Some Thoughts on a Free Press

What do you need for a successful democracy?

One of the most important elements is a free and independent press.  I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying about power corrupting, so having a watchdog on the beat is essential.

I’ve been thinking about this for two reasons.  The first is all the discussion about “fake news” and the charges of political bias during the recently concluded campaign season.  The second is the status of press freedom around the world.

Regarding the first, technology has now given us some very powerful tools with which to monitor daily events.  How great an advantage is this?  Imagine how the Founding Fathers could’ve used the Internet.  Or how the abolitionists would’ve used Twitter.  You can bet several people would’ve live-streamed the Pearl Harbor attack.  How would that have changed history?  Maybe slavery would’ve been abolished quicker.  Or maybe the Civil War would’ve happened sooner.  In any event, we’ve never had so many powerful tools for following political discourse.  I suspect that in the next couple of years we’re going to realize just how powerful they are.  Or maybe we have already.

While I’m on the subject, in general, is there a liberal bias in the mainstream press?  Yes, anecdotally I would say there probably is.  Why?  The best explanation I’ve heard is that you need a college degree to have a career in journalism, and colleges (in general again) tend to be more liberal, questioning, idealistic environments.  As an aside, I have a high school classmate who was making a nice living as a sports reporter for a local newspaper.  Then the newspaper was sold to a large chain and he lost his job because (can you guess?) he didn’t have a degree in journalism.

Regarding the second, we should be grateful our democracy is as healthy and well-established as it is.  For all the controversy about political news, at least our reporters aren’t being murdered.  That’s certainly not the case everywhere.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1228 journalists have been killed throughout the world since 1992.  By their count, the 2016 death toll stands at 48.  ( )

Another organization that monitors press freedom is Reporters Without Borders.  ( , the website is in French, but it can be translated.)  Their 2016 death count is 74.  I could give you many more details, but it’s too depressing.

So I suppose we should count our blessings despite the controversies.  That old saying about “Freedom Isn’t Free”?  Unfortunately, it’s still very true.

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