50 pages 1 hour read

Edward S. Herman, Noam Chomsky

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

Nonfiction | Graphic Memoir | Adult | Published in 1988

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The Role of an Independent Press

The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from restricting the freedom of the press. These few words—along with guarantees of religious freedom, assembly, and speech—define in broad terms what has become sacrosanct in the United States: the right of a free and independent press to exist, to inform, and to challenge official doctrine. In theory, an autonomous press free of censorship and outside control is a vital cog in any democratic society. Since it is unrealistic to expect the masses to engage in that kind of inquiry and investigation on their own, journalists assume that role. Ideally, a well-informed public makes well-informed decisions, and those decisions then trickle up to the highest levels of power.

There is, however, a good deal of wiggle room in that brief constitutional definition. Consider the number of court cases challenging the press’s right to publish certain information, few more famous than the Pentagon Papers (The New York Times Co. v. United States). The Pentagon Papers were a voluminous study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam containing, among other things, classified information about U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia. Citing national security concerns—a defense that has become de rigueur in such cases—Nixon’s White House sought to ban the publication of the study.