The first case in American history that addressed the issue of how much journalists and printers should print was the John Peter Zenger case. In short, Zenger was a printer and printed some not so nice (yet true) things about the current governor. Governor William S. Cosby didn’t like what was printed and had Zenger jailed for “seditious libel”. Zenger was eventually acquitted and his trial helped bring about free press in the United States. However there have been other instances in our nation’s history that have brought up the question “how far should journalists go in bringing truth to light?”
From the pentagon papers to wiki leaks the constitutional role of journalism has been questioned. The pentagon papers released confidential information about past events and presidents. David Ellsberg, who leaked the papers, was brought to trial but acquitted of charges. The court determined that prior government restraint on the newspapers violated the first amendment.
A more recent example of this conflict is the wikileaks. Edward Snowden leaked classified information about the CIA, NSA, and other government agencies. Snowden felt that the information needed to be known by the public, but was it information that the public needed to know? Did the leaks endanger national security more than it protected it? These questions and many others surround the wikileaks and question journalists’ constitutional role.
Are there times when journalists get too carried away with their role as a watch dog? Did Snowden cross the line of protecting the public and possibly endangering International Security? These questions are hard to answer. No matter what choice he made there would’ve been consequences. If the public didn’t know about wikileaks there would’ve been different consequences and it is impossible to know exactly how things would have happened.
While these instances bring journalists’ roles into question the fact still remains. Journalists are needed as watchdogs. Without journalism to watch and keep government and other agencies in line our country would not be what it is today.