One of the loudest howls I hear after writing about freedom of the press is the claim the mainstream media just publishes Democratic Party propaganda. The anger is mostly from supporters of President Donald Trump, who complain about the media, while also asking, no doubt with a sneer on their faces, where the MSM was during Barack Obama’s time in the White House. The implication is obvious: most networks didn’t really bother asking questions of Obama and/or his administration, so they’re unfair. There are probably some people who believe there should be a law requiring the press to be unbiased, under threat of being shut down by the government.
This is beyond stupid.
Is the press biased? Yes! Do politicians and parties take advantage of the press’ bias to get their opinions out? Yes! Is it still covered by the First Amendment? Emphatically…yes!
This is the thing people need to realize, specifically those who claim to be some version of a Constitutionalist. Biased press has always existed, dating back to the foundation of the American government. The right to freedom of the press didn’t just mean someone with access to a printing press could print and publish whatever they wanted. The right to free press covered both individuals and organized media outlets.
It’s also important to remember past political leaders and parties have used the media to get their message out, or try to defeat their opponents. The Federalist papers were published in Independent Journals, New York Packet, and Daily Advertiser. The Anti-Federalist papers appeared in The Boston Gazette and Country Journal, Maryland Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser, New York Journal, and Boston American Herald. The colonials newspapers were probably closer to what Hot Air, National Review, Reason, Think Progress, and Breitbart because they featured overtly political content or reporting from a certain point of view.
The early American nation also saw the various different newspapers publish things from their own viewpoint, with National Gazette used to push Jeffersonian and Madisonian ideas against the Federalists. The paper featured essays, reports, and more on the various actions of the day. Via MountVernon.org.
During Washington’s first administration, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and congressman James Madison, opposed Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s economic policies supporting a permanently funded debt, national bank, and manufacturing. Jefferson and Madison were also upset with John Fenno’s Gazette of the United States, which promoted Hamilton’s program. Jefferson referred to Fenno’s publication as “a paper of pure Toryism, disseminating the doctrine of monarchy, aristocracy, and the exclusion of the influence of the people.” Within a few days of Washington’s approval of the National Bank on February 25, 1791, Madison and Jefferson began work with Freneau on their own paper, the pro-Republican National Gazette. Years later, Jefferson accredited Freneau and the National Gazette with saving “our constitution which was galloping fast into monarchy.”
Jefferson took the first steps in creating the paper by hiring Freneau as a translating clerk at the State Department, despite the fact that Freneau only knew English and French. Jefferson offered Freneau a salary of $250 annually which would supplement his primary occupation: editing the National Gazette. Jefferson understood “the President was much inflamed” by the newspaper. However, Washington never attempted to shut the paper down.
It certainly seems like both papers could be accused of being propaganda outlets for the various parties. Sure sounds like today with pro-Trump outlets versus anti-Trump outlets.
Federalist anger over the Jeffersonians turned into the Alien and Sedition Acts, which resulted in a sitting congressman being put in prison because his newspaper put out an article against John Adams. The anti-free press laws were overturned during Jefferson’s administration but the media division never really stopped. Jefferson even asked friends to write newspaper articles defending his ideals and character, especially when he ran for president. There were various pro-John Quincy Adams newspapers claiming Andrew Jackson was a bigamist in the 1828 election, while Adams was criticized by pro-Jackson outlets. The Civil War saw things get even more heated with Abraham Lincoln actively engaging war on newspapers in the U.S. who wanted to see the war end. First Amendment Center noted Lincoln was particularly irked at two papers for #fakenews.
By mid-May 1864, Lincoln’s patience with the oppositional Copperhead press had begun to fray. What triggered Lincoln’s wrath was a bogus item that appeared in two Copperhead newspapers out of New York — the Journal of Commerce and the World. The papers ran a fake story that reported a presidential proclamation to the effect that the Lincoln administration was about to draft 400,000 men. According to Tedford and Herbeck, “Lincoln ordered the two newspapers closed and their owners arrested and imprisoned. The Independent Telegraph System, which had transmitted the story, was seized by the military and its transmissions stopped.”
Yes, Lincoln, the man heralded for freeing the slaves and preserving the union, was a man who hated the opposition press, and did what he could to shut it down. I could go on and on about what the government has done to restrict press freedom, but that’s been written about in other articles, including pointing out the creation of the FCC gave the government the power to seize radio equipment of stations who didn’t follow their rules. The arbitrary hand of government sticking trying to force outlets and journalists to behave a certain way.
The point is press is always going to be biased. There are plenty of people in traditional media and non-traditional media who believe in the big government, and will espouse that point of view, whether it’s in the language they use in news reports, people they talk to, or questions they ask. There are people in media who prefer smaller, weaker government and will promote it through the language they use in news reports, people they talk to, or questions they ask.
But it should be the consumer who decides whether they want to read or watch news, not the government. If you don’t trust an outlet because of its “liberal/conservative viewpoint,” then go find somewhere else. The Internet is a wonderful place where all sorts of viewpoints can be found, whether it’s on your smartphone or browser. If you don’t like what the press is writing/saying, then create your own YouTube or Vimeo channel, or write down your opinions, print them out, and pass them out in your neighborhood. Stand on the side of the street and yell, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The press is lying to you! I’ll tell the truth!” The best news: it’s all (supposed to be) protected free speech here in America (unless it’s an obvious threat, then the authorities will probably get involved).
The fact is this: press has always been biased, and this notion the MSM isn’t really “free press” because it’s “just Democrat propaganda,” is ridiculous. Is it slanted? Absolutely. Do news outlets deserve criticism when they show irresponsibility? Yup, because that falls under freedom of speech, as long as the government doesn’t threaten to shut said outlet down. But their ability to publish and broadcast is just another part of the wonderfulness of freedom of the press, and liberty in general. People just need to grow up, and accept it’s not fair, never is going to be fair, and the government shouldn’t get involved in trying to make it fair. The times it did…things went pretty bad.