The President And The Press

My post last Thursday seems to have stirred a bit of controversy, but it also helped to galvanize a common belief: We as a nation require a more vigilant and unbiased press. I'm not alone in praying that the TV insiders and reporters among the readership will begin to ask the questions that need to be asked and answered, and find both the freedom and courage needed to do so.


As one reader intimated, when the press -- be it print, TV, radio or Internet -- fails to report the truth, the American people, and their liberties, are in peril. The average Joe does not have the time or access needed to investigate, query, and report. That is the domain, indeed, the responsibility, of the media. And when the media squanders its opportunity to spend our attention informatively, instead mobilizing its hypnotic, high-production-value machine to disingenuously opine, we end up merely filling our minds with self-serving sound bites: victuals of vain veracity that tend to only cement the increasingly bitter bedrock of belief that divides mother from daughter, father from son, free man from freedom.



Forty-seven years ago yesterday, on April 27, John F. Kennedy gave a landmark speech to the members of the American Newspaper Publishers Association. At 19:11 in length, even without the visual aids of television (the event was not videotaped), one is still able to quickly discern the way our greatest modern American President moved from congeniality and humor, to sobriety and urgency. (Note: To obtain a PDF copy of the text, and a link to the soundtrack, click here.)

JFK's speech was prescient then -- today, it is haunting.

It is therefore no wonder that in our microwave-on-demand-multimedia-mashup world, portions of this speech have been selectively edited and spliced, matched with photos of America's darkest day, and presented on the little TV screens linked to You Tube and Google video. One can google "JFK secrecy" and from your choices, you will find that Kennedy's references to secrecy and secret societies in his April 27 speech, are without exception included in virtually every presentation:

The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.

Add a bit of dark music, or sullen piano, and you've got yourself a 5-minute creepfest that lingers long after the screen-saver kicks in.

But taken in its entirety, the speech, dubbed "The President and the Press," was more about the increasingly urgent need for a solution to the question of balance between open reporting, and tempered restraint on matters of national security.

This is a challenge that still faces us today.

...Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed--and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy.

And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment-- the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply "give the public what it wants"--but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion. Forty-seven years later, our true dangers have yet to be stated, while they prey on the uninformed, arouse little suspicion, and thrive in the fertile environment of misdirection, justified by giving the public what it wants.

Would any President have the courage to speak as freely today? And if not, why not?

Sadly, JFK may have posthumously answered that question for us.

4 comments about "The President And The Press".
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  1. John Most from MOSTonBrands, April 27, 2009 at 7:20 p.m.

    Press? What press. All we have now are a bunch of entertainers who feel they are all smarter than the American people. And since the American people are STUPID in their mind, THEY will decide what's important and what isn't...who get's elected and is heard from and who isn't...and who will have their character assasinated and who will be the annointed one.

    The press is a joke and I'm ashamed as an American of the institution.

  2. Jim Courtright from Big Thinking By The Hour, April 27, 2009 at 7:21 p.m.

    I was so inspired by your reporting that I actually spent time looking into the points you brought up, and additionally researched them. Not only reading the Kennedy speech, but listening to it as well, (which I recommend to all your readers, as the audience laughter powerfully punctuates his speech).

    As a result, I wanted to share an additional spin on the subject of government/press relations by adding a historical perspective.

    The Kennedy speech you quote took place less than 2 weeks after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which Kennedy ordered within 3 months of assuming the Presidency in 1961. A rather bold move in a very Cold War-paranoid time.

    Only 5 years earlier, Kruschev had promised "we will bury you". A year later, the Russians would plant missiles in Cuba.

    My guess is that Kennedy had a lot of secrets on his mind while he was exhorting the press to contemplate the balance between wide-open journalism and national security.

    You are right. The parallels between then and now are powerful. Let's hope our journalistic brethren, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat-leaning or Republican-leaning, understand this.

    Jim Courtright

  3. Quinn Britt from Connect America, April 27, 2009 at 7:51 p.m.

    Frank--the second of two great articles! Thanks for having the courage to call attention to an issue that may pose the greatest threat to our freedom.

    All I expect from "the news" is objectivity, but it seems increasingly that's the last thing I get. Would that today's "journalists" understood this concept.

    What's just as distressing to me, though, is how the bias that's so prevalent in the "news" media has found its way into everyday business communication. Too often, recent MediaPost writers have interjected political opinion into coverage of media issues where it has no place.

    Many recent MediaPost aricles contain references that subtly or not-sot-subtly promote or attack a particualr political opinion in the course of addressing a media issue. While I understand the difference between "journalists" and "comentators", I think too often many MediaPost aurhors cross the line with their opinion on issues not relevant to the primary media issue at hand.

    To those authoring such articles, I would ask: If you feel compelled to communciate your politial bias, how can I trust that your coverage of the underlying issue is not simiarly biased?? And if I don't agree with the political bias you've interjected into your article, why should I accept the business position you are advocating.

    I don't know about you, but I'll get political commentary from O'Reiley or Oberman, if I want it. I'd rather my business communications focus solely on business issues. The only exception is in articles like this one where politics is inherent in the media issue being discussed.

    Thanks again for two great, thought-provoking articles. You are a true patriot for sounding this alarm.

  4. David Thurman from Aussie Rescue of Illinois, April 30, 2009 at 9:45 a.m.

    Excellent Frank! Your becoming my favorite MediaPost blogger:)


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