Nice work interviewing your fellow students. I’ve made comments for all of you on your documents (if you uploaded a PDF, I created a googledocs file you can review). Please finish your revisions by (at which point I will give you a grade). See GRADEBOOK link to the right. In general, be sure to provide a captivating title and a good photo or two. Also make sure your introduction brings out key characteristics of your interviewee. I’ve also copyedited your pieces, so also review and correct any punctuation and sentence errors I highlighted (part of being a good journalist is producing relatively “clean”, catchy copy “on deadline.”) You will generally have an editor make varied corrections, cuts, and suggestions. My central suggestion to all of you as journalists is to provide LOTS of KEY details (pertinent to your subject matter) to fully bring your writing to life. Here is an excellent interview of Sean Saurez produced by Keyri that you can use for a model.
This week’s topic builds on our conversation of the critical role of the press (or fourth estate) for maintaining a vibrant democracy. To review, the press needs to 1) offer a wide marketplace of ideas, perspectives, and information to help citizens make informed decisions. 2) The press needs to inform the public about “what matters” (i.e. what they SHOULD be paying attention to). 3) It needs to serve as a “watchdog” of politicians, businesses, and institutions. 4) It needs to inform readers about important people, places, and events across the racial and social spectrum and 5) it needs to mobilize readers/viewers to “thought” and “action.” Let’s add one more: 6) IT NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH AND PROVIDE FACT-BASED, VERIFIABLE EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT ITS CLAIMS
Because of its importance, the right to a free press (and the freedom of speech) is enshrined in our First Amendment from the American Constitution, approved by all the states in 1789:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It’s interesting to note that freedom of speech and of the press are crunched together with other related rights: the practice of one’s religion, the right to assemble (protest) in the streets, and the right to tell the President he’s a jerk (!)
What I want you to think about this week is how well the First Amendment is (and has been) put into practice.
Do Americans have the legal right to criticize our government (and leaders of other countries)? Yes we do. This right was severely tested, however, when Julian Assange created a site called Wikileaks in 2010.
Since its inception, Wikileaks offers a platform to give whistleblowers a platform to expose hidden truths about various governments and institutions around the world.
Consequently, WikiLeaks has attracted a great deal of controversy from leaders and news organizations around the globe because the information it publishes usually creates a great deal of embarrassment and difficulty for international relations. Most famously, in 2010, WikiLeaks released evidence suggesting U.S. forces committed violations of international law during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2016, it released leaked emails that revealed campaign strategies and internal memos within Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign that may have cost her the election.
It’s important to keep in mind that it is not legal for WikiLeaks sources to steal secret documents and submit classified documents to the site. However, thanks to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it is legal for WikiLeaks to publish these documents and share them with the public. It is also perfectly legal for you to read information found on WikiLeaks. Despite First Amendment protections, founder Julian Assange is currently in a London prison, and American officials are dying to get their hands on him – and charge him with something to put him in jail (and shut down his site). Here’s a trailer for an excellent film on the story and impact of Julian Assange and Wikileaks called “We Steal Secrets”.
Just yesterday, another investigative site (the Pandora Papers) posted highly embarrassing information on how the leader of Jordan and other wealthy people across the globe hide their vast fortunes from the public eye. This is investigative journalism certainly doing “its job” as a watchdog. (Can you explain why doing so is so important?)
Does the First Amendment allow FAKE NEWS? Facebook (and Twitter) famously allowed the spread of false information during Donald Trump’s presidency but finally kicked him off their sites for lying about the election results (that Biden didn’t win) and generally riling up his supporters with false assertions (leading to the Capitol riots). More recently, we learn that for a long time Facebook has allowed false reports about the Covid Vaccine. Read: Covid Misinformation on Facebook is Killing People. (Can you delve more into this problem?)
What one is allowed to say and publish has been under constant scrutiny since our nation was first established. The same is true with the ever-presence and danger of Fake News. Please watch the fun video below, to see how Fake News was an issue even during the Revolutionary Era. It’s also a good overview of our first media outlets (before CNN, Facebook, and Twitter).
POST ASSIGNMENT: In a paragraph (or two), post a comment on one of the above readings and/or videos (you could follow up on some of the questions I ask). In your post, try to also provide an example of your own, either of an interesting case involving the First Amendment (freedom of speech/press) or a case of “Fake News” that has gone viral . Due Wednesday, Oct. 13.