A nationally renowned First Amendment advocate spoke Tuesday evening on the West Bank about the current state of journalism.
Bruce Sanford, author of “Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How Our Growing Hatred of the Media Threatens Free Speech for All of Us,” spoke to about 200 students, faculty members and local journalists at Cowles Auditorium in the Hubert H. Humphrey Center.
An attorney based in Washington, D.C., Sanford has devoted his life to the protection of the press. He said many alarming trends have developed in recent years, some leading toward public cynicism of modern news organizations.
The media searches for “simplicity in a world of complexity,” Sanford said. This leads to stereotyping and prejudice, he added.
Modern media has also become obsessed with scandals, he said.
“The public is fed up with media probing of dirty laundry,” Sanford said. He noted the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and the “flesh-eating huns” that covered it.
Corporate monopolies have been far more concerned with profit; therefore, they create stories that people want to hear — as opposed to the stories they need to hear, Sanford said. This sensationalism of news is one of the greatest threats to the U.S. Constitution, he said.
“The celebrification of the news is a cancer,” Sanford said, and added that the trend is spreading rapidly among large, corporate-owned news organizations. This rising emphasis on celebrities has led to an over-simplification of the news, which is dangerous to the public, he said.
He said he also fears for media in the wake of the Chiquita-Gannett settlement, in which Chiquita received a huge settlement after Gannett discovered a reporter illegally tapped into Chiquita’s e-mail system. The settlement came despite the fact that many allegations in the story were true and uncovered legally.
Sanford also reminisced about Otto Silha, the longtime editor of the Star Tribune who died Saturday. He noted Silha’s commitment to journalistic integrity and the role that Silha played in his community — responsibilities all journalists should feel, he said.
“His commitment was to society, not to profit,” Sanford added.
He said that the public yearns for accuracy, depth and content in journalism.
Instead, he said, they find a type of journalism that takes advantage of the flexibility of the Constitution.
“Journalism should be building America, not hurting it,” he said.
The event was cosponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Minnesota Journalism Center.