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Modern Journalism misrepresents its importance. Founding Fathers defended a “Press” more similar to bloggers than mass media. 5/7/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in First Amendment, Instapundit, Jefferson, LA Times, McChesney.

Modern Journalism defender Robert McChesney claims in the LA Times that “effective journalism is the necessary condition for a self-governing society, for our constitution to succeed; our Founders, especially Jefferson and Madison could not have been more emphatic on that point.” Oh, yes they could. Such hyperbole about the sanctity of journalists is often rooted in a misreading of the First Amendment, where the phrase “freedom…of the press” is mistakenly thought to refer to special freedoms granted to a special class of people called “the press.” In its correct reading, the phrase grants all of us the free use of the printing press — that is, the right to publish what is on our minds, to complement the immediately preceding free speech phrase, which grants all of us the right to say what is on our minds.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds and I provide more proof that the First Amendment is being misread, including Jefferson’s reference to “free presses,” a usage which cannot possibly refer to journalists. But, the misreading becomes obvious if you really think about it. Consider that at the time the First Amendment was written, there essentially were no journalists as we think of them now. Newspapers were produced mostly in one-man shops by those whose trade was “printer” — not “reporter,” “journalist,” “columnist,” or “editor.” It would be another 30 years before America had its first full-time reporter. Moreover, Jefferson did not even believe that a specialized class of people using “scientific” journalism methods (e.g. “the discipline of verification”) would be capable of providing “truth.” He placed his faith instead in a freewheeling marketplace of ideas engaged in a “fair operation of attack and defense.” “Nature,” he said, “has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth whether in religion, law, or politics.” In fact, he and Madison even launched their own highly partisan, non-objective newspaper called the “National Gazette” that mercilessly attacked Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists. There seems little doubt he would have had greater faith in the blogosphere than in Modern Journalism.


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