Thomas Jefferson once said that given a choice between a free government and a free press he would not hesitate to choose the latter. His point was that a free government would quickly degenerate into tyranny were it not for a free press to act as the watchdog for the people. Jefferson understood the political pressure that could be brought to bear on the press.
Now 200 years later the word I would use to describe the state of our press, or media, in this information age is frightening. It was revealed in a recent court case that the publisher of the San Francisco Examiner offered to give favorable coverage to Mayor Willie Brown during his reelection campaign in exchange for political help in selling his newspaper. A deal to slant the news. I guess you really can’t believe everything you read. And this is not an isolated case.
A recent article in Reason magazine says that Al Gore threatened reporters with an end to access at the White House if they reported some less than flattering family problems. The reporters backed down. Whether it’s proper to highlight the difficulties of a politician’s family is a fair question. But they shouldn’t make the call based on threats.
And then there’s the new Clinton administration policy of offering financial rewards to the television networks to influence the content of the shows we watch. Shades of Big Brother. Our journalists are supposed to work for us, and so are the politicians. Houston, we’ve got a problem . . .
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.