Free and uncensored news media are essential for a democratic society. Just as death follows a person deprived of air, tyranny follows a society deprived of honest knowledge about the community, the nation, and the world. Thus, the media's role in American culture needs to be periodically evaluated. The purpose of this research is to examine the functions and power of the mass media in the United States and its impact on society.
Throughout this research, the terms "press" and "communications media" are used interchangeably to connote all institutional means for mass communication of information throughout society, including newspapers, television, radio and mass circulation magazines. Although it is difficult to gauge how much power is wielded by the media, there is no question the press is seen as a pivotal institution in the affairs of government.
The "founding father" of the Soviet Union, V.I. Lenin, recognized the power of the press in challenging the authority of the Communist government and thus urged its subordination: "Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are more fatal than guns" (Ladd, 1985, p. 471). Conversely, Thomas Jefferson also saw the value of the press in dispersing a diversity of ideas necessary for a free society, but Jefferson relished this function: "Were it left to
me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter" (Hulteng & Nelson, 1983, p. 2).
America's Founding Fathers did not hesitate to protect a free press. They drafted a provision in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of the press against government interference. That freedom was placed on the same par as freedom of speech - except that the clause relating to speech protects ...