Here in America, we have a beautiful thing known as freedom of the press. Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, freedom of the press was created as part of the foundation of liberty in our Republic. Hugo Black, the former Supreme Court Justice said, “The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”
Journalists have the job of holding the government accountable through telling stories that need to be told. Thomas Jefferson and other the founding fathers ensured the freedom of the press. Jefferson even went as far as to say that the press was more important than the government when he said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
We tend to think the other way around. To us, government seems to be the leader, but the government without the press would be a disaster. The press is the finest check and balance of the government. The government does not have any motivation to disclose information that is not beneficial to its own end.
As with every good thing, too much of it becomes harmful. In this past election, candidate Trump coined the phrase “fake news.” And the phrase took off—even to the point of becoming a halloween costume and a bitmoji. The idea of fake news is not a new one, however. “Fake news” has always been a problem. Historically, articles have been published without thorough fact checking while others have been intentionally dishonest.
This problem leads to the question of what can and should be done? Some say that censorship is the right way to go, but with that solution another problem is created, one that restricts the press’s ability to communicate effectively. As college students, we know the importance of accuracy. No professor is going to take, “I tried to be accurate,” as an excuse when disputing your test score. Truth is essential.
Obviously, the media should be as accurate as possible, but yellow journalism is proof that journalists have the freedom to publish information without the government restricting them, and that is exactly what the founding fathers wanted.
Tom Stoppard, the British playwright, said, “Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins.” Stoppard is arguing that instead of disregarding fake news, we need to realize that it is actually a surprisingly beautiful part of celebrating the freedom that we have and the privilege of living in a glorious republic which celebrates freedom of the press—which sometimes comes with disadvantages such as “fake news.”
While “fake news” is proof of freedom of expression, truly respecting this right is only possible when two things happen: first, when there is no censorship by the government and second, when the press and citizens at large have the personal self-mastery, virtue, and integrity to freely report the news in a professional and unbiased way.