Vital Signs

The People's Right Not to Know

When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spoke at Harvard University two decades ago, one of the most unfathomable lines in his widely panned commencement address was his lament about "the forfeited right of people not to know." This line was buried within his section charging the press with hastiness and superficiality—and the reporters in attendance rushed out to prove him right about that. With so many misimpressions by the inflammatory foreigner to correct, commentators could hardly be expected to use up precious space to contradict such an obvious instance of tone-deafness to our blessed Bill of Rights from someone manifestly conditioned by totalitarianism. Even those Americans who appreciated Solzhenitsyn's call for spiritual renewal as an antidote to Western hedonism considered this line in-passing an embarrassing piece of hyperbole.

"The people's right to know" is virtually sacrosanct today. Our Sam Donaldsons repeat the mantra routinely as a sure-fire argument-stopper. Citizens who flinch with discomfort when these words are spoken by media millionaires with vested self-interests are nonetheless disinclined to challenge the line itself When CNN's Peter Arnett reports information from Baghdad that might imperil the military mission against Saddam Hussein, even patriots fall silent before the principle of the "people's right to know," which trumps any hint of treason.


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