Sentinel under Siege: The Triumphs and Troubles of America's Free Press

By Stanley E. Flink | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The concept of the free press as the sentinel who guards democracy has been deeply rooted in American history. The Founders of the United States supported that concept eloquently and without exception.

Accordingly, the press was the only commercial enterprise given specific constitutional protection -- the First Amendment.

The press was expected to alert the public to the abuse of power by government officials and expose corruption in the private sector.

At the end of the twentieth century, after more than 200 years of growth and technological evolution, the free press - print and electronic -- is facing a time of crisis. Public trust is eroding, and the instruments of cyberspace are fragmenting the distribution of information that was for so long controlled by press organizations.

In recent years the mainstream press, once freestanding, has been acquired in great part by corporate entities whose diverse interests may conflict with the independence of news reporting.

At the heart of this dilemma is the belief that the constitutional protection of the press carries with it an obligation to provide a responsible and accountable information service in the public interest. If that service is compromised by competing corporate priorities or special interests of any kind, the possibility of government intervention increases.

In the coming years, responsible journalism can enlarge public confidence and sustain its economic viability, no matter how varied the distribution systems, by voluntarily generating self-regulated ethical standards.

There is no way the press can be policed from the outside without diminishing its freedom, but if the sentinel becomes a mere subordinate of powerful corporations, it will no longer be a guardian of public rights and could become a threat.

No democracy has survived without a free press. No despotism can permit a free press to exist.

Who, then, guards the sentinel?

-1-

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Sentinel under Siege: The Triumphs and Troubles of America's Free Press
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - IN SEARCH OF A ROLE 5
  • 2 - THE PRESS AND THE LAW 18
  • 3 - MALICE WITHOUT WIT 29
  • 4 - POMP AND PROVENANCE 45
  • 5 - PRACTICING FREEDOM 70
  • 6 - THE LIMITS OF LIBERTY 78
  • 7 - CRAFTING A CONSTITUTION 87
  • 8 - SAFEGUARDING LIBERTY 95
  • 9 - ENLARGING THE FOURTH ESTATE 100
  • 10 - THE BLOODIEST WAR 112
  • 11 - THE BOTTOM LINES 120
  • 12 - TURNING AWAY 140
  • 13 - THE FIRST AND THE FOURTEENTH 149
  • 16 - TRASH AND FLASH 172
  • 17 - THE IS AND THE OUGHT 180
  • 18 - THE CRITICS 188
  • 19 - FEAR AND LOATHING 197
  • 20 - THE WEIGHT OF OBLIGATIONS 209
  • 21 - THE PARADOX OF SELF-GOVERNMENT 218
  • 22 - LIBEL AND LIABILITY 234
  • 23 - FREE AS THE AIR 244
  • 24 - TRAINING THE WATCHDOGS 256
  • EPILOGUEO: PATHFINDING 262
  • Notes 271
  • SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 301
  • ABOUT THE BOOK AND AUTHOR 309
  • Index 311
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