Fit For Print: America’s Obsession With The Free Press

Even here at Colgate, with The New York Times at my fingertips everyday, I still always reach for The Post-Standard, the local paper, to catch up on world events. It’s mostly because I grew up reading this publication and enjoy getting some local news to supplement the international, but this past week I grew to appreciate it more. It wasn’t because of any Pulitzer Prize winning journalism or sensational five-part features, but rather, because its editors could do what their counterparts in Russia could not: freely report the news. While the hostage crisis in the Russian school dominated media across America and many other parts of the world, the Russian citizens were kept in the dark by their own elected federal government. On one of the blackest days in the lives of the Russian citizens, the Kremlin instructed the censored television news stations to withhold information from the people – to lie to them. Days after the deaths of over 300 schoolchildren, teachers and parents, President Vladimir Putin’s administration finally apologized to its constituents. Unfortunately, the watchful eye of the media didn’t cease there. The day after the eruption of carnage and destruction at the school, Izvestia, one of the nation’s most forthcoming news outlets, ran only one thing on Page One: a picture of a man carrying an injured child from the rubble. Shortly thereafter, Editor-in-Chief Raf Shakirov was forced to resign for what he termed his “emotional” coverage of the standoff. I don’t want to glorify the righteousness of the First Amendment, and I don’t want to rant about how the Russian government needs to embrace free press if it truly wishes to embrace democracy. I want us, as Americans, to realize the awesome impact and power of the media, the ever-present force that fills our streets and clutters our lives. American society is, undoubtedly, in a state of information gluttony. News, at time, seems to be rising out of cracks in the sidewalk. And we love it. Americans become almost hysterical when we are disengaged with our environments. It’s wonderful to think of free press as essential to promote the ideals of the founders, and it is. But today, it seems to have become essential to our very livelihood. Allowing the media to report the news in various and sometimes unique ways creates an atmosphere of public engagement. There must be something out there somewhere that every one of us can relate to. Partisan press has often been attacked form the left and right alike for distorting reality. But, really, partisan press is good. Having access to media that can freely, and even viciously, criticize the government is the best proof we have that an independent press really exists. The Bill of Rights works marvelously in theory, but without practical applications, it works as theory only. Sure, much of this reporting can be seen as widening America’s ideological gap, but would that divide really be any smaller with an “unbiased” press? I know I for one have constantly ridiculed the media business for sensationalist and incomplete coverage, all the while saturating myself with it. Sometimes, I wish the media as a whole would conduct itself more as an academic entity and less as a business. But, as one must do on an almost everyday basis in the United States, I must remember the bigger picture first. Let media be a business. Let it be a money-grubbing, sex-scandal-seeking, mud-slinging enterprise. Because, in Russia, in the midst of a national tragedy, the citizens were being treated to a show about taxi drivers.