Friday, December 5, 2014

Defining the Press

EurekAlert has a bit on research by William E. Lee on the cases of the New York Times vs. Sullivan and Abernathy vs. Sullivan, both arising from a 1960 NYT editorial in support of the civil rights movement. 

Lee, who is a professor of journalism at the University of Georgia, helps reinforce the idea that it is dangerous to allow government to define the press.  The ruling the Supreme Court issued recognized that within the First Amendment the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and petitioning the government are interrelated components and fall under a collective term that [Justice Brennan] coined "freedoms of expression." 

Another way to look at it is that First Amendment protections extend to the individual and are not limited to an institution, whether or not that institution is recognized by the State.  Religious freedom does not simply cover churches with 501(c)3 approvals from the IRS.  Individuals are free to believe and worship, or not, as they see fit.

Individuals have the same right to express themselves as a J-School graduate with a press pass.  Of course, false statements about factual matters are libelous, no matter who prints them.

Objective journalism is like the unicorn. It's not even extinct.  It never existed.  When we all got our news from the papers, a particular newspaper's affiliation was often evident on the masthead, from the Unterrified Democrat to the X County Republican.  You knew what you were getting.  With radio and television news, journalists began to create the impression that they were giving "both sides" of the issue with camouflage like the Fairness Doctrine.  It was never true.  Walter Cronkite was a leftist.  He baked the news with his own bias.  I once listened to Judy Woodruff who claimed that journalists were always objective despite admitting that they all wanted to be "activists". 

That's just silly.  The only way to be "objective" is to allow the free market to work, especially in the realm of ideas and information.  

By the way, it makes sense to me that the Second Amendment should be interpreted the same way.  Just because there are police departments and the National Guard doesn't mean that the Second Amendment applies only to those institutions.  All individuals have the right to protect themselves, just as all have the right to express themselves. 

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