The enduring fragility of freedom

Freedom doesn’t grow naturally in the course of human events. On the contrary.

If to err is human, so is to over-correct. And such over-correction almost always turns its back on liberty.

I’m given to such ruminations after the news this past week of a British judge’s recommendations following the 2011 phone-hacking scandal by a tabloid newspaper in that country. Reporters for the News of the World were found to have illegally accessed the voice-mail boxes of cellphones belonging to celebrities, victims of terrorism and, finally, a 13-year-old girl who had gone missing and turned out to have been murdered.

The scandal became a global sensation because the London-based News of the World was owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born media magnate whose U.S. properties include the Wall Street Journal, the Fox News Channel and 20th Century Fox movie studios. Murdoch and his son James wound up testifying before the British Parliament. Adding to the intrigue, a comedian in the audience threw a shaving-cream pie at Murdoch and was attacked in response by the businessman’s much younger wife.

The fallout has been great. News of the World went out of business after 168 years of publishing. The paper’s editor, Rebekah Brooks, and several other staffers have been arrested. The cost to News Corporation, the paper’s parent company, for legal fees, settlements and the like is at $291 million and counting. (Full disclosure: I worked for News Corp. from its December 2007 purchase of the WSJ until my May 2009 departure for the AJC.)

It would appear justice is being served. And the trail of criminal charges, multimillion-dollar expenses and the failure of a business ought to be deterrent enough for anyone inclined to break these laws in the future. But there’s more coming.

The recommendations of that British jurist, Lord Judge Brian Leveson, include a “voluntary independent self-organized regulatory system” for the country’s newspapers. Questions about how “voluntary,” how “independent” and how “self-organized” the system might really be should begin with the fact Leveson suggested Parliament enshrine it — and, importantly, benchmarks for rating its effectiveness in serving the public interest — in British law.

“This is not … regulation of the press,” Leveson insisted, despite all appearances. So far, Prime Minister David Cameron has shown wisdom in rejecting the idea of a new law.

On the surface, the shaping of a regulator for newspapers in another country may seem of little concern here. But I think such an arm’s length example is the perfect chance to recognize some basic, regrettable human tendencies that creep into our own policy debates.

We don’t leave well enough alone. We fall into a trap of responding to ever more complex wrongdoing with ever more intricate rules, prompting the wicked to behave even more creatively when clear, broad prohibitions might work better. Except, of course, when we go overly broad by curbing basic freedoms that can be inconvenient to the powerful (such as the independence of the press, if this member of the press does say so myself).

Gravity in these debates almost always pulls in the direction of more government. The institution meant to guard our liberties has taken on a perverse habit of crimping freedom in the name of protecting it. Only its own prerogatives remain intact or even expand.

Sadly, these weaknesses transcend borders and, yes, political affiliations. They’re found in anyone who believes the world would be a little more perfect if only it were a little less free.

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter

81 comments Add your comment

Buzz Aldrin

December 3rd, 2012
5:27 am

Deregulate! Freedom! But seriously, freedom of the press is a staple. As long as there aren’t gross invasions of privacy such as phone hacking then no one should be regulating. We don’t want to be China, after all. Punish those who are found to do things the wrong way and move on.

Besides, we let this Kyle Wingnut guy spew his nonsense without fear of retribution!

Joel Edge

December 3rd, 2012
6:00 am

“They’re found in anyone who believes the world would be a little more perfect if only it were a little less free.”
Amen. We’ve got plenty of those here.

DeborahinAthens

December 3rd, 2012
6:42 am

It seems to me that Conservatives in any country are the ones that typically over react to “bad things” with more laws and regulations, even though they are the ones that want to de-regulate business. It was the Repiblican Congress and a Republican President that passed the USAA Patriot Act after 9/11. This bill was not read by most of the Legislators that voted on it and it gave sweeping, frightening powers to our government. For instance, if one of my clients acts in an uncustomary way by wiring an “odd” sum of money into or out of his or her account, I am supposed to find out the source of the money!!! If the government wants to know something about a person’s investments and movement of money, or if the government wants to know what books a person checks out of the library, or accesses
on computers in the library, the financial advisor, the librarian has to tell the what they want to know, and we cannot tell the person the government has asked for this information. If we don’t comply, we go to jail! I know my clients very well, so I do, mostly know where their funds are coming from, but if I didn’t, I don’t think it’s any of my damn business. The same people that enacted this affront to freedom, are the same people that de-regulated the energy industry to give us Enron. So, Kyle, it’s interesting. It appears to me that Republicans in this country, but conservatives in other developed countries, care more about the freedom of corporations, which, contrary to Mitt Romney, are not
human than they do real humans. I believe 100% in the freedom of the press. The failure of many local newspapers, which we rely upon to let us know about the hanky panky of our local elected
officials, makes my blood run cold. Idiots can post anything on a blog, but we hope that our journalists have integrity. Murdoch has no integrity. The election night debacle show us that Fox News has no integrity. But I would defend their rights to tell us the truth as they see it (they are great entertainers) . I would hope the population has enough brains to get news from many sources and try to suss the truth.

AtticusFinch

December 3rd, 2012
6:44 am

Mr Wingfield got a shout-out in Maureen Downey’s column:

I could knock my colleague Kyle Wingfield in the head. (Not that he couldn’t use a friendly thump to the head now and then.)

iggy

December 3rd, 2012
7:22 am

Downey is a womb to tomb liberal. Her opinions dont much matter.

Thomas Heyward Jr

December 3rd, 2012
7:24 am

“We don’t leave well enough alone. We fall into a trap of responding to ever more complex wrongdoing with ever more intricate rules, prompting the wicked to behave even more creatively when clear, broad prohibitions might work better.”
.
Speak for yourself NDAA/Patriot Act-supporting Romney/Obama boy.

Aynie Sue

December 3rd, 2012
7:52 am

You have a twisted definition of “freedom”, Kyle. Freedom is not merely non-interference from government; it is the ability of a person to conduct his personal life as he sees fit. The principal threats to the freedom of Americans are poverty, ignorance, authoritarian religion, prejudice, and oppression and exploitation by the rich and powerful. American government is the protector of American freedom.

Rupert Murdoch has built an empire of media trash, and has taken over and trashed two of the world’s great newspapers, the Times of London and the Wall Street Journal. He is a grand example of the corrupting influence of money and power. He is a disgrace to his native country, Australia, and to his adopted country, the USA.

stands for decibels

December 3rd, 2012
8:09 am

Ok, if we’re talking about big-picture freedom, I gotta go there–

Freedom is not merely non-interference from government; it is the ability of a person to conduct his personal life as he sees fit.

but not as *she* sees fit, because all their uterus are belong to us, apparently.

Whatever

December 3rd, 2012
8:13 am

Stands,

An argument can be made that an unborn child has rights and therefore should not be killed. You may not agree with that argument but it’s not unreasonable.

omg

December 3rd, 2012
8:13 am

” Idiots can post anything on a blog, but we hope that our journalists have integrity.”

Now where is that integrity of NBC, CBS, and ABC during the last presidential election? Where is the integrity in the video that this administration let go for weeks? The abovementioned media poisoned the those morons who live upnorth, on the east coast, and west coast. The journalist integrity was zero as they attacked the person and not the message. And last but not least where is your integrity?

omg

December 3rd, 2012
8:15 am

“but not as *she* sees fit, because all their uterus are belong to us, apparently”

This is an great example of the lack of integrity.

Skip

December 3rd, 2012
8:21 am

omg, where are my fries?

Whirled Peas

December 3rd, 2012
8:21 am

By just sitting so near to Kyle, maybe Mz. Downey will develop a little respect for our freedom. But I won’t hold my breath.

stands for decibels

December 3rd, 2012
8:24 am

An argument can be made that an unborn child has rights

An argument can be made that people who refer to parasitic embryos as “children” can’t really be reasoned with.

bookman parrot

December 3rd, 2012
8:28 am

stands… you have an evil heart ….

stands for decibels

December 3rd, 2012
8:29 am

Anyway, I’m not going to get sucked into another boring “ew abortion is icky” arguments. The public policy position of the government ought to be that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, that first trimester abortion is a right, period, and to legislate otherwise is to trample already-established civil rights.

Y’all want to argue otherwise go ahead.

/drive-by

Whatever

December 3rd, 2012
8:31 am

Stands,

You have the right to make that argument if you wish. I also understand the other side as well. If people truly feel that abortion is murder I expect nothing less than them to defend the life of the unborn.

Whatever

December 3rd, 2012
8:33 am

Stands,

So since it’s the law of the land do you feel citizens have no right to try and have it changed? Do the unborn have no civil rights?

Can’t see how easily your arguments can be turned around in this situation?

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
8:34 am

In the U.S. the least freedom of speech can be found in an institution dominated by the left–colleges and universities. See “speech codes”.

The threat to freedom is from the liberal fascists.

Chip

December 3rd, 2012
8:40 am

Well, of course we need some common sense regulation of the news media, especially the so-called “new” or “alternative” media. These people and outfits are definitely not with the program, and are “reporting” all sorts of vicious propaganda about Obama. WE CANNOT HAVE THIS!

Dear Ruler, Peace be upon His name, has his benelovent hands full shaping and guiding our lives for our own good. He simply must not be distracted by silly fools and peasants prattling on about “freedom,” whatever that nonsense is about. These times are too critical for anyone to be allowed to publicly question Dear Ruler.

Buzz Aldrin

December 3rd, 2012
8:54 am

Psst…Chip. Wingfield didn’t say anyone was asking for regulation here in the states…that’s why Fox News is still in business even though their fact checkers and graphics department are so darned forgetful!

jconservative

December 3rd, 2012
8:56 am

Hannity once put out a list of wrongs that needed to be “fixed”. On 90% of the wrongs he wanted the government to do the “fixin”.

We might take the first 6 words of the First Amendment and apply them to most endeavors.
“Congress shall make no law respecting”______________________(fill in blank).

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
9:07 am

Actually, Buzz, he did. Try reading the OP before commenting.

Buzz Aldrin

December 3rd, 2012
9:14 am

Damn, I guess we are in Britain!

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
9:20 am

Nope. Right here in the U.S.

Did you completely miss the last three paragraphs of Kyle’s post?

Buzz Aldrin

December 3rd, 2012
9:22 am

He never says it is happening here. He says if it were to happen here. This is merely his warning that we can’t let our freedoms be infringed upon. Not a ride through the streets warning of what is already going on. ;)

JF McNamara

December 3rd, 2012
9:24 am

Over regulation from a Republican?

Patriot Act, Gay marriage, Abortion, Gambling, Marijuana & Drugs, Prostitution. If you are so against regulation, why do you hold the positions you do on these things? Republicans aren’t against regulation. They just want to be the people who set them.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
9:26 am

I guess I shouldn’t expect to fix in five minutes what a public education did to/for you.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
9:29 am

How’s Obozo’s regulatory orgy working out for the economy? Unemployment is still right where it was when he took office. Are those companies moving offshore due to lack of regulation here?

Aquagirl

December 3rd, 2012
9:38 am

Nope. Right here in the U.S

If it’s happening in the U.S. then an example in the U.S. would be easy to find and make more sense.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
9:44 am

No problem, AG. We now have a law that is going to require you to purchase a product, or be penalized with a tax.

Bye bye, freedom to choose!

JamVet

December 3rd, 2012
9:48 am

Gravity in these debates almost always pulls in the direction of more government.

Do you mean more effective law enforcement, Kyle?

Then you are correct.

Because men like Rupert Murodch and others in our new American oligarchy are emboldened, imperious and feel themselves not bound by the rule of law that applies to lesser monied men.

And in inexplicable trickle down fashion, their neer-do-well sycophants in the tea soaked, far right wing condone and even support their endless criminal endeavors. And blame not the miscreants themselves, but the people and organizations involved in law enforcement – from federal agencies on down.

I remember when the GOP used to refer to themselves as “Tough on Crime” and had at least a modicum of respect for our laws and system of government.

No more.

But the good news is that they are beginning to pay a huge price at the polls for their perverse anti-Americanism.

Keep up the good work; you’re doing a heckuva job, connies…

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
9:50 am

Then there’s McCain-Feingold, which limits when and how much people may speak. Fortunately, some of its limits on our freedoms are being restored by the courts, much to the chagrin of–natch–Democrats.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
9:52 am

Should have said “limits are being dismantled”

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

December 3rd, 2012
9:54 am

Kyle, as with almost everything associated with government, overreaction is usually the norm. The sad thing is that government’s pendulum always swings towards too much, and never towards too little.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
9:56 am

JamVet, I’ve totally missed any examples of those on the right condoning any alleged illegal activities by Rupert Murdoch or others that you refer to. Perhaps you can help me out with a link.

Buzz Aldrin

December 3rd, 2012
9:56 am

The McCain Feingold Bill signed into law by Mr. Bush? You know, the Bush who took the telecommunications program established by Mr. Reagan and extended it to cell phones?

Aquagirl

December 3rd, 2012
9:57 am

Bye bye, freedom to choose!

Presumably you have an Obamacare bug up your butt after your dreams of RomneyLand fell through.

If you wander into an ER with a knife sticking out of your head both the hospital and the doctor are obligated to treat you. Their “freedom to choose” has been gone for quite a while. The only freedom you’re losing is the freedom to freeload on other people’s dime. If you miss that you’ll get no sympathy from me.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

December 3rd, 2012
10:03 am

“But the good news is that they are beginning to pay a huge price at the polls for their perverse anti-Americanism.”

Yeah, like a record 30 governorships and increases in control of state legislatures.

Good thing the rest of America isn’t as misanthropic, hate-filled and insulting as AmVet it.

Michael

December 3rd, 2012
10:15 am

Kyle this was a very poorly written excercise regarding freedom. We expect better from you, well not Lill Barry, but most of the rest of us do.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

December 3rd, 2012
10:17 am

Thanks for reinforcing my point, AG…one government intrusion causes another.

And I won’t be freeloading. I’m an American who works for a living. You have me confused with a Democrat.

carlosgvv

December 3rd, 2012
10:20 am

This same mindset is what’s doing in the Republicans. They decided that if a moderate amount of conservatism was good, an extreme amount must be much better. Now they’re finding that, once you lock yourself into extremism, fanatics in your Party will make it next to impossible to return to moderation.

carlosgvv

December 3rd, 2012
10:21 am

Barry – 10:17

You’re saying there are no Democrats who work for a living?

Do you realize how stupid this makes you look?

JamVet

December 3rd, 2012
10:22 am

Lil BB, I’ve totally missed any examples of those on the right condemning – IN ANY FASHION, EVER – any alleged illegal activities by the wicked (hat tip KW) Rupert Murdoch or others.

Perhaps you can help me out with a link.

And Richard Nixon would be proud of you cover-up condoners…

MarkV

December 3rd, 2012
10:24 am

Kyle’s article leaves much to be desired. He condemns a recommendation by a British jurist for British newspapers, for what this jurist described as “a voluntary independent self-organized regulatory system” simply on the basis of a his question about how “voluntary,” how “independent” and how “self-organized” the system might really be, rather than letting the readers decide the answer to that question based on the actual proposal.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

December 3rd, 2012
10:24 am

“And Richard Nixon would be proud of you cover-up condoners…”

You mean like Eric Holder, Susan Rice, Jay Carney, and Barack Obama?

Yeah, Nixon would be in good company with those folks. . . .

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

December 3rd, 2012
10:26 am

Nice to see AmVet using the “I haven’t heard it, therefore it must not exist” argument this morning.

JamVet

December 3rd, 2012
10:28 am

Ah, tibby, still can’t control yourself, huh? And you still can’t avoid breaking Kyle’s Rule Number One.

It’s all good, serially banished one.

I find your endless unprovoked personal insults more than a little humorous. (Though I’m fairly certain that Kyle is beyond sick of you.)

BTW, I never got to congratulate you on your huge electoral success of four weeks ago.

Good job and keep up the great work.

(You are the Democrat’s secret weapon.)

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

December 3rd, 2012
10:31 am

AmVet rule # 1: When caught in a lie, revert to insults and deflection.

getalife

December 3rd, 2012
10:32 am

murdoch and his media are liars, hackers and gop propaganda.

Zero credibility like most cons.