Burriss: First Amendment belongs to everyone


Media critic A.J. Liebling is reported to have said, "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." 

Those words, perhaps, express the feelings of many people who see the First Amendment as protecting newspapers, radio and television, perhaps protecting movies and advertising, but probably not having a whole lot to do with the individual.

Well, this year marks an anniversary of sorts, that vividly illustrates the principle that the First Amendment protections belong not just to the media, but to everyone.

In Oct. 1953, 60 years ago this month, Edward R. Murrow aired "The Case of Milo Radulovich," the story of an Army lieutenant who worked as a weather forecaster.

Radulovich's father was from Albania, and he regularly received letters and newspapers from "the old country." But in the eyes of the Army, this made young Milo untrustworthy. 

His father was from a Communist country, his father maintained close contact with friends in that Communist country, and therefore his son was a security risk.

Milo was on the verge of being cashiered out of the Army when Murrow found out about his case. After Murrow showed a series of interviews with Milo, his father, and a group of Army officials, the investigation was dropped, and the lieutenant was allowed to continue his Army career.

What happened here was that the media, in this case a fledgling television network, exercised its First Amendment rights to protect someone. Radulovich had no connection with the press, and he had no way to use the First Amendment on his own. Yet because of the First Amendment, his rights were protected.

Every day we still see examples of people whose rights are being diminished by overzealous officials, by unwieldy regulations, by self-important bureaucrats. It is the First Amendment that allows the media to expose these abuses and excesses.

Does the First Amendment belong to the press? Yes it does. But in the same way it belongs to everyone, and anyone, who wants to use it.