In new era, plenty of voices

Defining truth has always been a challenge. In this era of information hysteria, finding reality has unique challenges. Yet as independent thinkers who value free speech and a free press, we need to be vigilant in safeguarding the quest for truth via a free stream of information.

How does a person even define free speech in an era when relatively new information technologies also double as digital venues for entertainment? The First Amendment has long been a beacon to guide us toward freedom of speech and information. There’s no question the Enlightenment-era Amendment was intended to promote free-ranging political debate. But as the country ages, all sorts of “free speech” have emerged, including the right of celebrities to mouth off and of racist organizations to march and demonstrate.

Free speech and political expression were at work in the KKK rally I witnessed in 1985.

They vindicate Kathy Griffin’s disgusting display of the President’s head.

An errant Roseanne Barr tweet and its subsequent fallout find shelter together under this crucial amendment.

Generous interpretations of the First can turn kneeling football players into crusading heroes for truth and justice. Framed differently, these same athletes are employees shirking their duty and whiners with no respect for the fighting forces that have kept America free.

Where’s the truth in any of this?

No matter how elastic applications of the First Amendment have become, its essence remains focused on political speech and the media that promulgate this. Free press, free political speech — that’s the prize that underpins all other freedoms.

If all that worked as it should, we would be so well informed as to know what is real and what is worth making a fuss about. But distinguishing reality from propaganda and talking points that serve powerful interests is an ongoing challenge.

There are anchors to the world of reality. Documents are anchors. Real, observable phenomena are anchors. Corroborating pieces of evidence and legislative actions are anchors. Executive orders are anchors. All of these resist the timelessly human and technology-infused modern impulse to frame information in a way that doubles power back to those who already have it.

Political power must be accountable to the people who create it. Print and broadcast media are the vehicles through which citizens should know what those anchors to reality are and how they affect everyday life. But the days of getting our news solely from newspapers and two half-hour broadcast segments are over. Digital technology has broadened the platform of information sharing and political speech, commentary, and analysis. Citizen journalists populate social media platforms, providing links to documents that support their analyses and discussions of real phenomena. The oil in the ointment? These grassroots purveyors of political discourse are hard to control. Equally so are those who post discussion points on the resulting forums.

The power of the people’s right to hear and be heard is fragile. It is easily undercut by the consolidation of information — a trend Bill Clinton exacerbated in 1996 by signing the Telecommunications Act. The Act intensified the trend toward broadcast media consolidation; this fact is not open to debate — it was codified legislation, and its effects continue today in the form of eerily uniform broadcast proclamations across networks and personalities. Corporate infotainment moguls determine not just what is seen, but also what isn’t seen.

Recent acts of blatant and unconstitutional censorship bear out this reality, especially with easily-censored social media platforms. Recently, Alex Jones was infamously and simultaneously banned from Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, YouTube, and Pinterest. I don’t know anyone who trusts Alex Jones. I also don’t know anyone who agrees with silencing him. The corollary to freedom of speech is the people’s right to hear all political speech-even if it contradicts one or two mainstream positions. Maybe especially if it does.

In an Aug. 7 broadcast, Jimmy Dore said, “The town square is Facebook; the town square is Twitter.” The decidedly Progressive Dore upheld Jones’ right to occupy the political platform, however crude his rantings. Isn’t silencing one voice a slippery slope that is worth Resisting?

At this unique moment, people possess the technology to make their voices heard. With the right anchors in place, those voices are worth hearing.

Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to