Bloomberg and Kelly Bust the Press

Their treatment during the Occupy Wall Street raid was a disgrace to this city’s history

If we had civics classes in our public schools, the new generation would discover how John Peter Zenger’s New York Weekly was hauled into court in 1735 by the haughty royal governor of the state, William Cosby. (No relation to our civil libertarian and civil rights comedian Bill Cosby, whom I once, in conversation, urged to run for president.)

The 18th-century newspaper had sharply criticized the royal governor for incompetence, favoritism, and diverse grave failings. The insulted Cosby charged Zenger with “seditious libel.” The jury rebelled and ruled for freedom of the press.

Said Gouverneur Morris, a leading participant in the American Revolution: “The trial of Zenger in 1735 was the germ of American Freedom, the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America.”

Clearing Zuccotti Park, November 15.
C.S. Muncy
Clearing Zuccotti Park, November 15.

How come? Because as I reported in my book, The First Freedom (Dell Publishing, 1981), Gouverneur Morris said to his fellow American colonists that Zenger’s victory “so embodied the philosophy that freedom, both of thought and speech, was an inborn human right.”

When a stenographic record of John Peter Zenger’s first step toward our First Amendment was printed in England, a British editor said “it had made a great noise in the world.”

How many of our New York City students have heard of John Peter Zenger? How many other New Yorkers have? I’d bet the farm, if I had one, that neither Bloomberg nor Kelly have. And I applaud the New York Press Club for bringing John Peter Zenger so relevantly back home.

I suggest that when Donna Lieberman appears before the City Council to get a legislative response to ordering Bloomberg and Kelly back into the Constitution, she remind the Council members of the glorious patriotic New York legacy of John Peter Zenger.

Imagine Zenger’s reaction to this NYPD operation, one of a series of accounts of police busts of the press in a letter to Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne by New York Times general counsel George Freeman on November 21:

“A [newspaper] photographer, standing on the sidewalk on Trinity Place was photographing a man the police were carrying from somewhere in the park who was covered in blood. The photographer was standing behind a metal barrier 20 to 30 yards from the scene.

“As he raised his camera to take a picture, two other police officers came running toward him, grabbed a metal barrier and forcefully ran at him, striking the photographer in the chest, knee, and shin. As they did that, they screamed that he was not permitted to be taking photographs on the sidewalk—the most traditionally recognized forum aside from a park.”

Take a bow, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly—to King George III.

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