Freedom of the press was intended to protect the people’s right to know what their government was doing. However, instead of dealing with actual issues concerning government, the news media of today predominantly focuses on celebrities and their non-problems. These types of news stories have very little, if any, impact on the average lives of the American people. Furthermore, extremely pertinent issues like the rise of China and Russia, the collapse of the American dollar, revolutions in North Africa, and recent Supreme Court decisions, all take a back seat to the irrelevant shenanigans of Lady Gaga, Lindsey Lohan, or Charlie Sheen. This is extremely problematic and destructive as the news media holds an agenda-setting influence over what the American people will likely discuss and debate during a given week. Agenda-setting is the theory that the news media influences their audiences by their choice of what stories to consider newsworthy and how much prominence to give them.
So, why does the American mass media consider Charlie Sheen newsworthy? The answer is relatively simple. News in the United States of America is no longer a public service, as intended by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, but a private enterprise centered on the profit motive. Consequently, news in the United States is now about entertaining the electorate when it was primarily intended to foster and maintain an informed electorate. The Huffington Post published a blog questioning the newsworthiness of Charlie Sheen. However, considering the media’s agenda setting power over the American population, what can be done to redirect the focus of the news back towards relevant issues?
The sovereign power of nations, along with the related concept of self-government, is fundamental in a world of nation-states. The concept of sovereignty requires the recognition of the legitimate rule of governments over their own citizens—with the time-honored understanding that the internal affairs of nations should be left to the political and social processes and forces within a particular country. Events in Egypt and Libya in early 2011 provide heart wrenching examples of how principles such as sovereign power can fall short in the modern world. In the case of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi has held power since leading a coup d’état against the monarchy of King Idris in 1969. Gaddafi stands out as one of the relatively few remaining dictators left in the world today. Much like the uprising in Egypt, people in Libya opposed to the rule of Gaddafi have struck out. And, as with Egypt, the nations of the world appear unable or unwilling to intervene. For many, the hesitation is based on respecting the sovereign rights of the people of Libya.
The Huffington Post published a call from a number of United States Congressional leaders calling for Gaddafi to quit the violent crackdown against the protests. The posting falls short of demanding the exit of Gaddafi or of offering immediate substantive support to the protestors. In fact, their appeal indirectly recognizes the status of Gaddafi as a national leader. Gaddafi’s claim on sovereign power has never been based on any legitimate democratic process. His use of foreign mercenaries against his own people opens the door to more aggressive outside intervention in the crisis in Libya. Does the world community have an obligation to recognize the sovereignty of Libya? Does the United States have a responsibility to intervene, either alone or with a coalition of nations? What do you think?
The right to protest government policies is guaranteed by the First Amendment, but is not without limits. To what extent can local governments prevent protesters from disrupting public life? Professor Gaffaney explains.
Look beyond today’s headlines with our analysis of American politics! This blog is a feature of Pearson’s MyPoliSciLab, the most popular online learning solution for American government courses. To learn more about MyPoliSciLab, visit www.mypoliscilab.com.