Through out the
history of the United States of America, the Constitution has
constantly been put challenged and tried. The first amendment
guarantees freedom of speech and the press. The great founders of
this incredible country originally created the first amendment to
enable colonists to defy the British and create a new standard of
living. The press in the 17th century was generally accurate and
informative with little competition among journalists. However, today
in the 21st century, the media has evolved into a mass of . Due to
incredibly high amount of competition among journalists today, the
information is usually exaggerated and slanderous in order to capture
a viewing audience.
The media is
everywhere you turn. You can find the media in various forms such as
television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and now on the information
superhighway. In the process of capturing ratings, who is the media
hurting more? Is it people who are accused of a crime, such as O.J.
Simpson, or is it the American public s stupidity for believing
everything they hear? Limitations greatly need to placed upon the
first amendment of the U.S. Constitution in regard to freedom of the
press because presently the media is doing more harm than good.
The job of the
media is to find the truth and tell it to the people. The media has
the power to inform the public, but often the information they
receive is distorted. The media has shaped our view of society and
the process by which we choose our leaders, make our rules, and
construct our values. The media has the power, although indirectly,
to encourage people to like or hate the government. The media
promotes what it believes is easiest for the public to accept, but in
the process it fails to cover the issues adequately. The media can
make us wiser, fuller, sure and sweeter than we are. (Orr 61) But,
the media can also cloud the public s judgments, and cause confusion
and disillusionment as well.
to Hitler to the former Soviet Union, it is quite clear that radio,
television and newspapers have the power to change and make history.
A clear example of the power of the media was when Orson Welles made
his famous radio broadcast about witnessing the landing of a
spaceship full of hostile Martians. America saw that the power of the
media can appeal to the public easily and cause mass hysteria
Noam Chomsky, an
established political thinker and magazine editor, stated in an
interview in 1990:
If you follow
mainstream media with great care and skepticism and approach it with
the right understanding of how propaganda works, then you can learn a
lot. The normal reader is fooled in to believing the propaganda that
they are being fed. The media shapes and selects the events and offer
their biased opinions to the mass audiences. The media modifies
information to fill what they believe the public s interest is.
The media feels
that they should act as a watchdog . This causes many of the ethical
problems among the media because they assume the responsibility of
keeping a check on the government, by acting as governmental critics,
governmental experts, etc. The media digs, probes, and snoops in
governmental affairs which eventually leads the media to speculate
and create rumors while they are trying to expose corruption. This
watchdog attitude of the media creates the idea that the government
is evil and must constantly be checked. But, according to Lisa Orr,
Nobody checks the checker (63).
John Silber, a
critic of the media in 1988 said:
The reporter s
work should be like a pane of glass, flawlessly clear and unspotted,
through which the reader might view the important events of the day.
Today, the practice of personal journalism in news reporting has
persistently sacrificed objectivity for entertainment and the
personal gratification- and presumably the greater popularity of the
reporter. The pane of glass is dirtied and distorted. Too often we
see and read, not what happened or what was said, but the personal
views of the fourth estate. (Orr 66)
The attempt to
regulate the media came when the Fairness Doctrine was established in
1934. This doctrine was instituted to ensure that publicly owned
television and radio stations would not be biased and would promote
their own views. The Federal Communications Council (FCC) was
established to enforce the doctrine. In 1987 under the Reagan
Administration, the Fairness Doctrine was revoked. The role of the
FCC changed, therefore evolving to monitor the decency of materials
presented on the radio and television (Orr 77). With the abolishment
of the Fairness Doctrine, the window for controversial journalists
was opened. Thus, America saw the emergence of two strong willed
personalities- Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern.
The audience of
Rush Limbaugh has grown considerably the over the last five years.
Radio stations carrying the Limbaugh Show have increased. In
restaurants, there are areas called The Rush Room where you can eat
and listen to him on the radio. Limbaugh speaks his mind as he
constantly puts down democrats, liberals, and anything or anyone who
does not share his views. At times the information Limbaugh provides
is inaccurate. For example on June 27, 1993 Limbaugh played a tape
from June 21, 1993 in which Secretary Lloyd Benson stated that the
new Clinton budget plan would bring the stock market down. A proud
Limbaugh failed to recognize that on June 27, 1993 the Stock Market,
Dow Jones, and NASDAQ index had risen since June 21, 1993 (Shenk 9).
Due to the increase in Limbaugh s popularity, he now has both a radio
and a television show. His influence on the public was clear in the
94 elections in which the newly elected Congressional majority was
Republican. Before the 94 election, members of Congress were fearing
Limbaugh s power. In the Senate, a bill referred to as the Hush Rush
was designed to silence him, although it did not pass(Corry 50).
of Howard Stern has also grown over the past few years. He constantly
speaks out against people who he feel stray from the norm such as
gays, lesbians, etc. In the past, political candidates that Stern
endorsed such as Rudolph Gulliani have gotten elected. But because of
the manner in which Stern presents his views, is what concerns the
FCC. When Stern says something totally outrageous, the FCC fines the
Infinity Broadcasting Company which is Stern s employer. In December
of 1992, the FCC fined Infinity Broadcasting Company $600,000 ( FCC
Tags Stern 65). But, in late 1994, the FCC failed to recognize Stern
when he talked a man out of suicide.
The power that
the media has is derived from its ability to mold the public opinion
by presenting exaggerated and biased coverage of events. The media
functions as the national judge and jury. It tarnishes the
reputations of many people just like the McCarthy trials. We live in
a capitalist society in which money is our main motive. A journalist
today is not concerned with telling the truth on an issue, but what
they can say that will sell and make the most money. A journalist
named Nicholas Von Hoffman wrote, Butchers make sausage. Newspapers
make public affairs. Has that hunger driven the media out of control?
Stephanopoulous, an established reporter stated that:
It is our job,
as the media, to report about what the public wants. If they want to
hear about the Menedez brothers, the Bobbitts, Tonya and Nancy,
Whitewater, or O.J. Simpson, then we ll report about it. We need to
write about what the public wants in order to keep them buying
newspapers. (Nachman 26)
Tabloids are run
purely on the basis of what will sell the most copies. It is sad that
some of the most repeatable newspapers and news shows are following
in the tabloid s footsteps. The Gennifer Flowers story appeared in
The Star way before it was plastered on the front page of major
newspapers such as The New York Times (Nachman 26). But in the
process of serving Americans their daily serving of gossip, innocent
people are having their names dragged through the mud. Personal
things are becoming public knowledge. Even worse, people are being
declared guilty before it is proven that they are.
who has been affected very badly by the media s money driven motives
is O.J. Simpson. America was fascinated with this case, because after
all, it has
entertainment value. It has a great plot- a football star kills his
beautiful ex-wife and her lover in the heat of passion. The treatment
of the O.J. Simpson case shows how the media has become purveyors of
drama rather than information (Gabler 12). There were an incredible
amount of rumors surrounding the case. Some people have said that the
Simpson case is an American tragedy that became the center of a media
circus. Because of the enormous media coverage it caused making the
selection of an impartial jury nearly impossible. It also led to
having the jury sequestered during the trial as well.
Simpson was recently interviewed on BET(Black Entertainment
Television) he said:
villain in my ordeal was the media. The media follows me everywhere I
go. They report one erroneous rumor after another. The media images
some Americans saw were not ones that were actually shown in court.
also went on the say in that interview that the media only showed the
people that were upset on his released and held signs that said
Butcher of Brentwood . They did not show the hundreds of people that
waved to him or gave him a thumbs up as he walked out of the
California jail. (Jet 39)
Over the years,
the Supreme Court has heard many cases. In 1964 the Supreme Court
heard the case of The New York Times v. Sullivan . Sullivan claimed
that the newspaper had printed inaccuracies about him and was
negligent. In the process they ruined his reputation and was liable.
This was the first case in which someone could actually fight back
against the media (Orr 57).
In 1990, the
case Milkovich vs Lorain Journal was brought before the Supreme
Court. The court ruled that the media can be held liable even when
only expressing their opinions. This is especially true if the media
is implying an assertion of an objective fact . Everyone including
cartoonists are vulnerable to libel suits (Orr 58).
during September 1995, a federal Cincinnati court ordered Business
Week to pull an article from its about to be published issue or risk
being held in contempt. Business Week had acquired sealed documents
about the lawsuit between Proctor & Gamble and Bankers Trust
about improper practices of selling securities. Without giving the
magazine a chance to be heard, the court issued a restraining order.
States mass communications systems are entering an era of rapid
technological change and the need for policy reform is becoming
increasingly apparent. The role of the FCC changes from day to day.
Passage of the telecommunications bill in January 1996 created 60 new
guidelines for the FCC to follow when they are considering whether
something is decent or not. The bill also rejected the idea that the
Internet was the electronic equivalent of the printing press. The
legislators concerned themselves more with the broadcasting of
indecent materials such as pornography to minor. Anyone caught
soliciting these materials to minor can be given a maximum of 10
years in jail. (Lewis B14)
And so in
conclusion, how should the media be regulated? Many people feel that
the solution to the problem is to create a new media doctrine of self
restraint. Opponents of this feel that this would alter the
information and this country would evolve into a dictatorship. But,
if something is not done soon, who knows what will happen? If the
media does not establish an internal system of self -regulation, the
government will surely intrude, a step that will begin with
regulation and ultimately lead to censorship (Deskowitz 150). Freedom
of the press is the cornerstone of America s image of itself. And the
question of free speech is arguably one of the most complex of all
constitutional issues. To solve the problem there must be a
partnership between the media and the American public. If the public
doesn t want lies and gossip, then that s what the media will give
them. But as America continues to be fascinated by lies and gossip,
then the press will continue to print it.
Peter. Freedom to Publish. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press,
Fairness Most Foul. The American Spectator November 1993: 50-51.
FCC Tags Stern.
Newsweek 28 December 1992: 65.
Majorie. The Bill of Rights. Philedelphia :Macrae Smith Company,1967.
OJ; the News as a Miniseries. TV Guide. 30 July 1994: 12-17.
Free Press, Free People, The Best Cause. London: Columbia University
The Media Monster Lurking Within. Newsweek 1 October 1995: 15.
Free Speech. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1994.
Emergence of a Free Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
About freedom of the Virtual Press. The New York Times 2 January
The Press and Simpson. New York Times 24 June 1994:A27.
Limbaugh Lies II. The New Republic 8 August 1994: 9-10.
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