Our independent press is under siege on Independence Day!

What’s most extraordinary in all of this is how many people calling for curtailments on the free press are such professed “constitutionalists” and admirers of the founders.

The founders didn’t view the press as particularly enlightened, and from the earliest days of the republic it certainly wasn’t. (To wit, a passage in The Aurora, an early publication, described George Washington as “the source of all the misfortunes of our country.”)

But they drafted the founding documents to enshrine press freedom for good reason. As the Stanford University history professor Jack Rakove said in an interview last week, James Madison was most concerned about a misinformed public’s acting on misplaced passions, and saw the press as an antidote. Were he alive now, Mr. Rakove said, “Madison would be worried by the idea of government whipping up or exploiting” what he called “badly formed passions.”

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