“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people […]” -Hugo L. Black, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Every decent journalist knows the first amendment like the back of his or her hand, which means he or she is protected by the U.S. Constitution to exercise freedom of speech. (Granted, there is unprotected speech e.g., obscenity, libel, invasion of privacy, incitement to violence, deceptive advertising, etc.)
But in today’s marketplace of ideas is free speech equivalent to bias instead of presenting actual fact?
From 1958-2015, the country’s trust in government fell from its peak at 77 percent in 1964 to a lowly 19 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. No wonder the first amendment is fiercely defended by Americans (many acting as citizen journalists) and the press alike.
“The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing,” according to The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel. It is vital for the “fourth estate,” aka the press, to have a voice and to hold the government accountable.
But who holds the media accountable?
With the speed demanded by news on the web and unprecedented competition among media outlets, much of the information released to the public is stricken with grammatical and/or reporting errors leading to loss of credibility. Even more influential to loss of trust in the media are journalists, or more so, news outlets’ biases.
According to a new Edelman study, Americans trust the media less than ever. Only 15 percent of President Trump’s voters now trust the media. Only 51 percent of Hillary Clinton’s voters now trust the media, falling from 57 percent support before the election.
Major news outlets lean more right-wing or left to attract specific political party members. 47 percent of consistent conservatives watch FOX News while 15 percent of consistent liberals watch CNN, 12 percent MSNBC, 13 percent NPR and 10 percent NYT, according to the Pew Research Center.
Main news sources are focusing on catering to liberals or conservatives, which has a habit of spinning news into opinion. Instead of preventing the government from deceiving the people, several publications deceive readers and/or viewers. When the actual facts on the issues are reported, only then will the press honor its freedom granted by the first amendment.