One of the roles of the government is for the three branches to check and balance one another. This works towards preventing corruption in the government and preventing one branch from becoming more powerful than the other branches. The government is not the only one capable of checking itself, and journalism plays a large role in watching the government. One of the roles of journalism is to inform the public of current events, and events relating to the government are not exempt. Journalists have a responsibility to publish the truth, and occasionally these truths make scandals and corruption in the government known to the public. If a politician is engaging in illegal activities, or if the government was trying to hide something, they would not wish for this information to be public. Journalists would report on it anyway, and in this way journalists have power over the government and government officials. Journalists have an influence on more than just the people in charge of the government, as they have influence over laws and policies. Part of reporting the truth involves reporting on policies and laws that need changing, sparking government action in the form of reforms to faulty laws. Just as journalism has power over the government, the government has some power over the government and can act as a check to them as well. Journalists have influence and power over government officials and over legislation, seen through the Watergate Scandal and reporting on Standard Oil respectively, and the government as well has some influence over journalism and what is and is not able to be published.
One of the greatest impacts that journalism has on the government is their power over government officials, especially the president himself. Journalists are constantly watching the president and reporting on his actions, both positive and negative. When scandals occur, it is the job of journalists to report to the public what is happening, even if in doing so it hurts the president’s reputation. In this way, journalism acts as a check on the president because he cannot get away with doing immoral or illegal actions without citizens becoming aware of it. The greatest example is the journalism done during the Watergate scandal. Five men had broken into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex, and it was later found out that the Nixon administration was connected to the break-in. Journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post are famous for their reporting on and work uncovering the truth of the scandal. The movie All The President’s Men depicts their process and work in uncovering the story. The pair worked for months conducting interviews and going through countless records in order to uncover the truth. The work they did was worth it however, and would end up changing history. Through their work, the pair discovered that the Nixon administration was behind the Watergate break-in. Mark Feldstein, a former investigative reporter for CNN and ABC, discusses the influence of Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting in an essay for the journal American Journalism. In talking about their work, he notes that, They were the first journalists to link the burglars to the Nixon White House, to disclose that the break-in was funded by the president’s re-election campaign, to report that it was part of a wider pattern of political sabotage, and to implicate Nixon’s attorney general and White House chief of staff in the scandal (Feldstein, 2014). Because of their work, the story was able to be pieced together and published. As a direct result of their journalism, citizen’s opinions of President Nixon became more negative and Nixon was forced to resign as president. This shows the power that journalism has in the government. By simply publishing this story, Woodward and Bernstein were able to set President Nixon’s resignation into motion. It was because they were journalists that Woodward and Bernstein were able to accomplish what they did. The press has the power and responsibility to report on issues such as this, even if it directly affects the president himself. This power comes from the first amendment, which grants freedom of the press. Under this amendment journalists can report on the government without censorship. With this right, journalists can break stories such as Watergate and hold power over politicians.
In addition to their impact on government officials, Journalists have an impact on the laws that the government passes as well. The job of a journalist is to make the public aware of current events. While not often, sometimes these events are serious enough to get the supreme court and or congress involved to fix a faulty law or to amend and issue. Journalists are able to inform the public of issues, and as a direct result the people become concerned about these issues and call for action. This leads to judicial and or legislative action, and the law is able to be changed through this. One of the most famous examples of a journalist’s work leading to a change in the law is when Ida Tarbell made it known to the public that Standard Oil was a monopoly, later causing the supreme court to break the company up. Tarbell was a writer for the magazine McClure’s Magazine, where she wrote he piece on the Standard Oil company. She spent years doing extensive research about the company and is considered one of the first investigative journalists. Through her research, she found that Standard Oil was a monopoly in the oil industry and had become that way through unethical practices. She published her research in the magazine, and it was later compiled into a book. American citizens were fascinated and outraged by her findings, and this led to the Supreme court’s involvement. Kathleen Brady, a former reporter for Time magazine and author of the book Ida Tarbell: Portrait of a Muckraker talks about Tarbell’s impact in an article for PBS. She writes that, In 1906, the U.S. government, drawing on information [Tarbell] had uncovered in several states, brought suit against Rockefeller’s company under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. In 1911, the Supreme Court found that the Standard Oil Company constituted a monopoly and had restrained trade unduly. It ordered the company to divest itself of its major holdings 33 companies in all (Brady 2017). Ida Tarbell’s work as an investigative journalist helped push the government to respond to Standard Oil’s monopoly. Without her investigation, it could have been a much longer time until Standard Oil was brought down.
As Brady states, the government drew from information that she discovered when making their suit, information that would have not been known had it not been for Tarbell’s work as an investigative journalist. This shows the impact that journalism can have on the government. In the hundred years since Tarbell’s work as a journalist, reporters have continued the trend of having their work act as a reason for change in the government. Through their work, journalists are able to bring light to issues, and once people are aware of the issue they can push for change. The government then takes action, drawing information from journalists, and through court cases and new laws they are able to change society for the better. Just as Journalism has influence over the government, the government also has influence over journalism’s power. One famous example of this is the government’s attempt to stop the publication of The Pentagon Papers. The papers were classified documentation on The United States’ political and military relations with Vietnam. The movie The Post depicts The Washington Post’s involvement and efforts in publication of the papers. In the movie, journalists from the post must decide whether to publish the information they have regarding the papers. They realize that publication of these papers could cause the government to sue them, which would result in the loss of the company. In the end it is decided that the publication of the truth is what is most important, and they go ahead with publishing the papers. The Washington Post was not the only news source to publish these, as The New York Times had as well right before they did.
When The New York Times began to publish these documents, the government fought back by attempting to block further publication of the papers. In a review of the book The Day The Presses Stopped, Joseph Becker explains the government’s reasoning for wanting to block the publication. He writes that, the Papers proved government deception about the aims and conduct of the war…Injecting fuel into the fire of Nixon’s old animus for the Times, he provoked an order to the Department of Justice to stop further publication (Becker 1997). The information contained in the Pentagon Papers was classified information, and the government did not wish for the public to have this information. In the papers were details about the Vietnam war that were not released to the public, and if this information was made available public opinion on the war and of the government would change. To combat this, the government called for the papers to cease publication, under the reasoning of national security. Immediately, The New York Times went to the Supreme Court to try and get this issue resolved so they could continue publication. Under the First Amendment, they had the right to freedom of the press and felt they should be legally allowed to publish the papers without government interference. The Supreme Court took the case, and the result of New York Times Company v United States ruled in the press’s favor and unblocked them from publication. This ruling is very important to journalism because it reaffirms the fact that the press is not to be censored. The government has a lot of power, but their power over the press is limited because of the First Amendment. This is for the best because without fear of censorship journalists can do their job and get information out there for people to take in.
The role of journalists is to inform the public of what is happening in the world, and the government is not usually able to stop this. However, there are still circumstances that the government can legally prevent the press from publishing information. The government has the power of prior restraint, which is preventing information from being published before it happens. Prior restraint cannot be used at random, as that would violate the first amendment freedom of the press. It can only be used in specific circumstances, such as national security. If the government knows that information is about to be published that will put the security of the country in danger, they can ban it from ever being published in the first place because of prior restraint. In situations such as war, the government can also limit the power of journalists. During the Persian Gulf War, restrictions were placed on journalists covering the war. An essay from the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review discusses this. In the essay, the author states that, During the Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon imposed the tightest restrictions on battlefield press coverage in American military history. The restrictions subjected all news gathered to a security review before it could be published and severely restricted media access to the battlefield (Boydston 1992). Here the government is restricting what journalists can do. Under these restrictions journalists were unable to easily access information, and the information that they could get was subject to review.
This severely limits the effectiveness of journalism in this situation. By being under restriction, they cannot effectively do their job of informing people of what is going on. This is a perfect example of the government having power and influence over journalism. Journalists could not do anything about the restrictions and had no choice but to let the government limit them. Just as journalists have power over the government, the government also has power over journalists. To conclude, journalism has a huge importance to the government. Through their work, journalists are able to impact the government in a variety of ways. One impact they have is on politicians themselves, when journalists uncover scandals and expose government corruption, such as what happened in Watergate. Another impact that journalists have is influence over the law, seen through Ida Tarbell’s journalism lending itself to a supreme court decision. While journalism impacts the government, the government can also impact and have influence over journalism, seen through the governments failed attempt at ceasing publication of the Pentagon Papers, and through there restrictions placed on journalists during the Persian Gulf war. Overall, journalism has a strong influence over the government, and because of the first amendment right to freedom of the press, the government is limited in what restrictions they can place on journalism, meaning journalism’s influence and power will last a long time.
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