Freedom of the Press

In today’s American politics the media has become a major target for every politician who doesn’t like what the media is reporting about them. And while the media does say a lot of things about a lot of people many lose sight of that being exactly what the Founding Fathers wanted to happen. That’s why they established the almost unabridged right of the media to do what it does best, be critical of politicians and government.

You’ve probably heard that, “power corrupts and total power corrupts totally.” It’s one of the basic truths about government and our founders knew that preventing total power was imperative. The Constitution establishes three competing branches of government along with a system of “checks and balances” to help limit power of each branch. Our free press has been called the fourth branch of government and given the role of being a set of eyes that exist outside of government and having the freedom to report on what government is up to.

Like any right, freedom of the press is not unlimited. It is laughingly expected that the press will report the facts honestly and not engage in libelist behavior.

The primary purpose of the press is to report the news of the day. To keep the general population informed of what is affecting their lives. There is also something called investigative reporting and this is what some find so offensive.

Investigative reporters sensing something is awry begin trying to verify what they feel. One of the great eras of such reporting occurred during the late 1900s and the subject of investigation was frequently the behavior of the big monopolies of that era. Those reporters were collectively known as the “Muck Rakers” and the muck they dug led to many changes in how American companies do business. It also helped create new laws and government agencies to administer those laws.

Investigative reporting is essential to an informed populace. There are endless examples of wrongs made right by it. It brought down both Nixon and his vice president, Agnew. It revealed the truth about lives ruined by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It unveiled the horrible truths about our involvement in Vietnam and the lies used to justify our invasion of Iraq. Everyday politicians and the powerful have to attempt keeping their desires in check for fear of being discovered by a probing press corps.

Several times during the current presidential season Donald Trump and others have threatened to somehow weaken the protections of the First Amendment because they claim the press is rigged against them.

Trump has claimed we no longer have a free press, that the press is controlled by some international cabal of evildoers who want to keep America from its greatness. Well he’s wrong. Not only do we still have a free press we have a larger and freer press than we’ve ever had.

When the founders used the word “press,” they did so because the printing press was the only means of mass communications. Today we don’t say press, we say media. Media because of there being so many ways to dispense information.

With the Internet came the democratization of the media. Everyone with a computer and an Internet connection can get a free WordPress Blog and become their own media outlet. They can set up a Facebook or Twitter account and rant to whoever in the world is willing to lend an ear.

The real problem we have today is being overwhelmed with so many versions of the truth that for many it becomes impossible to sort it out. We have to rely on companies that do it for us, fact checkers.

Over a century ago William Randolph Hearst created news stories about Spanish atrocities in Cuba in an effort to fan the flames of war. He did so to sell newspapers. The truth gave way to profit and political motive. His style of reporting became known as Yellow Journalism and such is rapidly becoming the norm in today’s world.

Fox News, Breitbart, Drudge, Newsmax, and hundreds of others don’t report the news for the sake of news. They report the news for the sake of political ideology and profit. While there are ideological websites on the left few are as driven as these I’ve listed. Breitbart for example, is like Hearst, it isn’t interested in the truth as much as it is in its version of the truth. Its version of the truth will sway minds and move the nation further to the right and if the truth has to step aside for this to happen, so be it.

Freedom of the Press, what do we do with it? Do we continue to encourage it or do we, as Trump wants, put a lid on it? One of the several things that separates liberals from conservatives is that liberals don’t want anything to weaken the power of the press. What we want is a populace that’s educated enough to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

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