Speaking Up for a Free Press

Something quite remarkable – unprecedented, actually – is scheduled to take place on Aug. 16. More than 100 newspapers across the country will mount a coordinated editorial response to President Trump’s increasingly frequent attacks on the media. Responding to a rallying cry from the Boston Globe, papers ranging from large metropolitan dailies to small weeklies will publish editorials defending freedom of the press and their critical role in this democracy. They will be joined by members of the broadcast media as well, with the strong support of the Radio-Television Digital News Association.

These editorial writers will be reacting to the constant stream of messages from the president, in tweets and speeches, that the mainstream media are “the enemy of the people,” “fake, fake disgusting news,” “fake news media,” and so forth.

One school of thought has held that replying to such charges is pointless because the president’s pronouncements are either hollow rhetoric or impulsive ramblings or political fodder for his base – or some combination of the three. Furthermore, since the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, and the courts are willing to uphold that freedom, the president’s words can have no real effect on the media. Thus, this line of thinking concludes, the act of replying to hollow assertions becomes a hollow act itself.

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Rolling Stone and Journalism by Meme

It’s getting hard to keep track of it all.  From the over-the-top coverage by CNN of the Ferguson, Mo., affair, to Rolling Stone’s imploding UVA rape story, to the likely demise of The New Republic, it’s the media themselves who have lately been the story.

And not a good one.  Recalling the recent CNN panel that raised their hands in “solidarity” with the Ferguson protesters, Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner awarded CNN four out of five “screams” for endorsing this discredited narrative.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stone story, about which the magazine says it is in the process of “re-reporting,” has been denounced by just about everyone, including Lizzie Crocker at The Daily Beast, who wrote a piece under the headline “What the U-VA Rape Case Tells Us About a Victim Culture Gone Mad,” and Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, who wryly observed that the “journalistic priesthood holds to a different standard, one that elevates the higher truth of an overarching ‘narrative’ … above the mundane details of fact.”  >> Read More

Chick-fil-A and City Officials: A Whole Lotta Clucking Goin’ On

Ah, political correctness. It never disappoints.  Take, for instance, the latest eruption of civic broadmindedness brought on when the president of the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A professed his personal embrace, based on his religious views, of traditional marriage.

Outraged by the effrontery, the mayor of Boston and a Chicago alderman (Messrs. Menino and Moreno, respectively) immediately announced that they would ban the opening of the chain’s restaurants in their jurisdictions.

Never mind that Chick-fil-A had never practiced discrimination among its employees or customers, whatever their sexual orientation; it was enough for the mayor and the alderman that the head of the company expressed himself on this subject in a way that might give offense to those who disagree with him.

Alderman Moreno is especially instructive.  Having earlier said he decided to pull the plug on the restaurant after learning about the company president’s “bigoted and homophobic comments” in a Baptist publication, Moreno has now pivoted, under pressure, to saying that he’s opposed to the opening of a restaurant in his ward because of “traffic concerns.”

There’s been an unfortunate unevenness in recent years in the way that the media generally have opined on free speech and First Amendment issues. In the case of the Supreme Court’s decision in  Citizens United, for example, one has to look far and wide to find approving newspaper editorials, despite the fact that it was as pure a First Amendment case as has ever come before the Court.

Much of the media have also shown a kind of benign neglect when it comes to the myriad examples of campus “speech codes.”

This time, though, the nation’s editorialists got it right! From such journals as the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe has come a virtual symphony of criticism of the words and actions of Menino and Moreno, and all of it based on the First Amendment.  As the Times put it: “Public officials have a responsibility to carry out their ministerial tasks fairly and evenhandedly – and to uphold the principle of free speech – whether or not they like a business executive’s social or political stances.”

Makes one proud to be the head of a group like The Media Institute.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.