Freedom Of…What, Exactly?

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is sacrosanct. This truth is beyond self-evident. We hold it as immutable and undeniable. But, whose truth are we talking about here?

H.L. Menken said: “freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”

Truth is a matter of perception and direction as to how, when and why you say it. Mark Twain said there are many ways to not tell the truth. There are: “lies, damned lies and statistics”. It’s an interesting quote considering there are at least three other people accredited with speaking the words earlier than Twain. Then there’s exposing the kernel of the fact and extrapolating it out until it no longer even resembles the way it really happened. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident is an example. There were vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin but the exact level of interaction, antagonism and combat between the participants is still arguable. But, the resultant effect of the incident is recorded at Arlington National Cemetery as well as countless others across America, Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

Any media organization operates along a business model. Its sales are susceptible to the whims and appeal it has to its audience. Its survival is based on how many copies are sold regularly. The stories sell the paper and the paper sells the stories. Failing to regularly “grab” the reader’s attention decides the lifestyle of the press and its longevity in the world. This is how papers sell advertising.

“Fair and Balanced” reporting isn’t a constitutional mandate. The morals, ethics and personal integrity of the writer, editor, and publisher are NOT job specific; nor are they job requirements. The morals, ethics and integrity of the people involved (and the rag itself) are irrelevant to the production and recordation of news in the world. There was once a “newspaper” (better called a publication than a hard news outlet) that recently, quietly died. It was “The News of the World”.

It was the paper you might have seen on the rack proclaiming: “Alien has president’s love child!” “Martians inhabiting senate. Threaten House of Representatives as well!” “BILL CLINTON caught in affair with water buffalo! Water Buffaloes do NOT understand the concept of dry cleaners!” are all examples of headlines displaying the possibility of truth but NO real evidence to confirm or deny through extended research.

Sensationalism sells. Death, destruction, debasement and derision of anybody available at the moment sell. And they sell millions of square feet of advertising each day across the world. You can print a piece guaranteed to create an eye-puddle concerning a child caring for some innocent injured animal. You can sell a hundred times more copies if the innocent animal gets scared, bites the kid and the kid suffers the pain of extended rabies inoculations over time. People love controversy and are titillated by their witnessing the horrors of the human condition. They feel their personal trials are diminished. That’s also why soap operas are so popular.

There’s a timeless dictum in the press fraternity: “if it bleeds, it leads.”

But, that “lead” must be approached from a particular angle. The presentation will have an easily understood attitude about it. Viewpoints become apparent. The agenda of the publisher, editor, writer and later, the reader are all determined by what’s read and sells. Time Magazine is different from Newsmax. The Republic is different from Newsweek. The New York Times challenges The New York Post.

The angle of the attack is decided by the agenda of the press concerning the issue at hand. The energy of the moment decides the manner of coverage and the direction the writer will try to move the reader to consider what he reads. Then the agenda garners continuing support from the readers and the readers constitute the market.

So when you’re reading a fine editorial entrée such as this or sampling the cerebral appetizers offered by another equally revered news outlet remember: there are many facets on the gem we call The Press. Sample the viewpoint from as many angles as possible.

It’s much more honest that way.

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