First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Results of Today's First Amendment Survey Mean

Earlier today, the First Amendment Center put out its excellent annual report on the State of the First Amendment.  Let's take a look at some of its results and what they mean in real world terms.

When over 1,000 American adults were asked about "the single most important" freedom we have, 47% said freedom of speech (with freedom of religion coming in second at 10%).  Great!  But, 34% believe "that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees."  This is a big jump from last year when only 13% agreed with that statement.  Not great; although, it is not clear from the Report what "going too far" really means.

The report notes that, in the past 15 years of polling, there have been two marked jumps in the view that the First Amendment "goes too far": after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and now (this year's survey was conducted in May 2013, shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings).  This is a potent reminder that the value Americans place on even our most cherished freedoms may fluctuate because of fear.  

This fear may be reflected in other ways.  As compared with five years ago, more Americans (44% today vs. 37% in 2008) believe that journalists should "be required to reveal their confidential sources to make America safer."  A majority (51%) of Americans still disagree with forcing journalists to reveal their sources under such circumstances.  This poll was conducted in May 2013, before Edward Snowden asked to be revealed on June 9 as the source of massive NSA leaks. 

Although only 1% identified freedom of the press as the right they hold most dear, the Report shows the perceived level of bias in the media is at its lowest point since 2004.  That is encouraging, but surprising considering how often we hear about alleged bias in the media.

And, it is tempered by another statistic: a whopping 74% of Americans get "most" of their news from media sources whose "views" are in line with their own.  Perhaps that means Americans perceive less bias simply because they exercise their own bias in choosing their unbiased news sources.


  1. True journalists deserve stronger protections. In return however, there should be greater restrictions on what constitutes a journalist/reporter.

    Just because you have a blog does not mean you can state something and not disclose where your information came from. As technology "advances" if we allow the definition of a report to continue to lessen, then everybody will view themselves as a reporter and not have to disclose anything ever.

    The "News" should be a cherished and protected entity. Broadcast channels should provide the news commercial-free in exchange for their licenses.

    While difficult, some control over cable stations needs to be implemented (perhaps pressure on corporations who own both broadcast/cable entities first) so that left or right wing propaganda is not pushed out to the masses under the guise of "News".

    If we can put the genie back in the bottle and have more pure news, then those doing actual reporting should be protected as strongly as this blog seems to advocate they should.

  2. Sorry for the belated reply, She Who Speaks Last.

    You raise several points. I agree that journalists deserve greater protections. There is considerable debate over what the definition of a journalist should be, e.g., in the context of the proposed federal shield law, which seems to exclude bloggers and freelancers. Many folks are legitimately gathering and disseminating important, newsworthy information (i.e., engaging in real deal journalism) who do not work for traditional news media companies.

    It is probably not a surprise, but I am not a fan of telling media companies that they cannot advertise during their news hour. Generally, I don't like the government telling anyone what they cannot say or when they cannot say it. Nor would I endorse "pressure on corporations who own both broadcast/cable entities." What kind of "pressure" did you have in mind?

    Finally, I find that media companies (and their reporters) tend to need protections most often when they are reporting "pure news" (as you put it) -- i.e., NSA surveillance, war reports, investigative pieces. At least those are the types of stories that tend to attract the government's attention lately.