By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
Powerful never liked freedom of press
MTSU dean says officials want to avoid scrutiny
Former USA Today editor-in-chief Ken Paulson, left, chats with Don Collette following a Rotary Club meeting.

Who was the first United States president who didn’t seek another term because of ugly press coverage?
That was a question former USA Today editor-in-chief Ken Paulson asked members of the Rotary Club of McMinnville on Thursday.
“The answer is George Washington,” said Paulson, who indicated Washington cited “notorious scribblers” as a main reason he didn’t seek reelection.
“The truth is the press is reporting very aggressively about President Trump, the same way it did with Washington,” said Paulson. “When this country was founded, citizens demanded a free press that would aggressively ask questions and make sure those in power did not abuse their authority. They have to be held accountable.”
Paulson, who is now a dean at MTSU’s College of Media and Mass Communication, says Trump’s persistent attacks against the media are nothing new. He said leaders throughout world history have tried to hide their actions and control the message which is conveyed.
Paulson said Henry VIII was one of the first rulers who issued a ban on books during his reign as King of England from 1509 to 1547. The ban didn’t pertain to books about religion or politics. Rather, the books Henry VIII banned were about technology.
“Before the printing press, ideas could not be distributed widely,” said Paulson. “The printing press allowed ideas to be distributed to a large number of people. King Henry didn’t like that and the government cracked down and banned those books.”
Henry VIII wanted the books about the printing press banned so people could not learn about them and discover how to produce them.
Paulson said despite the vast freedoms it grants, most Americans don’t know much about the First Amendment. Paulson is an expert on the topic as president and CEO of the Nashville-based First Amendment Center. He put Rotarians in small groups and asked them to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Only one group produced all five First Amendment rights – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to peaceful assembly, and right to petition the government about grievances.
“Only 2 percent of Americans know all five freedoms,” said Paulson. “The right to bear arms is often confused as being in the First Amendment. I guess that’s because if you’re waving a gun around, you can say whatever you want.”
Paulson said we do a poor job educating our children about their constitutional freedoms. He said even the government makes mistakes and pointed to the official test to become a U.S. citizen.
He said during his time as USA Today editor, the citizenship test only recognized four of the five First Amendment freedoms. When he assigned a reporter to write a story about this oversight, he said the test was quickly modified.
Paulson said having accurate information is vital because rumors and altered facts have plagued America for centuries. As proof, he asked Rotarians to name who designed the American flag. While Rotarians were in agreement it was Betsy Ross, that’s not true, according to Paulson.
“There is no evidence Betsy Ross had any role in designing the flag,” said Paulson. “It was pretty hard to go viral in 1871, but that’s what happened when her grandson, William, spread the rumor that she was the one who designed the flag. Francis Hopkinson was largely the man who designed it so Betsy Ross is the fake news of 1871.”
As for getting the U.S. Constitution ratified, Paulson said that was not a popular move.
“It was rejected by the American people because they feared a strong central government,” said Paulson. However, through compromise, Americans eventually came to accept the expansion of government – provided they received some guarantees in return.
“They didn’t want illegal search and seizure,” said Paulson. “They wanted the right to a jury trial. They wanted to worship the God of their choice and they wanted to keep a regulated militia. If they got mad, they wanted to be able to go to the town square and speak, and they demanded a free press.”
If you would like to hear more of his remarks, Paulson conducted an interview on WCPI 91.3, which will air Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 5:05 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m., and Friday at 1:05 a.m. During the half-hour conversation, Paulson continues to outline the history of conflict between the American media and U.S. presidents.