The First Amendment and the Media in the Court of Public Opinion

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In light of recent frustrations with the press over its increasingly sensationalistic coverage of the news, no liberty is more vulnerable to the vagaries of the current political climate than is 'freedom of the press'. By considering public opinion data from two original surveys (in 1997 and 1999) on free press rights against the backdrop of modern First Amendment jurisprudence, we offer new and original insights into the nature of popular support for these rights. Our findings are as comforting as they are counterintuitive: public support for the constitutional right to a free press remains as strong as ever, even as its most visible practitioners find themselves increasingly under siege. In offering this argument, we stake our position in an age-old debate over the true value and worth of public opinion. Our findings endorse the notion of a 'rational' public as well as the strength of press freedoms in our society.