You’ve heard it said that the First Amendment gives us the right to free speech, but it doesn’t give us the right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. In other words, with rights come certain responsibilities; we’re not given carte blanche to say anything we want at any time. The First Amendment also gives us the right of a free press, in the same breath, in fact, as it gives the right to free speech. From this, I think we can assume that the framers saw these rights as practically the same—one being spoken, the other written.
The media is given a huge portion of power. The ability to inform is underestimated by most, yet abused by many. God chose to reveal His will to mankind through the spoken and written word. Jesus is referred to in the New Testament as the “Word.” Words can communicate either truth, error or, as is often the case, both. The wrong word at wrong time can send the wrong message, but the right word at the right time can bring understanding. We are all guilty of misusing words at times, but when it becomes a habit, we need to evaluate our communication skills. I believe the media in this country is at this particular crossroads.
The restraints and the responsibilities that the media should be exercising have long since vanished into the rabbit-hole of partisan politics. It’s no secret that every media outlet has a particular point of view on what is being reported—no one is truly objective. FOX News can claim that: “We report, you decide,” but hopefully we’re all a little smarter than that. FOX has an agenda, just as much as CNN has.
But, the real point here is fact-checking. How, in our media-saturated world can we ever really know the REAL story? The media is often referred to as the fourth branch of government, which should highlight both their responsibility and their power. In a field that is theoretically dedicated to getting at the truth, anonymous sources (real or otherwise) are often the ones driving the bus, with zero accountability. Unnamed sources are necessary sometimes, but they were never meant to allow half-truths and hearsay to be printed as truth. It was supposed to be like the blurry oval that is used in crime documentaries, giving someone close to the action a chance to tell the story without revealing their true identity, often for reasons of safety.
The “free press” ideal of the Constitutional framers was never meant for us to become a society of individual reporters. Deadlines and cigar-chomping editors used to be the determining factors in what got released to the public as “news.” Today, the internet has removed these obstacles and has made “being first” the primary determining factor. Everyone wants to be the one to “break” the story and if that means making a few things up—or leaving a few things out—what’s the big deal? ABC’s recent linking of Joker shooter James Holmes with the TEA party is only one of many instances of ideological prejudices driving the presentation of the “news.”
As long as ideology—whether it’s political, religious, sexual orientation, cultural, tribal, or whatever—continues to drive the media, it will continue to get more fragmented and individualistic. When “truth” is arrived at only after it has been distilled through someone’s ideological grid and washed clean of anything that may offend their sensibilities (You hearing me, Tolerance Police?), it is no longer truth. It is an opinion baptized in current events. Personally, I am rather tired of having to read three news stories to get the big picture of one event. Anyway, they say history always repeats itself. Maybe I’ll just wait for the re-run…