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The American press has always been influential, often powerful and sometimes feared, but it has seldom been loved.As a matter of fact, journalists today rank in the lower echelons of public popularity.
The journalistic purists - often those sitting in comfortable chairs far from conflict - say it is not their job to "play God" in such matters, and that one should not "shoot the messenger for the message." If, however, one takes the rigid view that the truth always needs to be controlled -- or Lenin's dictum that truth is partisan -- the door is wide open for enormous abuse, as history has demonstrated time and again.
It is this realization (and fear) that prompted Jefferson to utter that absurdity about the supreme importance of an uncensored press.
The issue of whether a free press is the best communications solution in a democracy is much too important at the close of this century and needs to be examined dispassionately.
Before addressing the subject, it helps to define the terminology.
olumes have been written about the role of the mass media in a democracy.
The danger in all this examination is to submerge the subject under a sludge of platitudes.Journalists can try to keep their personal views out of the news, and they employ a number of techniques to do so, such as obtaining and quoting multiple sources and opposing views.he question is whether the truth always serves the public. If the truthful report of a small communal conflict in, say, Africa, leads to more civil unrest, is the public really being served?In the broadest sense, the media embraces the television and film entertainment industries, a vast array of regularly published printed material, and even public relations and advertising.The "press" is supposed to be a serious member of that family, focusing on real life instead of fantasy and serving the widest possible audience.In its early days, the American press was little more than a pamphleteering industry, owned by or affiliated with competing political interests and engaged in a constant war of propaganda. What caused the press to become an instrument for democratic decision-making was the variety of voices.Somehow, the common truth managed to emerge from under that chaotic pile of information and misinformation. Many critics have questioned whether there is such a thing as "objectivity." Indeed, no human being can be truly objective; we can only seek objectivity and impartiality in the pursuit of truth.There is partial government subsidy to public television and radio in the United States, but safeguards protect it against political interference.Because the Constitution is the highest law in the land, any attempts by courts, legislators and law enforcement officers to weaken protected liberties, such as free expression, are generally preventable.It cannot do that without hard information, leavened with an open exchange of views.Abraham Lincoln articulated this concept most succinctly when he said: "Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe." Some might regard Lincoln's as a somewhat naive viewpoint, given the complexities and technologies of the 20th century; but the need for public news has been a cornerstone of America's system almost from the start.