In Chapter 7 of Principles of American Journalism, one of the quotes toward the beginning of the chapter about the First Amendment stuck out to me:
“Have any 45 words generated more controversy, engendered greater debate and resulted in more titanic legal clashes in our nation’s history?” (Craft & Davis 181)
I think it’s interesting how this one principle that has been a constant since the beginning of our democracy has been so complex throughout America’s history. As a journalist, even with freedom of speech, there’s still a lot you have to consider that the authors touched on, like libel and testifying about anonymous sources. However, despite all its complexity, we wouldn’t have journalism as we know it without freedom of speech, so as a student studying journalism, I am pretty grateful to have such a freedom.
I’m also grateful because in a way, I understand what censorship feels like. In high school, all of our articles had to be read by our journalism teacher, and then approved by our principal. We couldn’t really write anything too controversial, because the administration wanted our school to be portrayed in a positive light. Although I understand that from a PR perspective, my job as a journalist isn’t just to write about the good things. While editors will always ultimately determine what is written, they understand the principles of journalism and abide by them, not a PR agenda. I appreciate having the opportunity in college, and eventually the professional world, to report the truth.
Another quote from this chapter stuck out to me:
“We are often eager to repress speech we disagree with, and so we have built a legal system of protection to overcome that impulse” (196).
This is a great way to describe the purpose of the First Amendment. Although we might not agree with what someone says, that doesn’t give us the right to restrict their speech. If we simply repressed all speech we disagreed with, then we wouldn’t be able to acknowledge differing viewpoints and have discussions and debates about these viewpoints.
It also makes me think about how President Trump speaks (and tweets) negatively about the media, and particularly when media outlets say something he disagrees with. Although he might not agree with what everyone says about him, if he completely restricted people from saying those things, he’d be closing his mind to different viewpoints. The First Amendment also gives us the opportunity as journalists to hold those in power accountable, which is extremely important.
I think it’s also important to remember that although the First Amendment gives you the right to say (almost) whatever you want, it doesn’t necessarily protect you from the consequences of saying whatever you want. The First Amendment particularly protects people from the government taking action against you, so that means if you say something that could be taken as offensive, you could still be fired from your company. I don’t think enough people truly understand the First Amendment and freedom of speech, so it was helpful to read this chapter.