Sen. Durbin needs refresher course on Constitution, First Amendment

Sen. Dick Durbin's recent remarks about the IRS and DOJ scandals are troubling and dangerous to American democracy. Photo: AP

CHICAGO, May 29, 2013 — Sen. Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) has made some remarks recently that are troubling, dangerous to American democracy and deserve to be examined.   

To date, Durbin has offered no apology for his role in asking the IRS to specifically investigate conservative groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. He has even dared to question whether bloggers and their tweets are entitled to constitutional protection.

So where are Durbin’s critics in the mainstream media standing on their chairs, wringing their hands in outrage?

Sen. Durbin’s and the mainstream media’s disdain for New Media and the First Amendment are appalling in their utter contempt for basic constitutional principles. 

After all, this is America, not the former Soviet Union. That has not stopped the Senator from Illinois from attempting to resurrect the Iron Curtain.

“What is a journalist today in 2013?” Durbin asked Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace. “We know it’s someone that works for Fox or AP, but does it include a blogger? Does it include someone who is tweeting? Are these people journalists and entitled to constitutional protection?”

Durbin’s use of the word “entitled” should raise red flags with journalists and bloggers of every political stripe. Since when are constitutional rights conveyed by the government? And, conversely, when can government take them away?

So Durbin believes that Congress should decide who is “entitled” to First Amendment protection and who is not.

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For example, does Durbin believe that Matt Drudge is not entitled to constitutional protection? Are the bloggers at Politico entitled to constitutional protection? How about at Slate or Daily Caller? Would the late Andrew Breitbart have qualified as a journalist under Durbin’s definition?

Will there be a list of people and organizations that will be considered media and those that are not? What is the criteria? Will it be based on how long the media outlet has been operating? Is it based on whether the outlet prints a paper edition or an electronic version? Will it be based on readership or viewership? Established U.S. newspapers may be in trouble if the criteria is the latter.

On the other hand, Matt Drudge and Bill O’Reilly would be just fine.

Durbin says that, “We need to ask 21st century questions about a provision [the First Amendment] that was written over 200 years ago.”

So who qualified as being a journalist 200 years ago?

It was citizen journalism that actually formed the ideological basis for American revolutionary thought and action. Back in 1735, John Peter Zenger began to publish editorials critical of British colonial rule in a newspaper he called the New York Weekly Journal. The paper became more and more popular, leading Governor William Cosby to have Zenger to be arrested and charged with seditious libel. In the end, he was defended by Alexander Hamilton, who convinced a jury that Zenger was allowed to print things if they were actually true.

After the Zenger verdict, the colonists began to see a free press as fundamental to keeping government power in check. They were right.

It was not until 1791 that the states finally ratified the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, ensuring that “Congress shall make no law . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Unfortunately, that did not stop Big Government from attempting to censor the American free press.

Just seven years after ratification, President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Act into law to silence journalists critical of his administration. After the Act passed, 25 people, including editors of Republican newspapers, were arrested and their newspapers were shut down.

The plan backfired on President Adams who eventually lost the election to Thomas Jefferson in 1800.

What would Durbin have said about Zenger? Would he have argued that the Republican newspaper editors weren’t entitled to constitutional protection?

Like President Adams, Sen. Durbin’s antagonism to constitutional principles seems rooted in political elitism, an anti-American elitism that wants to control free media and, consequently, public opinion.

This arrogant governing class mentality appears to be shared by other powerful Democrats, including former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. He continues to exhibit a disturbing intolerance for free press as Chicago’s mayor. As the IRS and DOJ scandals indicate, this governing class mentality is an embarrassment of officials in President Obama’s inner circle.

Durbin’s statements have crossed the line into the red zone of the new liberal government tyranny and fascism. His statements reveal an unhealthy tolerance, even an appetite, for misuse of  power of government to investigate political opponents and target media that is not “helpful” to one’s ideological cause.  

This Big Government mentality is not just a threat to free media but to everyone.

Read more from Chicago with Bill Kelly’s Truth Squad

William J. Kelly is an Emmy award-winning TV producer and conservative columnist. He is also a contributor to the American Spectator and He is a native from Chicago’s Southside.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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William Kelly


Conservative commentator, satirist, and radio talk show host William J. Kelly pens the “Kelly Truth Squad” and “The Tea Party Report” for the Washington Times Communities and is a contributor to the American Spectator and Kelly is also a producer of Emmy award-winning TV and received an Emmy nomination himself for outstanding achievement on-camera. He was previously the Executive Director of the National Taxpayers United of Illinois, a taxpayer watchdog group. He is a native of Chicago’s South side. For more information, visit

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