'Failure' of the First Amendment?
October 27, 2007
The facts for this comment, but not the legal conclusions, come mostly from an article published in the Raleigh News & Observer on 27 October. This story is related to the positions of the ACLU because, contrary to its stated mission, the ACLU favors maximum freedom of the press for those media who favor the political views as them.
This editorial in the Raleigh News & Observer is entitled, “Above and Beyond.” It tells in plain but powerful words the story of Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy Seal, who was part of a four-man team sent on a dangerous mission, deep into enemy controlled territory in Afghanistan, on 27 June, 2005.
His team was discovered, and ambushed. Lt. Murphy was the leader of this team, when they came under attack by about 50 of the enemy. The only chance of survival was to communicate with their base. Lt. Murphy went into an exposed position to make a satellite connection. Although shot in the chest, he completed that call. Three of his unit survived, but one was saved.
This week, President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to Lt. Murphy, handing that medal to his family, at the White House. Lt. Murphy was from Patchogue, N.Y., in the backyard of the New York Times. Yet the Times did not see fit to feature this extraordinary award to him and his family, on its front page.
To give readers an idea of how rare and important this award is, there are only about 109 living holders of this Medal. And whenever any holder of this Medal appears in public wearing it, that person is entitled to be saluted by any other soldier including a five-star general, regardless of the rank of the Medal holder.
It wasn’t just the print media who ignored this story of great courage, dedication, and sacrifice. The national broadcast networks also did not feature this story. The only network which featured the story in prime time was Fox, on cable. And, of course, the story of the slighting of Lt. Murphy’s Medal of Honor was widely discussed on talk radio, across the nation.
In the meantime, journalists with this bent, and their political allies in the outside world, are promoting a new edition of the Fairness Doctrine. Is it for the purpose of increasing coverage in the mainstream media? No, it is to cut down the coverage in the radio media, the same people who took time to cover and honor the award to Lt. Murphy.
Does all this represent a failure of the First Amendment? Directly, no. But indirectly, yes.
Media operate in what Thomas Jefferson called “the marketplace of ideas.” When the First Amendment was written and ratified, the media consisted of hundreds of small and independent newspapers, originally only four pages each. They lived or died often and easily, depending on their success or failure in the marketplace. And that, in turn, depended on their ability to attract advertisers and to satisfy the interests of their readership.
Though we now have many forms of media, the bulk of them electronic, the principles of success remain the same – advertising and attracting readers / listeners / viewers. In theory, those parts of the media who fail to serve their audience should wither and die. Those that do serve their audiences should grow and prosper. That’s what Jefferson meant by “the marketplace of ideas.”
To choose two examples not entirely at random, the New York Times and CBS, who were both derelict on this particular story, have been bleeding financially for a long time. Both are steadily losing audience share to other media who do better than they do in serving the audience. But neither has changed direction. And both continue down their failed paths.
This is an indirect failure of the First Amendment. When media become large institutions, with a bureaucracy committed to certain political directions, they can insulate themselves (for a time) from the consequences of their own bad journalistic decisions. Evidence shows that insulation from reality can last at least a generation. But it also shows that such ostrich-like behavior cannot last forever.
Source for original story on the Net: