The Well FED Society

This is the weblog for the University of Baltimore Federalist Society. Come back regularly for updates about our meetings and events, and you might even be treated to some original thought.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Entangling Alliances?

Nope, I'm not talking about international affairs that may compromise America's ability or willingness to protect it's interests. I'm referring to the apparent alliance between the "news media" and political parties. Specifically, but not to be partisan, the recent CBS *ahem* issues with apparently forged documents that seem to have been created to attack President Bush present a difficult question, and to me, look like an unseemly alliance that has compromised at least one party's judgment.

Basically, the question arises: At what point, if ever, does a media outlet transition from being a "news source" to being a de facto mouthpiece of a political organization?

Arguably, never.

The Supreme Court has said that the "Freedom of the Press" doesn't actually give any new or different rights to media outlets, but it does tend to reinforce that the freedom of speech that they exercise is not targeted for restriction unduly. (I won't bother digging up cites for that right now, but I might come back later with some.) This would tend to support the idea that there is nothing the government can do if a network, or all networks decide to actively persuade people to pick one candidate over another. (Right now, "news source" advocacy is usually passive, but that's another topic for another time.)

On the other hand, if news sources are allowed to be advocates, it would tend to argue against the reasons they are often given deference in defamation actions.

As for me, I think I fall towards the "no governmental truth-and-fairness detectors" for the media. However, I think that if a governmental official or candidate can make a prima facie case for a defamation case, AND then can show a pattern of bias against him or herself and or his or her party (or ideology), then the high standard required for defamation suits by public officials should be reduced to the normal standard.

I could be wrong, but I don't think this would have a "chilling" effect on speech by the media, because what would be encouraged would be an even-handed approach researching and presenting political news.

So... What do you think? Can or should the government expect the media to attempt to appear ballanced if they purport to be sources of news? If not, then why was a freedom of the press enunciated distinctly from the freedom of speech? If the government can or should be able to enforce some amount of fairness, what threshold should apply, and who should decide what's "fair."

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