Freedom of the Press: Crash Course Government and Politics #26
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Freedom of the Press: Crash Course Government and Politics #26

Hi, I’m Craig and this is Crash Course Government
and Politics, and today we’re gonna finish up our discussion of the First Amendment, finally,
by talking about everybody’s favorite: the press. The First Amendment is pretty clear that Congress
can’t make any laws abridging the freedom of the press, and since you understand the
basics of free speech because you were paying attention, the reasons for this should make
a lot of sense. But as with any discussion of the First Amendment, things aren’t as straight
forward as we might think, and the freedom of the press, just like the freedom of speech,
is not absolute. [Theme Music] The main thing to know about the First Amendment
and the press is that it prevents the government from censoring the press. For the most part,
this means preventing the press from publishing some information in the first place, although
it can also mean punishing a news agency after they published something. Let’s deal with
pre-publication freedom of the press first. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Censorship of the press before a story is
published in print, broadcast on television, radio or the internet, is called prior restraint,
and the supreme court ruled that it was not allowed in a case called Near v. Minnesota.
In that case, a newspaper called The Saturday Press was gonna publish a story that the city
of Minneapolis was under the secret control of a cadre of Jewish gangsters, in particular
the mayor and chief of police. City officials obtained an injunction to stop the publication
of this story, and they gave The Saturday Press editors the opportunity to go before
a judge to prove that the story was true. I’ll get to this question of truth in a minute. The judge ordered the injunction and said
that if the newspaper violated it, they would be punished for contempt of court. Instead,
the newspaper counter-sued, claiming that Minneapolis and Minnesota were violating their
freedom of the press. The supreme court agreed that no government was allowed to censor the
press because a free press is essential for the political system to work. They based their
decision on a lot of history, including Blackstone – the British legal authority which explained
“The liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state; but this consists
in laying no previous restraints upon publications and not in freedom from censure from criminal
matter when published.” And they also relied on an important American
authority on the constitution: James Madison – heard of him? – who derived a lot of his
constitutional expertise from the fact that he wrote the thing. He said, “This security
of the freedom of the press requires that it should be exempt not only from previous
restraint by the executive as in Great Britain, but from legislative restraint also.” Citizens need a free press to be able to criticize
the government and to expose government wrongdoing because otherwise the government can get away
with all sorts of things that we don’t want it to, like say spying on us, and reading
our email, and reading our spy’s email! Of course, even with a free press, the government
can do this, and what constitutes a press in the age of the internet is a debatable
question. WikiLeaks, anyone? But the basic proposition that the press must be able to
protect us against an over-reaching government still stands. Thanks Thought Bubble. There’s another reason why the Court put the
kibosh on prior restraint, and that’s because if a newspaper prints something that is untrue
about the government, or more practically, about a government official, there’s a remedy
for this. The person or agency about whom the untrue thing was said or written and published
can sue the publisher for libel, and if he proves his case, can get monetary damages.
This is supposed to prevent newspapers from flat out lying about public officials, but
libel suits can cause another problem, in that they can basically end up being after
the fact censorship. If a newspaper is so afraid of a libel suit that it decides not to
publish a story, then it effectively censors itself. Sometimes courts call this a “chilling effect”
and it applies to speech that people are afraid to make because of potential lawsuit or other
punishment, as well as articles and news stories that go unpublished out of fear of potential
punishment. Tell you what, I ain’t afraid of punishment for that. I can do what I want!
Freedom of speech! Luckily for us, the Court dealt with the libel
issue in another landmark case, New York Times v. Sullivan from 1964. This case involved
an advertisement in the Times that included some inaccurate statements about the way Alabama
law enforcement was treating Civil Rights protesters including Martin Luther King Jr.
The Montgomery Public Safety Commissioner, L.B. Sullivan thought these mis-statements
amounted to libel and sued the Times. He lost at the Supreme Court, and they ruled that
the standard for libel of a public figure was actual malice, which was my nickname in
high school. This means that in order to win a libel case,
you must prove that the publisher of the libelous statement knew that the statement was false
and acted with reckless disregard, my friend’s nickname in high school, for the truth. This
is an almost impossible standard to prove, and what it means is that public figures almost
never win libel cases. This goes a long way toward explaining some of outlandish things
you read about politicians and celebrities in print, and I’m not even gonna begin to
talk about some of what you can find on the Internet, like a bearded dude talking about
government and punching eagles. Some argue that we shouldn’t feel too bad
about celebrities, and we should remember that they are celebrities and are usually
doing alright for themselves. Unflattering publicity might simply be considered the price
of fame. I’d point out that celebrities are human, too, except for Lil Bub, the only non-human
celebrity, and probably don’t like being libeled. I guess Jar-Jar Binks is another non-human
celebrity, and he gets a lot of bad press, but he truly is terrible, so it’s not libel. So it sounds like the First Amendment protection
of a free press is pretty much absolute, but there are always exceptions that make things
complicated. One of these exceptions is the question of national security. There are some
security issues that are so important that the government is allowed to censor the press
before they can print stories about them. The best example of this is that the government
can prevent the press from printing detailed descriptions of troop movements during a war,
because this would help the enemy and put soldiers’ lives at risk. It’s kinda like in
the spy movies when the bad guys learn all the names and aliases of the secret agents,
except it’s real. Knowing this, most newspapers wouldn’t print this sort of thing, at least
while it’s happening. But what about after the fact? Well, it gets
complicated, but another Supreme Court case gives us some guidance about what to expect.
In New York Times v. US — why is it always the New York Times? — the issue was whether
or not the Times could publish the Pentagon Papers. These were secret documents, stolen
from the government by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked at the Defense Department. They
showed that much of the government’s reasoning behind the Vietnam War was untrue or at least
highly questionable, hmm, I’m gonna go with untrue. The government tried to stop the Times
and the Washington Post, too, from publishing these papers, because it would make the government
look bad and perhaps turn public opinion against the war. Now, this was 1971, and a good deal
of public opinion was kind of already against the war, so much so that Lyndon Johnson had
decided not to run for re-election just a few years before in 1968. But the government
said that publication of this classified report would cause irreparable harm to America’s
ability to defend itself, and they tried to stop the publication. The Court ruled against
this prior restraint, further strengthening the First Amendment protection of the free
press. It also slapped down the executive branch, which was trying to claim its privilege
to keep state secrets. But we already mentioned this when talking about Nixon and his attempts
to hold on to the Watergate tapes. Anyway, as you can see, the First Amendment
offers a lot of protections to citizens in the press, especially when they’re criticizing
the government or its policies, or even when they’re making fun of celebrities. This is
really, really important, because American democracy relies on its citizens having enough
information to make good decisions and hold elected officials accountable. We rely on
the press to tell us what the government is doing so that we can decide whether or not
we want to let them keep doing it. If the government can keep us from getting important
or even not so important information by censoring the press or by preventing us from speaking
out against what we see as wrong, it will be able to keep doing this that might be bad,
and this is the kind of tyranny that the Framers of the Bill of Rights were most worried about.
So the more you’re concerned about tyranny, the freer you want speech and the press to
be. This is something to think about when you engage in arguments about Edward Snowden and
his NSA disclosures, or Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next time.
Crash Course Government and Politics is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support
for Crash Course US Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports non-profits that use
technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives
at Crash Course is made with the help of all of these free speakers. Thanks for watching.
That guy speaks a little too freely, if you ask me.


  • Holobrine

    I suppose a possible way to get around the libel issue is by having an interview with someone, because then it's freedom of speech.

  • Christian Kunert

    QUESTION: Can you sue for a counter statement? In Germany you can go to court and force a newspaper TV-show etc. To print your version of a story in case the original story was not true or missing points that make you look bad.ย 
    Personally I think this is a good way of dealing with the thin line between the personality rights and the free press.

  • Jay Mills

    With such facts and production value why read as if your lips are on fire? Students of even high working memory have a difficult time putting the pieces together. Every teacher I've ever met agrees. Too bad.

  • Stephen Furr

    Maybe a convocation of eagles killed Craig's family when he was a little boy, and this is his way of dealing with it. It would have to be something pretty bad to justify so many punched eagles…

  • Ted Striker

    Being free to publish and being able to gain an audience are two very different things. You end up with a bunch of wealthy Jews running the major media and brainwashing you. Not to mention they can effectively shut down other media, by launching smear campaigns.

  • Christopher Martinez

    You're eyes are so clear that I would assume you just smoked a blunt before class. Normal people eyes aren't that clear Wheezy

  • Jason

    I still wish this was specified as American Government & Politics, seeing as how it's so biased towards the now-outdated system of privatised capitalism currently ruining America.

  • John Wendland

    Interesting, but one must consider the side that the press takes. For example, in your radio broadcast is exceptionally biased towards rightest ideal or your TV media is biased toward leftist ideals, then the question remains whether or not you can trust the press to be an trustworthy check on government power…

  • Lildrummerboy714

    Here's a " fun fact " for everyone. Obama has imposed the most strict sanctions on the free press than ANY OTHER president before him. Don't believe me? look it up. Scary stuff. Also, Edward Snowden is a hero, that is all.

  • Nicolรกs Merino

    You said that there was a law that protected against wrongly accusing the media, could you please tell me which law that was? Could really use it for a paper i'm writing for my class.

  • Grant StrechMarkJames

    wow good video here but let me leave some creative critsim, you should talk faster so i can get even more information !!!! thank you <33333333 ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Bryan Leist

    unless they press reports on #pizzagate. censor the "fake news" and dismantle the electoral college. In fact, lets burn the whole constitution because russia.

  • David Po

    I've a question starting at 2:40 and at 3:44…Let's say a someone publishes a "libelous statement" but you can't prove that they knew the statement was false…if you can prove that the publisher was capable of finding out if their statement was false but chose not to and purposely published their statement without researching all the facts, could you win a libel case in such a scenario?

    For example: a reporter publishes a statement that Mr. Smith raped a woman…this statement is untrue, but you can't prove that the reporter knew that. You can however prove that just by simply googling the records anyone could find out that this statement is untrue, therefore the reporter was capable of publishing the truth and didn't. Does that count as "reckless disregard" then? Thoughts?

  • Sheri Trivane

    Thanks Craig. I'm showing this video to my Community College students on the first day of our Introduction to Mass Communication class.

  • melovekittie

    I'm glad Craig stopped with the odd voices. I love this regular style a lot more and now really enjoy this show.

  • Seneca

    A huge question is: "What is 'the press'?" Today, just about anyone can set up a website and claim to be a member of "the press"–no matter what their training, their intent, and their lack of "press credentials." It's very likely that there will be big disputes in future as people who wouldn't have been considered members of "the press" in the past, try to get the protections that are guaranteed under the First Amendment and "freedom of the press."

  • Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion

    Freedom of the press is a lie because its in total control of one people "Jews" their control needs to be permanently broken.

  • Erin S.

    Freedom of press is without question a must to protect the people from a possible corrupt government…but who or what protects the people from a possible corrupt press? I once believed the news broadcasts and newspaper articles were credible with nothing but factual concrete information…Iโ€™m not that neice anymore. Networks are owned or funded by massive corporations and private entities. These owners and funders benefit with the right political head elected to office. What would or could stop anyone of these networks from abusing their trusted position and power to provide credible news.

  • Robin Ellison

    Freedom of the press since 1963 has meant the major media can libel Americans and there isn't anything you can do about it. See: New York Times v. Sullivan, 84 S. Ct. 710 (1964).
    This means there is no freedom of speech.

    Freedom of Speech was abridged already in Debs v. United States, 39 S. Ct. 252 (1919), a case in which an anti-war activist tried to keep America out of WW1.
    Eugene Debs was convicted and sent to prison for ten years for urging men to avoid the draft , telling his audience that the master class declares war and the working class furnishes the corpses, and referring to a trial judge as "a corporate tool bench".
    10 years jail and a destroyed life his speech gave him. And in our schools they teach that we have "Freedom of Speech". We have out Democratic freedoms and our Constitutional rights. for these freedoms and rights people fought and gave their life's.
    these fairy tales are still told to us via the same mass media which ruthlessly libel us if we take freedom of speech seriously.
    Mom & Dad believed in the scam and send us to school to believe in it to.

  • mek86.2

    Yes but what do you do when the majority of the media now favors one side of the political spectrum and is not held accountable by anyone. Now the media can basically say and do anything they want to without any punishment at all. How do we trust a press that blatantly tells half truth or even flat out lies about things?

  • Lauren Simon

    So what happens when we have abusive journalists using this law to shield them from prosecution? Especially if the work has no real merit?

  • The Algorithm

    Democrats hate freedom of the press, as you can see with tech companies banning people for no reason and colluding to destroy services like Gab. If you crave liberty, never vote for a Democrat.

  • ะ›ั‘ัˆะฐ Ljosha

    I wish every Russian citizen would realize how much they are missing out on…
    There is even a Russian proverb that has to do with the power of controlling the word.

  • San Fran

    Fake news affects other people not just celebrities, fake news about sti statistics or crime statistics can be damaging to everybody who reads about them or lives in the area or fits the description of the population being lied on. I know its expected for celebrities to be lied on but what about the others in the fake news stories who arent celebs? There are christians whos lives are built around news reports that are FAKE? Just had a slight problem with that remark and thought i say something. Telling the population fake news really isnt ok if the general population isnt aware its fake or else the potus wouldn't have had to say something about it.

  • San Fran

    Whats up with the constitution? isnt the potus someone associated w/ it? why would it protect fake news it exposes? doesnt make good sense, When You Stop And Think About It. ?

  • Bobthebatman

    Thank you so much, this saved my social studies grade ๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿ™Œ
    Also pro tip if any of you are taking notes put the playback at .75 cause he talks very fast

  • me myself and I I

    guys, here's a theory. All politic teachers make dad jokes… and all dads make dad jokes… all politic teachers are dads in disguise.

  • Checkerzzz gaming Hi

    Not The News Fake News Facts 100 is best writing any stories Freedom of speak names don't matter actions behavior shows a lot on individual who have extreme terrorists types of behavior as shown from Google New s papers News shall eventually stop the Lies humanity is trying to cover up

  • Redbird 111

    Hi CrashCourse…I'm showing this in my class today. We just got done learning about product placement in media so I know the kids are going to notice the really conspicuous Mac computer sitting on the desk in this vid. In the interest of full disclosure, are you able to tell me if you got $ from Apple for that? I initially thought "no" because PBS is a non-profit org, but then I know there's underwriting, so…. Thanks. Love these vids, BTW. My [college] class features a few of them. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • George Fortune

    To explain Freedom of the press, instead of talking about if any country should have a Free Press, I will take it in front of an ordinary family, if you are the husband or wife with a family few children, you will take charge to pass on the conduct of code to your children, how to be brought up and to be a responsible citizen, will you allow some next door neighbour keep banging on your door, and trying to get in your family circle, and telling your children what to do, criticizing their father and mother, and telling them to uprise, listen and follow your advice, the answer is no one will allow you to interfere with their family fair, so no country should interfere with other countries policy.

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  • kylerm18

    Can someone be turned into a public figure due to bad press? For example, suppose my neighbor was just some average Joe Shmoe. But a journalist accuses him of running a pedophile ring in his basement as a part of the deep state. Joe becomes infamous and his life is ruined. If he goes to the court, can he be called a "public figue," since he is now infamous? What if he put a video of himself singing a song on YouTube, can he be considered an artist like Justin Bieber, and therefore anyone can write anything about him because he's a "public figure."
    What qualifies someone to be famous enough for the media to be able to say whatever they want about them?

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