Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

From News Chaos to Information Cocoons

On a day when dog-stomping videos get Constitutional protection, questions arise about how First Amendment freedoms may be exacerbating today's political polarization.

Americans have come a long way from 1923 when Time Magazine first appeared to save them from being confused by "the million little chaoses of raw news" with a Voice from Above to explain what it all means. Back then, A. J. Liebling could rightly conclude that freedom of the press was limited to those who own one.

Now in a 24/7 flood of ideas and images, David Brooks tries to make the case that "the Internet is actually more ideologically integrated than old-fashioned forms of face-to-face association...You’re more likely to overlap with political opponents online than in your own neighborhood."

His evidence is flimsy after citing stronger arguments that the Internet "may be harming the public square" by allowing us to personalize our news, visit only Web sites that confirm our prejudices and live in "information cocoons" that strengthen them.

The Supreme Court's decision on the loathsome videos suggests how hard it is to draw a line between free expression and behavior that damages the society.

In shielding the videos, eight out of nine members declined to limit First Amendment freedoms, with only Justice Alito dissenting with the opinion that they are linked with "violent criminal acts, and it appears that these crimes are committed for the sole purpose of creating the videos.”

Nobody is killing dogs on cable TV or YouTube--yet--but rabid ravings are degrading public discourse everywhere (pace Tom Tancredo) and the only permissible American response is not to suppress them but express a cathartic disgust, as Time's Joe Klein did this week.

The founding father, Henry Luce, would have approved.

1 comment:

Fuzzy Slippers said...

This is a tough one for me; I do think that the First Amendment is vital to our republic. However, I can't figure how the video or photo of an illegal act can be legal. Does that mean that snuff films are okay, even though murder is illegal? Unfathomable.