Mass Media & American Society – Week of 8/25 & 9/1

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
— The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution


History of the First Amendment

Read about the history of The First Amendment. Scan through the timeline link.

Watch “45 Words, the Story of the First Amendment,” from the Newseum.  You will need to sign in:

Username – SNCJournalism

Password – SNCENGL346

Then you will be directed to the Newseum’s Video Classroom, go to the Video Lesson tab and find 45 Words (it’s at the top row, first video on the left.)

Consider the following questions:

– How often do we think about the influence of a free press on historic events and movements?

– What might have happened if no free press had existed?

– Why do people attempt to squelch First Amendment rights in times of war and tension?

– How might the media as they exist today, and will develop in the future, affect history?

– Will the media continue to satisfy our right and need to know?


Your First Amendment Rights

Learn about the five rights in Your.First_.Freedoms  and how those rights can be used and interpreted.

EXERCISE: Think of a time when you personally exercised each of the rights protected in the First Amendment: Freedom of religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom to Assemble, Freedom to Petition the government. Write a brief description of each experience.

EXERCISE: Take the First Amendment Quiz as a learning exercise. Include your score on your assignment. Write down any new facts you learned.

Each year, the First Amendment Center conducts a survey to see if Americans know and understand their First Amendment rights. In the 2014 survey, 29 percent of those polled did not know the five basic freedoms in the First Amendment. Read this commentary on the survey and watch the overview of the report below.

Freedom of the Press

Read  Why Does a Free Press Matter and the overview of landmark Supreme Court cases concerning Freedom of the Press.

After 9/11, press freedom in the United States and around the world has been eroded. Read the CNN opinion on How the war on terror unleashed a war on journalists. President Obama has been highly criticized for policies which are eroding Freedom of the Press. Read the special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Consider the following:

  • The press, whose job is to serve as a watchdog of government action.
  • The government, which is responsible for protecting national security, as well as preserving individual rights.
  • The public, which wants the information necessary to evaluate the government’s performance and is simultaneously concerned about both security and liberty.

WRITING ASSIGNMENT: In the First Amendment Center’s 2014 report, it stated that 38 percent of the public polled thought that the First Amendment goes too far in protecting the rights it guarantees. As Gene Polinski said in the blog post you read, “That means about one-third of our fellow citizens would rein in one of our basic freedoms — freedoms we have preserved essentially intact since 1791.”  He tells us that public perception of the news media probably contributes to that impression. What do you think? Is the current tension between government protecting national security and the news media’s ability to watchdog the government appropriate, or has it swayed too far to the government or  too far to press freedoms?

Write a two-page paper, using information you’ve learned as well as opinions on current events. 



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