Your Liberty

Phil Gengler
2005-02-04 00:00:00

A free press is one of the important aspects of a free society. When a citizen can expect that newspapers and other media sources will criticize the actions of the government when they need to be criticized, the press is doing its job.

Lately, however, this has been lacking in our press. There have been allegations that the White House Press Corps is too easy on the president; this argument notwithstanding, there are several real examples that call the objectivity of the press into question.

In the last two weeks, there have been three confirmed cases where reporters received some payment from a government agency, and then went on to write a favorable article regarding that agency.

Armstrong Williams, a talk-show host and syndicated columnist, received $240,000 from the Department of Education. Williams went on to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his show, and encouraged other journalists to do the same.

It was also recently revealed that Universal Press Syndicate columnist Maggie Gallagher had a $21,000 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to promote President Bush's 2002 marriage initiative. Michael McManus, author of the syndicated column, "Ethics & Religion," was hired as an HHS subcontractor, which he failed to disclose while promoting the initiative.

In response to the news of these apparent payoffs, President Bush said in a press conference, "[t]here needs to be independence" of the press. This is somewhat hard to swallow, especially since Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer helped Bush draft his inauguration address, and then praised it without disclosing their role in it.

It is also worth pointing out the White House's television ads used to garner support for their Medicare reform bill. One such ad, which appeared to be a news segment, was frequently aired during regular news programming and without any indication it was a commercial.

While an unbiased press is of critical importance to a free society, the very freedom of that press needs to be emphasized and preserved. A recent survey of high school students conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that a startling number of students oppose freedom of the press. Of those surveyed, 36% of students felt that the press should be required to obtain the approval of the government before running a story.

Other questions also received disappointing results: 32% of the students felt that the press has too much freedom, and 35% felt the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it protects. It is also worth mentioning that 42% of respondents indicated they never had any sort of education about the First Amendment, so these responses may be attributable to ignorance and misconception, and not well-formed opinions.

Thomas Jefferson put it best when he said, "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press." These words could not be more true, especially in today's climate, where members of the press are often afraid to criticize the government for fear of being labeled a supporter of terrorism. We should demand that our government stop buying media figures, and we should demand that members of the press have the integrity to report the real news.