Free Speech Not Free

Bill Neinast

The First Amendment guarantees free speech, press and assembly.  Stating the freedoms that way, however, is a misnomer.  Speech, press, and assembly are not free.  Each comes at a cost.

The cost is the time and effort required to determine whether what you are seeing, hearing, or reading is true.

As an example, think back to Ferguson, Missouri.  Remember those “Hands Up—Don’t Shoot!” riots that were permitted under the freedom of assembly guarantee?  There was zero truth in the statements that underlay that mayhem and destruction.  Nonetheless, the broken windows and stolen merchandize were splashed across every TV screen in the country.

Next, walk over to the demonstrators protesting the Keystone and North Dakota pipelines.  The protests there are that the pipelines would contaminate water supplies and damage the environment.

Did those protesters and the thousands of TV viewers clicking their tongues in sympathy and support ever look at maps of the environment they cherish?  The country is a checkerboard of crude oil and natural gas lines going to every nook and cranny of every state.  Many cross under or go through lakes and rivers.  

Do any of those protesters ever wonder how the oil or gas that heats their homes gets there?  Would they stand for having those comfort items delivered to their homes by dangerous, noisy, air polluting trucks?

A similar, but quieter, protest is occurring locally.  There are letters to the editor and political pronouncements in local newspapers objecting to the BLM proposal to lease land around Lake Somerville for oil and gas production.  As that lake is the water supply for Brenham, there is fear that drilling under the lake might make it unfit for drinking.

Those with such concerns should drive around the lake and count the number of wells that are pumping or have pumped oil and gas from under the lake.

The pads for nine of those wells are visible from my back porch. All of those are on the Washington County side of the lake.  Drilling reports indicate there are many more on the Burleson and Lee County sides than here.  

This drilling has been going on since the early 80s and there has not been a single concern or complaint about old contamination in the lake.

Another concern expressed over BLM oil and gas leases at Lake Somerville is that the money from those leases will go to the government instead of to the owners of the land before it was condemned for the lake.  

Again, why not look for the truth.  The wells now at the lake are on land where the prior owners transferred only their surface rights to the government. They took a lesser price per acre than those who sold both their surface and mineral rights to the government. Accordingly, any money resulting from BLM leases will go to the government instead of to former landowners who willingly agreed to take a penny in the pocket now instead of possibly a dollar in the pocket later.

The cost of looking for the truth behind free speech and assembly may be a little higher when seeking the truth behind the free press.

Much of the “press” today is in the form of emails, twitter, etc.  Those news items are flashing across the screen so fast that it is hard to tell fact from fiction.

One sure fire way to spot a red flag in something coming to your desk or I-Pad is an assertion at the beginning or the end that it has been verified in some manner.  That should raise a question mark immediately.

A recent example is the email that claims to be the history of the term Political Correctness.

According to this account, the words first appeared in an exchange of messages between President Truman and General MacArthur in 1945.  The authenticity of those messages had been affirmed by the archivist of the Truman Memorial Library.  Or so it was claimed in the email.  

A quick check in Snopes and other sources, however, indicates that officials at the Truman Library deny the existence of such messages and that the hoax was generated by Aggies at Texas A&M early in this century.

So here’s the perspective.

Do not accept everything as true while watching a demonstration/riot or reading the “news.” If it seems too good to be true, it probally isn’t.  The adage that if you read it in the [news], it must be true, is not true.

Be skeptical. 

Search for the truth.

This the cost of free speech, assembly, and press. 


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