The press has often been referred to as the Fourth Estate of government, a powerful entity that has long served as the eyes, ears and voice of the public, the watchdog charged with asking tough questions and revealing the truth, no matter how much some might not like it.
With that said, it should come as no surprise that politicians are traditionally among those who most often battle with the press – especially in an election season. And this season, what with colorful candidates such as Donald Trump in the lineup, the press has frequently taken the blame when news stories put the candidates under a negative spotlight. So far this season, Trump has engaged in public battles with the New York Times, NBC, Fox News, Univision and even the Wall Street Journal – and the election is still almost a year away.
Despite their battles with the press, politicians do have an understanding that freedom of the press is among the most sacred of rights that Americans have. Politicians may try to control the line of questioning or the focus of the story and even might play favorites among media outlets. But they understand that significance of the First Amendment and the right that the media have in chronicling the events of the day.
That’s the most disturbing attack against the press this year didn’t actually occur on the campaign trail. Instead, it took place during the midst of an historic event at the University of Missouri. Senior university administrators resigned earlier this year after campus protests raised awareness about a series of racially charged incidents that the university was slow to respond to. The resignations were seen a huge victory for the protesters..
But when journalists converged on a public area of the campus to chronicle the event, a large group of people blocked members of the press from the self-declared “safe zone” of campus and, in one video that went viral, verbally berated student journalists sent to the scene to cover the event. In particular, a professor was caught on camera trying to force a journalist out of the area, even calling out for “some muscle” to physically remove the journalist.
In some scenarios, when journalists are chronicling an event where passions run deep and everyday citizens are caught up in the moment, it’s easy to understand that not everyone understands the type of rights that come with the First Amendment. But that should be no excuse for a college professor, a woman who holds multiple degrees and, in a ironic twist, actually teaches classes in communications? She should have known better than to try to physically remove a member of the press from any public event in any public location.
Sure, it’s easy to understand why people have a lack of trust in the press. In today’s online world of news, the various outlets are all trying to get more clicks than their rivals and use baiting headlines and out-of-context soundbites to lure in more readers. The outlets are accused of having an agenda, of writing slanted stories and using selective information to tell the stories they want. Sometimes, it’s so blatant that it’s hard to defend the press.
But it’s never an excuse for blatantly dismissing the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The news media plays an important role in our society and, with the rise of the Internet and video-equipped smartphones, even everyday citizens are taking on the role of journalist. No where does it say in the Constitution that the First Amendment only applies to credentialed reporters and photographers.
That’s why it’s so important to protect the First Amendment. It doesn’t just protect credentialed journalists. It protects everyone who witnesses and records an event – whether through words, photos or video.
It’s the job of all of us to make sure we preserve that right.