FIRST PERSON-One of the fundamental constitutional rights that at least in theory distinguishes us from a totalitarian society is having a free press, something which is rightfully protected under the U.S. Constitution.
The press has been able to publish virtually anything that is not deemed pornographic under the Miller Test or that does not create a "clear and present danger" of grievous bodily harm by doing something like "yelling fire in a theater."
But with the advent of the Internet and 24-hour news cycles -- which are more than ever motivated by an "if it bleeds, it leads" mantra -- little thought has been given to how much of what we call “news” is real and how much is generated by copycat, marginalized folks. These bottom feeders know that, given the moment by moment focus of today’s media, their meaningless lives can achieve their own “15 minutes of fame" when the media cuts away from regular news to report on events like self-generated police pursuits or worse, the horror of going into a waffle house and randomly shooting people.
While it may not be pornographic as defined under the Miller Test, it seems we have arrived at a point in our 21st century high-tech society where the "prurient interest" of reporting endless car chases and senseless murders is immune to any form of rational regulation. What has to happen before there can be some limited regulation on covering these "news events" that have "no redeeming social value?" Or simply stated, how many people have to be killed by actions that are almost the same as "yelling fire in a theater" when the catastrophic results of not having reasonable regulation over reporting them can be predicted?
But given the pervasive control that corporations and foundations have over virtually all commercial and public media, how can such minimal censorship be accomplished without further limiting an already compromised free press? More than ever, when it comes to 1st Amendment freedom of the press and other Bill of Rights guarantees, there doesn't seem to be an easy fix.
Because we have already allowed the erosion of our civil rights by a corporate oligarchy that has completely taken over our political and economic processes, it is not easy to be honest with ourselves: whether its freedom of speech, privacy, due process, the right to bear arms or any other fundamental right we once had, we now have a lose-lose scenario in which none of our options are good. This is a rather bitter pill to swallow, which is why this topic is almost completely ignored in the media. But the longer we wait to address this regrettable situation the worse things will become. Thoughts?
(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles, observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second- generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.