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

By Stanley E. Flink | Go to book overview

20
THE WEIGHT OF OBLIGATIONS

Going back to the First Amendment, it's a right and a responsibility, as I'm sure everybody agrees. With our rights to be free come some responsibilities to use those rights. And I think some of the responsibilities include being a son-of-a-bitch at times, to the local bank in town or the local polluter in town, or whatever. -- Ed Diamond, former Newsweek editor; professor of journalism, MIT and NYU

The "moral relation of the press to society" has been the grist of dialogue -- and diatribe -- in the United States for as long as the nation has existed. When the University of Chicago published in 1947 the general report of the Commission on Freedom of the Press, it printed on the title page a remark made by John Adams in 1815: "If there is ever to be an amelioration of the condition of mankind, philosophers, theologians, legislators, politicians, and moralists will find that the regulation of the press is the most difficult, dangerous and important problem they have to resolve. Mankind cannot now be governed without it, nor at present with it."1

Henry Luce, whose editors had helped to make Robert Hutchins famous, was not thought to be philosophically attuned to the outspoken university president's views, but he nonetheless selected Hutchins to organize a comprehensive study of the press as an institution, hoping -- perhaps expecting -- that a ringing reaffirmation of first principles would emerge. The founder and publisher of Time and Life not only provided most of the funding but agreed to keep hands off. He waited for an invitation to speak to the esteemed group of intellectual paladins Hutchins had assembled and, after that, kept his distance as promised.2

During his one meeting with the commissioners, Luce discussed his view of their ruminations. "It is important to produce a broader understanding," he said, "in the democratic society as to the agreed standards and the responsibilities of the press." He declined to suggest any specific agenda, ex-

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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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