Media Too Powerful? Essay

Exposure to the media is a constant event. It begins as soon as the radio
or television are turned on, or as soon as a newspaper or magazine are opened..
The television, radio, newspaper and magazines are all ready to give us their spin
on the top stories of the day. Some try to give us facts, with as little of their input
and thoughts as possible, some work only on rumors and inuendoes, while others
give us facts but slanted to their way of thinking (Kurtz 1). The media contributes
to public opinion and provides understanding of the news. The media entertains
us, watches government and social institutions, and gives the public information
for debate and discussion about local and international affairs. The media and
journalists are protected under the lst Amendment, but does freedom of the press
imply the freedom to be sensational, to be biased, to be inaccurate? Does the lst
Amendment protect the media if it prints or discusses lewd or pornographic
material at the expense of the general public? The government needs to take
control of the media (Stengel 3). There is a need to get accurate information that
is unbiased. The media needs to be held accountable and not hide behind its cries
of free speech and censorship. With some restrictions and some intergity, the
media will still have plenty to report, debate, review, and still be a watch dog of
sorts. The government is here for the protection of the people, and there are some
areas that the media only endangers our safety, whether it is on health issues,
privacy issues, or in international affairs. There are some places that the media
does not have a very good perspective on national security or individual privacy
(Stengel 1). The government could look at ways to assist the media on a bi-
partisan approach. It is time the media and our government does what is best for
the American people, not for personal or political gain (Hannon 3). Government
should put restrictions on the areas the media can report.

Newspapers and magazines shape America’s views and opinions.
Newspapers have diverse content, producing in-depth stories and news analysis.
They represent many perspectives with a wide range in subject matter.
Newspapers do investigating reporting, express personal opinion, reviews, as well
as gossip. Some newspapers are gossip oriented, while others are news and
analysis oriented. There are specialized newspapers that have mass appeal with a
national view (Merrill 1). Magazines appeal mainly to the elite, well-educated,
and the opinion leaders. Generally, magazines are more incisive, interpretive and
more comprehensive than newspapers (Merrill 3). The main function of
newspapers are to inform and summarize, while magazines explain, criticize,
interpret and comment. Magazines supplement newspapers (Berninghausen 4).
Radio and television have a significant place among the media. Radio
mainly provides entertainment, although National Public Radio provides facts,
views and opinions on many subjects. National Public Radio is noncommercial
and is supported by the government as well as the public through donations
(Merrill 3). Television produces on the spot broadcasts of major events,
documentaries, political views and opinions, terrorist episodes, and international
crises. Through satellites, news is flashed instantly from all over the world. With
cable television, some stations produce news reports twenty-four hours a day.
Since the mid-1990’s, two-thirds of our nation’s homes are equipped with cable.
The broadcast networks, including public television, are discussing new strategies
for presenting the news (Beringhausen 8).
The media has had a major impact on trials. They put forward
information, interview prosecutors, attorneys, the accused, the accused relatives,
and with all the information that is given, facts, opinions and views all seem to
become distorted. It isn’t possible for all to be telling the truth, and even when the
accused goes to trial and a verdict is reached, the media second guesses what the
judge and jury were thinking (Ross 1). Public opinion has no place in a trial. A
judge and jury reaches a verdict based on the laws that pertain to a crime. The
facts should be laid out and a decision made based on those facts (Ross 2).
The Freeman of Montana were tried via the television before and during
the trial by the media. The views of the Freeman seemed so obsurd to the majority
of the American public, it was a great topic for the media to pursue. It involved
the rights of individuals as well as the rights of government. In essence, it
placed the government against its own citizens. The Montana Freemen refuse to
recognize the United States justice system. They would not participate in their
own trial and felt they were above the laws of the United States. They had
formed their own state and governing body. The Freeman are currently in jail
awaiting additional trials under the United States jurisdiction (Pellegrini 1).
Oprah Winfrey felt she won a victory for free speech after a jury said she
was not liable for disparaging statements made during her talk show about cattle.
A cattlemen group sued her for her opinions stated on television. Their
arguement was that with free speech comes responsibility. Paul Engler, who was
the first to file suit, felt Winfrey and her guest made false statements about U.S.
beef and that her show was consistently sensationalistic. Winfrey has a talk
show that is among the highest rated shows during that time slot. Her opinion is
taken as statement of fact by her viewers. The cattlemen felt that because of her
opinion and her importance in the media field, they had lost millions of dollars.

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The jury was unanimous in their acquital of Winfrey (Chandler 1).

The Oklahoma City bomb trial had so much media attention that the
judge ordered that the jury be shrouded in secrecy. This meant that the media did
not have access to the jurors’ biographical information and they were partially
shielded in court behind a partition. The judge claimed the partition was built to
keep the jury focused, not to keep the spectators from seeing the jury. The judge
also required a gag order on the attorneys. The judge ruled that the court of public
opinion was closed until the trial had a verdict. A media lawyer suggested the
public is better informed when attorneys discuss what is transpiring publicly, but
the judge suggested their aim was to confuse the public (Ross 1).

With the media attention on the O.J. Simpson trial and the Oaklahoma
bombing, the death penalty was brought to the forefront. We saw with
graphic detail the murder of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, and all
the innocent victims of the Oaklahoma City bombing and the distruction created
by it that the American public was demanding justice. The major newspapers and
television network showed the information on these two events over and over.
The death penalty seemed to soar in public opinion polls (United Press
International 1). Then Texas had a women on death row. The media interviewed
her and she looked all American, she seemed to be a religious convert and the
public had tremendous sympathy for her. The fact that she was sentenced to
death by a jury of her peers was pushed to the background. Justice For All, a
victims rights group, blamed a media campaign for the drop in support for the
death penalty (Dianne Clements 1). She was executed in Texas, but support for
the death penalty is down due to the media blitz for Karla Faye Tucker (United
Press International 1).

The Ellen phenomenon may be part of a media cycle. It was probably
the most publicized coming-out party in the history of television. .Magazines and
television came out for the media hype of this sitcom. This was a historic
television episode. The episode took every myth and stereotype and twisted it to
show how ridiculous it was (Newbecker 1). Although gays and lesbians were
celebrating, it showed the anguish and courage it took to come out of the closet.
Many felt it gave gay teens a role model (Sylvester 1). The media campaign for
this episode drug out so long that many people lost interest (The Detroit News 1).

The talk show media jumped on the band wagon with homosexual shows
only to find that it didn’t appeal to everyone. Jenny Jones had a show on sexual
fantasies. A male guest was brought on but did not know that the person with a
crush on him was another male. The guest claimed that he was so humiliated by
the public confession of another man having a crush and sexual fantasies about
him, that three days after they both appeared on the show he shot his admirer.
The guest was tried and convicted of murder. The talk show came under even
more scrutiny, and many people felt that Jenny Jones and her show was also
responsible for this murder. People can’t have trust in the media and many don’t
feel they can trust the judicial system. The media has taken it one step further,
there is a book in the works on this case and they are negotiating a movie. It is
hard to believe anyone could profit from this (French 1).

Was the Vietnam War lost because of the media or because of political
policies executed by senior commanders in Vietnam and by elected officials in
Washington? The military claims that American reporters had free access to most
battlefields, and were against the American effort. Officers claim the military’s
hands were tied by the bad news going back to Washington, and that the reporters
gave a distorted view of the conflict. The body count is what changed public
opinion in America on its’ perception of the war. Television stories with violence,
actual combat, and dead or wounded U.S. soldiers appeared on news broadcasts
in the newspapers regularly. This was the only American conflict with no
censorship. Veitnam with all its ugliness, was the only war ever that had few
restrictions on reporters (Francis 2). The media claims American democracy was
built on the free flow of information, to view power being exercised, and that it is
an absolute right of citizens to know. Never again will the U.S. military let
reporters cover combat unrestricted (Francis 4).

The Persian Gulf War was the most decisive victory in U.S. military
history. In seven weeks of aerial bombardment and 100 hours of ground battle,
there is not one minute of television news video to document the greatest armor
attack of all time (Francis 1). The media was excluded from the Desert Storm
battlefield, Panama, and Grenada. Combat is a nasty business, and it is made
more difficult with a reporter looking on. With the uncertainies of war,
occurances on the battlefields, and the possiblities of mistakes in strategies,
having them reported in the newspapers and on television only show what using
hindsight does. Many feel that our democracy was built on the free flow of
information, with the access to view power being exercised, as an absolute right
of citizenship. This right must somehow be weighed with national security
(Francis 4).
In an attempt to regulate media content of on-line services, the
government is taking a very cautious approach to new forms of restrictions on
media content. . They support a flexible, creative scheme of assistance to
encourage the development of new forms of content for on-line services. There
is also an urgency in addressing consumer issues already raised by on-line
services. With on-line information comes the need to ensure accuracy. There are
over 3,000 web sites sponsored by newspapers. The pressure to publish new
material is enormous. It is putting a premium on being fast rather than being
right. Television news displaced print and now net-based news is displacing
television for the same reasons (Phinney 2).

The news media in California has some restrictions imposed when they
seek access to school grounds, including registration, accompanied by a staff
member while on school grounds and denial of permission to enter classes that
are in session. School officials can require the news media to leave the school
grounds if their presence interferes with the peaceful conduct of educational
activities. The school district may not require parental permission before allowing
members of the news media to interview students. School officials have the
authority to deny acess to members of the news media, as they may deny access
to anyone, if their presence would interfere with the peaceful conduct of the
school activities (Kronick 2).

In California, restrictions were placed on the media in regards to access to
prisons and executions. Journalists were banned from conducting any face to face
interviews with specific prison inmates. The media claims this hampers their
abilities to convey to the public the true conditions of California’s prisons. It also
deprives the tax-paying public the avenue of oversight into the administration of
the state’s penal system. There was an attempt to reverse this ban, but the
governor of California vetoed it. The San Francisco Bay Guardian maintains this
ban has hurt the public and the prisoners (The San Francisco Bay Guardian 2).
The United States is not alone in its attempt to regulate and restrict the
media. Britons have called for restrictions on the British media after the
relentless press pursuit of Princess Diana. Some Britons want a privacy bill to
stop all the media from pursuit of celebrities and ordinary people.The media is
accused of the aggressive intrusion into Princess Diana’s privacy that lead to her
death. Currently, the British press is largely free of state intrusion. The
government uses contempt on court and defamation laws to keep the media in
check. The British press is trying to distance itself from the celebrity
photographers, referred to as the paparazzi, claiming they are a law unto
themselves (Barlow 3).
Our President has been the focus of our media. In an attempt to rush
scoops, journalist tend to exaggerate small distinctions and use unreliable
information to produce a story. Rumor becomes allegation, then allegation
becomes fact. The reports state that something may have happened with a
Whitehouse intern. The press named this scandal Zippergate, and by the second
day of hearing of the alledge incident, the media was already talking about
resignation and impeachment (Stengel 1). The rumors spread like a virus. The
general public hears so many conflicting reports, the easiest answer would be just
to turn it off. The media has made a job out of taking polls on the President’s
popularity, honesty, and personal morals. They try to judge how much damage the
accusations have cost him and his presidency. The media has yet to show how
this is beneficial to the American public. It has shown how the media benefits
from it, with increased sales of newspapers and higher ratings with news
broadcasts. The thing that is lost in the effort to get the big story is perspective
(Stengel 3).

The media has a large influence over political candidates. With the
advances in telecommunication tools such as telephones, faxes, and computers
and with live television coverage of candidates, the media is able to deliver a
campaign message and gauge public opinion (DeGroat 1). Candidates are
subject to much greater scrutiny, with greater emphasis on raw coverage, talk
shows, town-hall meetings, and live television segments.With just the way the
media asks a question, they can slant how the public will view the candidate
(Kurtz 1). Talk radio has changed political campaigns and the way the country
reacts and pursues issues. With news operations becoming increasingly
competitive, many reporters lack the background to do their work adequately. The
media has been accused of herd behavior, but CNN blames the chaotic
environment that journalist operate in. One of the biggest problems in the media
is the porportion of importance of each story (Kurtz 3).
Governments have restrictions it can impose on the media. They can
restrict or restrain the press from publishing matter considered seditious, libelous,
or obscene. Freedom of the press has been limited in the areas of obscenity and
pornography, although the courts have had difficulty in setting standards of
censorship. The media can be barred from criminal proceedings (Berninghausen
8). Restrictions of the media occurs during times of national emergency . The
future of a free press in the United States depends on public opinion, the
legislative agencies, and the courts (Francis 2).

Freedom of the press should not come before individual rights to privacy
or what is best for the country . The media should verify what are facts and what
are inuendoes. They should be held accountable for the information that is
reported, and be held to verify information instead of going for sensationalism.
Prominent individuals, celebrities, and ordinary individuals should not feel
threatened by the media. The media is a special interest group of sorts, having
their own special interest at heart, and should not be given a protection to hide
behind. As rules and laws are made for the benifit of all citizens, media intergity
should take on a new dimension. The media is caught between freedom and
responsibility, with government taking a stand on issues regarding individual
rights to privacy and national security, it gives the media their First Amendment
right but also ensures each citizen their rights.

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