Democracy Under Pressure Chapter 8 The Media and Politics
The Media and Politics • Investigative reporter Seymour H. Hersh and CBS's 60 Minutes II broke the story of the prisoner abuse in Iraq by American soldiers. • Hersh's article in the New Yorker touched off a political storm. • Shocking photos appeared on television, the Internet, and in newspapers around the globe. • Several U.S. soldiers were charged with various crimes. • Congress called for an investigation, President Bush's approval rating dropped to 41 percent.
The Media and Politics • The freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not absolute. The Supreme Court must balance those basic rights against the needs of society. • The term "the media" refers to TV, the Internet, and published materials, including newspapers and books.
Democracy Under Pressure A Protected Institution
A Protected Institution • The First Amendment protects the freedom of the press. • The press plays a vital role: It is the principle means by which people learn about the actions and policies of the government. • A democracy rests on the consent of the governed, but in order for the governed to give consent, the governed must be informed.
A Protected Institution • Justice Hugo Black said in the Pentagon Papers case that the press plays a critical role in a democracy because it is the means by which the people learn about the actions and policies of government. • Free press and free expression and thought were the price of nationhood in light of the American colonial experiences with Britain.
The Development of the American Press • Until the 20th century, the press consisted only of print media. • Press moguls like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer had a great influence on American life. • Hearst beat the drum for a militant American foreign policy in the Spanish-American War. • Both Hearst's New York Journal and Pulitzer's New York World competed to report the sensational aspects of the war in a way that was criticized as "yellow journalism."
The Development of the American Press • Before investigative reporting came into vogue, muckrakers exposed corporate malfeasance and political corruption. • The 1920s brought radio into American homes. In 1933, FDR used the radio and his fireside chats to calm Depression panic over the banks' failing.
The Development of the American Press • The 1948 Democratic National Convention, nominating Harry Truman, was televised. • Presidents could be seen and heard by the public. • Eisenhower allowed his press conferences to be filmed, edited, and released, while his successor, JFK, would espouse a live format. • Today, presidents use broadcasts from the Oval Office to address the public. • Television provides a direct link between political leaders and voters, changing the nature of American politics.
The Development of the American Press • Movies are a part of the political culture and may have more influence than the press. • Oliver Stone's JFK suggested government complicity in JFK's assassination. • The Insider, starring Al Pacino, criticized CBS and its program, 60 Minutes.
The Internet • By 2000, the Internet ushered in a new level of technological change to government and the political process. • In the United States, about 204 million people use the Internet, with 729.2 million using it worldwide in 2004. • At the click of button, virtually unlimited resources a vast ocean of information is now available.
The Internet • The Internet's origins were established in 1969, in ARPANET, a computer network designed by the Defense Department to enable research scientists to communicate. • In the 1990s Congress enacted legislation to expand the government's computer network and opened it up to commercial networks.
Newspapers • The news one receives from newspapers depends on the venue. Local papers in Nebraska have local news, while the New York Times emphasizes national and international issues for its readers. • Authors list some of the excellent newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. • The advent of CNN and cable television in the 1980s further eroded newspaper circulation.
Newspapers • The newspaper industry has been shrinking steadily, due to CNN and cable. • In 1909 there were 2,600 dailies; in 1994, only 1,538. • Fewer cities have competing dailies. (By 1999, only 49 cities had competing dailies. New York only had three in 2000.) • Papers have become fearful of angering their owners, who might be friends with a mayor or other official who needs chastisement.
Newspapers • Chains have begun to gobble up independent dailies. • As print media declines, electronic media (including cable and the Internet) are rapidly growing. • In 1999, there were 2,429 television stations and 12,853 radio stations, more than twice the figures from two decades earlier.
Magazines • Some local paper subscribers who want more national/international information subscribe to weekly news magazines, but this is only a small percentage of the public. • Time circulation is over 4.1 million, Newsweek is 3.1 million, and U.S. News and World Report, 2 million. • Smaller magazines of commentary, like Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and the New Republic, are struggling to survive.
Democracy Under Pressure Who Owns the Media?
Who Owns the Media? • By 2005, the shape of the media was changing dramatically. • America Online (AOL), with more than 20 million subscribers, bought Time-Warner to become the world's biggest media company. AOL now owns CNN, Time magazine, Warner Brothers, HBO, and Netscape. Like many "dot coms," AOL lost billions and the merged company reverted to its former name, Time Warner. • Viacom owns Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster, MTV, Simon & Schuster, and CBS. • General Electric owns NBC and Disney owns ABC.
Who Owns the Media? • In March 2000, Chicago-Tribune's parent company bought the Los Angeles Times. • In 2004, NBC merged with Vivendi Universal, expanded GE even further.
Who Owns the Media? • The concentration of ownership raised questions about the independence and diversity of American press. • Would ABC be quick to report the news if a story reflected adversely on Disney? • Would NBC expose General Electric if one of its plants was a polluter? • Would Time magazine be inclined to write anything unfavorable about Steve Case, the chairman of AOL? • Some analysts believe that mergers ultimately mean less competition, more entertainment, less news, and less responsiveness to the public.
Democracy Under Pressure Television and the American Political System
Television and the American Political System • With more than 248 million television sets in American homes, the potential for creating an informed public is vast, but reality often falls short of the potential. • It is basically an advertiser-driven entertainment medium. • CSPAN shows the proceedings of the House, and CSPAN2 televised the Senate. • News and public affairs broadcasting only take up a small part of the daily schedule. • Six major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, UPN, and WB) occupy the leading positions in the industry, alongside CNN. The cable industry is growing rapidly, however.
Television and the American Political System • A substantial share of all television revenues goes to the six broadcast networks and the 115 TV stations they own. • Advertising on the six broadcast networks exceeds $42 billion per year. • For Super Bowl XXXIV in 2004, CBS charged up to $2.3 million for a 30-second commercial. • Television is not totally the mindless "wasteland" that one critic called it. • CBS, NBC, and ABC reach 35 million viewers nightly. • CNN, PBS, and C-SPAN also reach millions of viewers. • News magazines (60 Minutes and Prime Time Live) and Sunday morning panel shows (Meet the Press) air political issues.
Television and the American Political System • Television may shape or change public opinion. The 2001 attack on the World Trade Center helped build support for the Bush administration's war on terrorism. • Viewers are bombarded with political commercials, many negative, during the primary and general election campaigns. • Television coverage of hearings and debates, and extensive coverage of national conventions, has an impact that no other medium can approach. • In 1992, a supermarket tabloid, the Star, featured a claim by Gennifer Flowers that she had engaged in a 12-year affair with then-Governor Bill Clinton. Clinton's effective use of television helped to defuse an issue that threatened to derail his presidential ambitions.
Television and Radio:A Limited Freedom • The FCC doesn't license networks, only stations. Stations must operate in the public interest. • The FCC requires stations to provide equal time to all legally qualified candidates. However, the requirement does not apply to news broadcasts, interviews, and documentaries. • Stations that ignore FCC rules could have their licenses revoked.
Television and Radio:A Limited Freedom • In 2003, the Republican-controlled FCC proposed new media ownership rules that would have allowed the networks to buy or own more stations. A federal appeals court rejected the proposal. • The government regulates broadcasters, but not the written press.
Television and Radio:A Limited Freedom • In 1969, the Supreme Court rejected claims by broadcasters that the First Amendment protected them from the FCC's fairness doctrine requirement that broadcasters present all sides on important issues. Justice White argued that "it is the right of viewers and listeners, not the right of broadcasters, which is paramount." • In 1987 the FCC abolished the fairness doctrine, but let stand the equal time provisions.
Television and Radio:A Limited Freedom • In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in the "seven dirty words" case that the government has the right to prohibit the broadcasting of "patently offensive" language. • In the 1996 presidential election, violence and sex on television, in movies, and in popular music had become a much-debated issue. Opinion polls showed many voters were fearful that the nation had lost its moral compass. These concerns were voiced again after the killings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
Television and Radio:A Limited Freedom • Controversy over sexual content on the airwaves reached a crescendo when audiences saw a glimpse of pop star Janet Jackson's right breast. The House raised fines for "indecency" from $27,500 to $500,000.
Democracy Under Pressure The Press: Legal and Constitutional Issues
Prior Restraint • Prior restraint is the censoring of news stories by the government prior to publication and is rooted in English tradition. • The Supreme Court more than 50 years ago ruled that a Minneapolis weekly newspaper could not be suppressed because of articles attacking city officials as "corrupt" and "grafters." • The press could be restrained in "exceptional cases," such as national security or during wartime. Reports of the sailing date of troops could be restrained from publication.
Prior Restraint • In the Pentagon Papers case, federal judges restrained the publication of papers on the Vietnam War for 15 days. The Supreme Court overruled the restraint, permitting the New York Times to publish them. • In 1990 the Supreme Court (7-2) stood behind the censoring of CNN's attempts to air tapes of deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and his attorney.
Prior Restraint • The Progressive and the H-bomb. • The Progressive magazine wanted to publish an article on how a hydrogen bomb works. • The government went to court to stop publication, citing fears of nuclear weapons proliferation. • The magazine countered that no classified data was used and that the author had toured nuclear plants with the knowledge of the government. The Progressive, a liberal monthly, said the public needed to know about this issue affecting the survival of the human race. • A federal judge upheld the restraint, saying that if people are dead from a nuclear explosion, they cannot exercise their First Amendment rights.
Prior Restraint • The Supreme Court has always balanced the First Amendment against other social needs and other parts of the Constitution. • During the case, a government physicist said that the diagrams in the article could have been found in the encyclopedia. • The Supreme Court declined to intervene on appeal.
Prior Restraint • In the 1970s, the Supreme Court dealt the press a number of setbacks. • The Court let stand the jailing of New York Times reporter Myron Farber for refusing to turn his notes over to a judge in a murder case. • It also let police search for photos of demonstrators in a press office. • The Court made it easier for the press to be sued for libel. • The Court made a former CIA agent turn over royalties from a book he wrote criticizing the agency over its actions in Vietnam. • While the Court usually protected the press under the First Amendment, it also placed limits on press freedom.
Free Press and Fair Trial • The issue brings into direct conflict two basic principles of the Bill of Rights: the right of an accused person to have a fair trial and the right of freedom of the press. • In 1981 the Supreme Court ruled that states could permit the televising of trials. • As of 2004, 40 states allowed cameras. Cameras have been barred from most federal courts. • Supreme Court Justice David Souter said cameras would come into the courtroom "over his dead body."
Free Press and Fair Trial • Principals in the O.J. Simpson case became household names and subjects of ridicule. • Critics of Court TV say it fosters a circus-like atmosphere that hurts defendants and encourages lawyers to play to the cameras. • Supporters say televised trials give citizens a civics lesson on the legal process, and are an extension of the principle that trials are to be open processes.
Free Press and Fair Trial • Opponents complain of prejudicial pretrial publicity. • In 1966 the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a Cleveland osteopath convicted in the bludgeoning death of his wife, ruling that his rights had been compromised by the media and a "Roman holiday" atmosphere. • The conviction of Lee Harvey Oswald's accused killer, Jack Ruby, was set aside by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for these reasons, but Ruby died before the retrial. • To overcome the detrimental effects of pretrial publicity, defense lawyers often seek a change of venue. For example, the trial of Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh was moved to Denver.
Confidentiality: Shielding Reporters and Their Sources • The right to a fair trial often conflicts with another First Amendment protection: confidentiality for reporters and their sources. • Journalists support confidentiality to provide their sources complete anonymity and protect those sources from possible reprisals. • Do journalists have the privilege of withholding evidence necessary to the defense? The Court said no.
Confidentiality: Shielding Reporters and Their Sources • In the 1972 Caldwell case, the Court held that the constitutional right to protect sources does not exempt reporters from testifying before state and federal grand juries. • Caldwell declined to appear before a grand jury to testify about the Black Panthers, saying the appearance would destroy the trust he had with his sources. • The Court held that the investigation was more important to the public than the protection of news sources.
Confidentiality: Shielding Reporters and Their Sources • Some reporters have gone to jail rather than testify and reveal sources. • By 2004, 31 states and the District of Columbia had shield laws, designed to protect reporters from revealing sources.
Libel • A person defamed by publications may sue for libel and collect damages. • Libel is defined as the publication or broadcast of reports that expose a person to public contempt or injure one's reputation. • Truth has always been an absolute defense in libel cases. • Under the New York Times rule, the Supreme Court has made it almost impossible to libel a public official, unless a statement is made with "actual malice."
Libel • This rule was later expanded to add "public figures," such as candidates and persons involved in events of general or public interest. • In 1988, the Court overturned a $200,000 award to the Rev. Jerry Falwell for "emotional distress," which the conservative evangelist claimed he had suffered when Hustler magazine published a parody about him. • The threat of libel actions is a problem for the news media. Multimillion-dollar damages have been awarded by juries to plaintiffs.
Libel • In 1992, ABC television reported that Food Lion sold outdated beef. Two ABC employees lied to get jobs at Food Lion for the network's inside job. Food Lion sued. The message to the media was clear: news organizations might pay a price if they engage in fraud to expose shoddy practices. • In 1998, the Cincinnati Enquirer paid $10 million to avoid a lawsuit by Chiquita Brands International. The newspaper based its accusations of bribing foreign officials and careless use of pesticides on voice mail messages stolen from Chiquita.
The Press and Terrorism • Americans discovered in the 1990s that modern urban societies are targets for terrorists: The World Trade Center in New York in 1993 and the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, were bombed. • Critics argued that giving widespread coverage to such events plays into the hands of perpetrators, who are seeking publicity. This may lead to copycat attacks.
The Press and Terrorism • Critics also argue that the press does not always exercise restraint when reporting the news. • Furthermore, should the press, in some instances, agree to the demands of terrorists in order to save a human life? • In 1995, two newspapers faced this dilemma in the Unabomber case. • As it turned out, publication of the Unabomber's manifesto led to the arrest of the suspected Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.
Democracy Under Pressure The Press and the Government
The Press and the Government • The government often attempts to manipulate the press and to manage the news by putting a favorable "spin" on events. • Officials have a vested interest in trying to shape public opinion to support administration policies. • The press relies on the government for information, but also serves as a watchdog. • The relationship of the press and the government is both adversarial and mutually dependent. Politicians want to get reelected and the press wants to report the news. • The public relies on the press for its information about the government, and is often critical of both.
News Leaks and "Backgrounders" • In 2003, President George W. Bush asserted in his State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium. • Six months later, former ambassador Joseph Wilson revealed that the uranium story was "highly doubtful." That disclosure embarrassed the White House. • Later, a high-level administration official, leaked the name of Wilson's wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame, to conservative columnist in order to damage Wilson. That disclosure is illegal.