the article was one of many and did not even appear in the section devoted to the county in which her library patrons reside? No. So not only was she perfectly willing to keep that story from her patrons, but she felt the entire newspaper should be kept from them as well, because her personal gripe superseded their right to read other news of concern to the public.

It would be like a liberal librarian banning a newspaper because she did not like the conservative views of one of its columnists (or vice versa). Only this is worse because this individual is specifically trying to suppress information about a case as a result of her own involvement.

Then there was the manager at a gas station in Paris, Illinois, who made it her personal mission to convince the regional manager to pull Disclosure Heartland after only two days on the shelves, because she was friends with one of the sheriff’s deputies written about in one of our articles. Her reasoning? Our newspaper is full of “rumors” and “attacks local law enforcement.”

If by “rumors” she meant “court documents and eyewitness testimony” and by “attacks local law enforcement” she meant “reports on a judge removing civil immunity from a pair of local sheriff’s deputies after they were sued for illegally strip searching a woman,” only then would she come close to making accurate statements about the publication.

But “facts” are not important when you are trying to protect your friends. And make no mistake about it, this woman, along with countless others, see reporting of controversial events involving friends, family members, or even authority figures, no matter how accurate, as a personal affront. Once it becomes personal, there can be no changing their minds, even when you point out that the content of the paper as a whole might be of interest or importance to others.

Freedom of the press in this country is in serious trouble when two people with personal agendas can so easily banish a news publication from store and library shelves. And if it is so easy for individuals with their own agendas to do so, imagine what a concerted effort on the part of a group of people with a political agenda could do.

We can fight back by being just as vocal in support of freedom of speech and of the press as some people are in their opposition to it. A fully functioning republic needs an independent media that is not afraid to tell citizens what is really going on their communities just as much as it needs people who are not afraid of an independent press. Because without it, that sacred right—that first right that our forefathers fought to establish and preserve—is just a fantasy.

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