Freedom of the Press—Abridged
When the founding fathers wrote the First Amendment of the Constitution, I bet they never could have imagined the power and influence the press would eventually wield and subsequently abuse, or how ratings and advertising would control the content of the news media. Today’s press is now a threat to the truth and justice for which the Constitution was written to uphold.
The media has strayed from merely reporting the news, to influencing public opinion one way or the other. Even if an actual news story is technically unbiased, sometimes their influence is exerted by the mere content they choose to report on. For instance, certain politicians may make a mistake and it’s barely noted if at all, while other politicians make a similar misstep and the news coverage goes on for weeks and weeks. Other times the media cherry picks their facts in order to make a case. They use omission, misrepresentation, and allegations by anyone, despite their agenda, to raise questions and concerns about an issue.
But it’s now, at this time in history, that the growing percentage of the population is fed up and tired of being told what to think. These same people understand the media needs to be reigned in—a lot. Finally, it’s beginning to happen.
The media is about to get the haircut they so desperately need and it is not going to come in the form of a constitutional amendment or even legislation. Instead, it seems the evolution of technology and social media is beginning to affect this change. People, agencies, departments, and organizations are taking back control over their own messages. We are now able to provide our own narrative fairly and more thoroughly than the press by releasing our own content, complete with videos, statements, pictures, and more online.
The best example of this is President Trump. Despite the media’s best efforts (and they are in an all out frenzy over this guy) the President controls his own messages, content, and narrative through social media. Like him or hate him, the media is far less effective against this president than ever before in history.
Perhaps a less controversial example is the recent video released by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. The video, featuring Sheriff Tony Spurlock tells the public what happened the night five deputies were shot, one fatally on December 31, 2017. The headline from the local media following the release of the video read, “Douglas County Sheriff Releases a Video Showing Portions of Deadly Deputy Zack Parrish Shooting.”
The significance of this headline is that none of the local news agencies were “first” or could brag about the story being “exclusive.” Why? Because the ones to break the story, control the content and message, and release the video footage was the involved sheriff’s office. Instead, the media was relegated to retelling the story the sheriff’s department had already shared—the way they wanted it told.
The sheriff’s video was very professional. It was scripted, had proper lighting, videography and was well edited. Moreover, it contained body camera footage, a timeline, and the thoughts from the sheriff regarding the actions of the deputies that night. Furthermore, it also honored the fallen officer, Deputy Zachari Parrish, for his sacrifice. The sheriff’s video on Facebook has over one and a half million views and climbing.
When I served as a supervisor in media relations at the Denver Police Department, we were among the first few agencies to begin releasing and controlling our own content. We were also pioneers in law enforcement regarding our efforts to change the false narrative against police by telling our own stories of the good work the men and women in blue do everyday. We put out videos, newscasts, interviews, and more. I also produced monthly audio podcasts with the Chief that answered questions from the rank and file. We grew our Facebook and Twitter followers into the tens of thousands. We controlled our own messages. It was and still is a very effective form of communication.
We should see more police executives following suit and they needn’t wait until an officer is killed to make a video. This can be done after an officer involved shooting, a controversial event, or to combat a media story in which the subject department was treated unfairly or their interview “cut up” in order to make them look bad.
I left the Denver Police Department in part because being on the front lines of this war on the cops I needed to have more freedom and latitude to say and put out the kinds of things I believed would help mend the relationship between police officers and citizens.
For example, a recent podcast of mine debunked a local news story from a Denver television station who raised concerns about an officer involved shooting. I believed the news story to be a poor representation of facts. It was the exact kind of media coverage that is responsible for the false narrative prevailing in this country that the police are out of control. I was able to break down the story, show piece by piece why I believed it was flawed, and then I presented evidence from the District Attorney’s investigation to also assist in proving the officer’s actions were reasonable and appropriate.
I didn’t have to sell my story to some newspaper, magazine, or television station. I didn’t have to convince a news editor or program director to put my story on the air. Instead, I just got out my camera, recorded what it was I needed to say and put it out there for the world to see, for those that wanted the truth. Now, I certainly don’t have the viewership of that local Denver station, not yet at least, but my podcast has been seen by thousands of people so far and grows every week. And since this tapering of the news media’s power and influence is in its infancy, well that’s a good start.
So while the founding fathers may not have anticipated that freedom of the press would have spiraled as far as it has, we can all be assured a remedy is already en route. The basic tenets they laid out were so amazingly brilliant as to enable us to become the strongest, richest, and most prosperous nation on earth in a relatively short period of time. I believe the founding fathers did have the foresight to know not to legislate too many rules and regulations. They built our nation on good basic principles and then left us in charge of giving the haircuts—however we see fit.
Steve Warneke is a retired sergeant, consultant, speaker, and author of From Boy To Blue. You can find podcasts and more from Steve at www.SteveWarneke.com.