Media and public both should cool down

Recent surveys show the press’s position in society is precarious. These surveys illustrate the public’s fear of the press’s power and show a deep misunderstanding regarding the role of the press. Journalists and the public should work together rather than act as adversaries.
These survey results are caused by several factors. One of the most obvious is the media blitz caused by President Clinton and his sexual exploits. Many people blame reporters for bringing the president’s misconduct to their attention when they might have preferred to turn a blind eye. Another event that had a large effect on the surveys was Princess Diana’s death. Some feel her death was directly caused by the paparazzi, which in their eyes mars all journalists. Finally, the infamous O.J. Simpson case, which crowded all media outlets for the better part of two years, is a perfect example of media saturation. Each of these cases has torn at the public’s trust of the media.
The media has demonstrated bad judgement in reporting. For example, the case of Richard Jewell during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta proved the damage that can be done by valuing ratings over ensuring accuracy. Journalists need to use sound judgement when deciding how to fulfill their role in society. They need to understand the sensitive nature of their position between the government and the people. However, the public’s reaction has blown these cases out of proportion.
One of the main functions of the press is to act as a watchdog. A poll taken from Feb. 26 through March 24 of 1,001 adults by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University reveals that the public views the watchdog role as a less important role for the press. Thirty-five percent of interviewees felt newspapers should not be allowed to publish freely without government approval. Fifty-two percent of the people surveyed felt government secrets should not be reported.
How can individuals protect themselves against something unknown? The average citizen does not have the time to thoroughly investigate the activities of the government. The media provides important access to otherwise unavailable information about the government so people can protect themselves.
While the media is supposed to be an important democratic tool, a similar survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for The People and The Press shows that many people feel the press works against democracy rather than for it. Only 45 percent felt the media protected democracy; 38 percent of those surveyed said the media hurt democracy. If the people view the press as a negative force the media will not be able to do their job in upholding the principles of democracy.
The public needs to understand the pursuit of truth will sometimes bring up unpleasant facts. Yet it is important to have those facts investigated in order to protect against the powers of government. The press has a considerable amount of power which at times has been misused. The appropriate response is not to take away the power, but to encourage the better use of that power. The press should restrain themselves in their presentation of scandalous information. Simultaneously, the public should realize the danger of a society without a free press.