Opinions on the media and the role it plays in the United States’ democracy

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AUSTIN KLAWITTER | ASST. OPINION EDITOR | aklawitt@butler.edu

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees the right to free speech and guarantees the right to a free press.

Without a free press, democracy is no longer democracy. Watergate, the Harvey Weinstein allegations and information regarding armed robberies on Butler’s campus would not have been possible without a free and open press.

News media serves the public to enhance democracy by providing credible information and acting as a watchdog for inefficiency in the United States and specifically within the governmental process.

The 2016 election brought forth a familiar, but strengthened cry throughout the United States: the media is the enemy. This is perpetuated by the words and actions of the current White House administration.

The media is tasked with combatting accusations of bias, fabrication and lack of credibility. The media is tasked with combatting efforts to shut them out of the process. The media is tasked with combatting direct defamation by the President of the United States.

Attack after attack, misrepresentation after misrepresentation, the media is victim to a gross campaign of misinformation and mischaracterization fueled by the current, heavily partisan political climate.

Research provided by the Pew Research Center does conclude, however, that trust in the media is split by party lines, and conservatives trust the mainstream media a great deal less than liberals. The blame is not necessarily on conservatives, as the issue of the media continues to be a bipartisan one.

The media has been the subject of political attacks and political publicity stunts that serve no greater purpose than to undermine the media’s effective practices. These attacks come from those hoping to distract from actual issues or bring greater attention to themselves and their policy initiatives through manipulative, immature means.

In fact, Indiana State Representative Jim Lucas, in a rather unsurprising public affair, recently drafted a bill that would hypothetically require licensing for journalists, for religious expression, for speech and for the right to vote.

It is not worth the word count to explain why each of these is in direct violation of the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution of the United States. It is hardly worth even enhancing the platform the discreditable Lucas is attempting to place himself on.

The governor’s office and other members of the lawmaker’s party have reiterated and confirmed that it is no more than a publicity stunt to push the lawmaker’s initiative to repeal a gun law in Indiana. The lawmaker, who hails from Seymour, Indiana, seeks to repeal the Indiana law that requires citizens be licensed to carry a handgun.

Lucas claims that if the government has the right to license out the right to the second amendment, why not the others?

Journalism professor Scott Bridge’s concern lies in both the stunt and the attention given to it by the IndyStar.

“I just shook my head and immediately felt sorry for the legislative staff who works for Representative Lucas,” Bridge said.

No one in the Republican party, doubtfully even Lucas himself, takes the thought very seriously. Seemingly, Indiana Republicans attempt to not even take Lucas very seriously. The fact of the matter is, however, that Indiana State Representative Jim Lucas finds it justified and OK to equate the first and second amendments.

Professor Bridge also expressed a disappointment in the IndyStar for giving Lucas the platform he is seeking with this kind of stunt.

“The state of Indiana has some important issues that need to be addressed and it [the bill] is a waste of time” Bridge said.

Despite the demonization, the political gaffs and the stunts, the media pushes on. One might think that many are seeking alternate forms of media, due to the widespread denouncement of traditional media. The reality?

The citizenry is driven toward credible, quality news from reliable, traditional sources.

Nancy Whitmore, a professor of communication and journalism, is fully aware of the existing issues within the media field, but is confident in the people’s ability to seek quality news.

“The media has a credibility problem and that is nothing new,” Whitmore said. “The president and his tweets about fake news, failing New York Times, etc. have resulted in an increase in digital subscriptions to the New York Times and Washington Post.”

An article published last year for NPR supports the claim, showing a tremendous unprecedented increase in newspaper subscriptions for the current sociopolitical climate.

“People are seeking out well-respected, credible, traditional journalism in response to some of this [accusations of an underperforming media],” Whitmore said. “People still want and seek solid reporting that is verified, accurate and from news organizations with high standards.”

Lucas’ stunt, rather than create progress for a gun law, instead creates a discussion about what the press needs and what the freedom of press means in this country. The First Amendment has been under constant interpretation since it was drafted in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, and will continue to evolve as society does.

The nature of the First Amendment demands this conversation, and has demanded it throughout history. The Second Amendment, however, has only demanded that discussion and interpretation in more recent history, further proving the sheer ridiculousness of Lucas’ stunt.

The fact of the matter is, the media is doing its job and it is doing its job well. Day in and day out, stories are breaking. Throughout history, the media has served its role in an incredibly effective manner. Huge exposés from Watergate to the Weinstein allegations have been the result of an effective media.

Whitmore went on to defend the work of journalists.

“The New York Times and Washington Post are breaking things right and left with rigorous investigations always taking place,” Whitmore said. “I do not see a press that is going to back down when a thing like this [Lucas’ Bill] is discussed or introduced, instead I see a press that digs in.”

The news, and those who report it, give a voice to the voiceless, and seek to tell stories of truth for the betterment of the whole. It is evident here in the Butler Community, when publications like the independent Collegian or the SGA-run Carillon offer information regarding student relations with BUPD.

It is evident in the nationwide investigations that are expounded upon each and every day. It is evident in the perseverance of the journalist and the respect the journalist has for the ethics and morals of their craft.

The media is your voice. The media is your tool. The media is your education.

All you have to do is use it.

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3 Comments

  1. Jim Lucas said:

    In his October 31 opinion article and his zeal to try to discredit me, Mr. Austin Klawitter did a better job of making my point on the reprehensibility of the licensing of a Constitutional right than I ever could have dreamed. He expelled a tremendous amount of words defending the importance of our Constitutionally protected rights, and for pointing out the epic hypocrisy and double standard, Mr. Klawitter, I sincerely thank you!
    For this “stunt”, as journalism Professor Scott Bridge was quoted as calling it, I did nothing more than take the exact same language that so many in the media and journalism demand be used to exercise our 2nd Amendment rights and I applied it to journalists 1st Amendment rights. Suddenly, journalists and legal experts across the country went apoplectic, calling it unconstitutional.
    This presents quite the conundrum; how can language that is considered perfectly acceptable to infringe one Constitutionally protected right be unconstitutional when applied to another? If one right can be licensed, how can any intellectually honest person argue that the rest of our rights are immune from infringement?
    The answer is, you can’t.
    And here in lies the beauty and simplicity of my “stunt”. It exposed, in full view and for all the world to see, the hypocrisy, double standards and ultimately the danger of those willing to accept any form of infringement on any right. In the words of Thomas Paine, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
    Thank you for playing, Mr. Klawitter and Professor Bridge, thank you for playing!
    Jim Lucas
    State Representative
    District 69

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