The First Amendment; Marty Linsky
The eastern Public Radio Network in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University now presents the First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties in the media. In the 1970s the host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Reuben. I'm delighted to have as my guest tonight Marty Linsky who is the editor of The Real paper Marty is a graduate of the Harvard Law School. 964 and he's been a person who's worked in the vineyards of Massachusetts state government in many areas assist minority for leader of the Massachusetts House and assistant attorney general and so on. He's a fellow of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has been an editorial writer from time to time with the Boston Globe as well and instructs in law on media problems at Boston College Law School and he also talks about those
subjects when the Mugwumps at the Ford Foundation want to know what the real story is and is an election commentator well known to the people in this area. Marty on our last program in this series we talked about privacy as a matter of issue from the lawyers viewpoint especially from. The view of an eminent Boston attorney who was the guest who represents publishers and so on and so forth. And he felt that that the courts were doing a fairly good job with handling privacy cases and ameliorating from two directions both from the person the private person's need and from the the the newspaper or publishing need. I know you feel slightly differently so why don't I first say Marty Linsky What is your view of the present circumstances in regard to privacy in the press.
Well it seems to me what the courts are doing is trying to carve out an exception an exemption from the First Amendment to protect private individuals or public individuals in their private lives from scrutiny. And I think they have had to do that generally speaking because the press on the whole has been unwilling to do that themselves. The consequences of it from the point of view of practicing journalist or at least a practicing editor is that it has a chilling impact on the way we do business because once we get into a world where. If litigation becomes acceptable on the order of the day then we have to not only make a decision as to whether we are right under the Constitution but whether we can afford to win a case whether we want to take the time and make the effort. And thats a very different thing. So I know from the point of
view of the real paper that we end up not publishing pictures stories names a whole lot of things where we think were clearly right and where we think we probably could even have a chance of proving it but don't aren't particularly interested in the kind of legal fees that were acquired to get that kind of a judgment to defend that kind of a case in court. So I think the fact that the courts are doing a decent job from the point of view of the First Amendment journalist is really not the issue the issue is the impact of the litigant society on the practice of journalism. Well now if you are head of a newspaper empire like the Australian magnate who was brought up a lot of papers in Britain in the United States. Rupert Murdoch. Are you saying that you would say I can publish X Y and Z these photographs these stories because I have this massive legal squadron ready to rush in and I don't care what it costs. Well in fact that happens a lot you know in standards. With all due respect the standards that are used at the
Boston Globe are sometimes different than the standards they used at the small town suburban dailies in New Hampshire because the Boston Globe can afford to defend a major case and or defend it a lot for a long period of time. There's a lot of us small suburban daily newspapers would go under one libel suit and they would go under our libel insurance is many thousands of dollars a year the premium for that. It's a very expensive business that we're in and I think the impact on it is people don't get information that they're interested in having. You know I heard Norman Isaacs this past week. We're now in the month of October because these programs are not only played later on but they're played subsequently. And this was at the kwil dinner where newspaper men and others in the press get awards and he really went after the members of the Fourth Estate for not being courageous enough.
If what you say is true and I and I sympathize doesn't the answer lie in some collective legal foundation to which you could refer your cases even though you cannot afford the legal fees yourself. Well there are there is an organization called Reporters Committee for Freedom the press. But aren't they aren't They are on the margin financially. They are but they do a lot of very good work. And the problem may end in certainly providing greater resources there would be helpful particularly to the smaller newspapers and a less financially sound publications that are often the ones that are most vulnerable in these situations. Sure it would be nice if everybody got together and pooled some resources and defended each other and that would be helpful. I think it would be even smarter on our part if we as journalists began to develop standards for our own profession which the public would find acceptable So the juries wouldn't feel that they had to defend poor individuals who were displayed across our
news page you know this brings up an amusing sidelight we the Institute just preparing one of our panelists to hold a national conference on the question of First Amendment issues. And it's a question media ethics one of the panels with a number of distinguished guests deals with the canons of journalism. Each one of the guests has been in conversation with me on the telephone each has asked the same question in a very jocular manner. Byrne What did you have in mind. I never knew that there were canons of journalism of course that is not literally true but journalists are concerned that at the same time that they don't want any impositions put upon freedom of publishing or inquiry reporting that they begin to get a little concerned that they themselves don't know what the ground rules are is this true. Well I think that's the point I mean are the canons of journalism I've never seen any Should there be. Well for example honesty. Well. That's
not a very tough one although I can think of a lot of exceptions to a general rule of honesty you know. But it seems to me what we try to do with the real paper is to set up some standards or conditions under which we would publish information or not I'm I'm a new journalist of the real paper I'm meeting my editor for the first time and you're you're letting me know that I'm not going to get away with certain things what. Well frankly it doesn't. I wish I could say that we put every journalist through a training period intensive three day session out at some retreat in which we talk about the ethics of our profession. But the fact of the matter is that rises usually in an odd hope basis. And what I try to do is raise those issues and make sure they're fully discussed now. Literally I came over here from a discussion. About the inclusion of the name of a politician in an article about gambling in Cambridge and bookmaking in Cambridge and this politician's relative is implicated in the article and the question was 10 days before an election whether the
politician should be referenced in that section in a parent article phrase or not. And it is quite clear that we were being pulled in two very different directions on the one hand since the story in part is that most of the people involved in illegal gambling activities have some kind of political connections. It was relevant. On the other hand we had no direct evidence that that relationship it was a marriage which ended a dozen years ago. Had any relevance in this particular case and it was of it's a very tough one for us because were the election not ten days away or had we any direct evidence of that connection. We clearly would have used the name and we made the judgement that we would not put that persons the candidate's name in because it simply wasn't fair. Now that's the kind of discussion that we try to generate at the paper a lot. We very often do one of things that characterize the papers we do very intensive very
personal profiles much more personal than mainstream journalism does and we constantly running into situations where we find out messy but interesting in relevant personal factors about individuals lives. And the question is whether we print those factors and how relevant they have to be the story and how we're comparing the salaciousness of the material with it. Really help in enabling the reader to understand the Personally we're writing about. You know there was a story in The New York Times of October the third 977 which was headlined 50 of 60 Post reporters protest slanted that was put in quotes coverage of mayor's race. And these were New York Post reporters who. Petition the publisher about what or what they called their disquiet and importing often the article of a slanted news coverage during the political campaign. Now we know that a lot of that goes on that you can play a story
you can play your editorial page all to death or you can delete what you delete sometimes is more important than what you put in you don't know so take it out of a story. But you don't run some stories. How much of that do you think goes on in the let's say in the Boston papers The New York papers where it may not be as great as this. But you feel that perhaps some canon of journalism or to leave these decisions in the hands of the editors rather than the publishers. Well clearly it seems to me the problem is not slanted news because in my judgment the front page of The Boston Herald The Boston Globe are just as slanted as any place else. The facts are not neutral and you can't print a neutral story if you make a story neutral you in fact are slanting it from what the reality might be right. So it's a it's a hypocritical posture for people to take. But if I don't I don't have one candidate as they claim the Pope did in that sort of thing.
But but my my point of view is that if you want to play up one candidate you should play one candidate and you should not be embarrassed about the fact that you're doing it. The problem comes in with you in when you pretend not to play a point candidate you pretend to be even handed. And maybe in doing so hurt a candidate whose views you agree with for instance or allow a corrupt person equal space with a non-corrupt person. Now the practitioner's a big daily papers would say well that's our responsibility I think the result of that is people don't get the truth. So my feeling is that what news organizations need to do is deal honestly with the decisions that they're making and say look we have decided that we're not going to present an accurate picture of this campaign because we think that we're the only paper in town and therefore we have to present a superficial picture of this campaign or they should say
Look candidate Jones can't raise any money and he's a damn decent person and therefore we ought to give him some space. Now some publications publications that don't try to reach a mass market in publications that are not committed to being the only publication in town are free to do this. The paper that I work for the real paper we don't have an editorial page because our whole papers and editorial page and by we engage in biased journalism. But it's honest and it's realistic from the perspective that we have whereas to use the best example I know the Boston Globe's coverage of the busing situation in my judgment was terribly deficient because in the commitment to give both sides all sides an equal point of view what they really conveyed was none of the real realities of the situation so that they didn't convey any of the intensity of the emotions and what you happened. What happened at the Globe. And I was there the times the both sides felt that their source stories were not coming
through. So what was happening is that the globe with 60 people was covering the story. A mile wide and an inch deep. But the tensions and the realities were a mile deep and they missed all that you know. And I think that's actually the blog and some other newspapers do they not join an organization or to try to keep they manage the news. Well they didn't say that at the time but they found themselves in a peculiar position later. I think realizing that trying to be part of the community in any organized way is bad for the press. That's correct. You can't you can't decide in advance what the story's going to be. And when you go out and you do a story you have to play it back the way you see it. And to me the commitment that is made on the part of the Globe and The Globe has a spin I don't want to keep talking about one paper but the Globe has a special place in our community as the dominant publication. And I can understand the globe taking the position that as the dominant publication they have a special commitment to be even handed but don't pretend that that is being
neutral because by being even handed you're hurting somebody who in whose favor you should be but without it without going on with it. Do you do you feel that that was an experience that metropolitan newspaper that they have assessed. After all we all go through phases and learn. Was it something that they now look back upon and feel like god that didn't help. I know most of the press reviewed the situation there were many more organizations in the globe involved and they all jumped in trying to be there as well tension. That's why it was well-intentioned a well-intentioned dilemma. That's right. That's a well but but that's the dilemma comes from the unwillingness to stand at arm's length from the world that you're reporting on and say what you think and to try to stand back and manage what you're doing. Well I don't think life works that way. And as I say I make an exception for the single dominant media in a community that has a
kind of. FCC kind of responsibility that is you know. Sure the federal government doesn't license printing presses but when one newspaper dominates the community and it becomes the sole source of information or by the dominant source of information then I think that publication has a special relation as opposed to you know move over to television. My own impression of television is that the news on it as you said an inch deep and a mile wide is an eighth of an inch deep and endlessly wide. Most television and yet for many people who don't read the news the real paper or the Boston Globe or perhaps anything else many kids and many poor people they watch television see is there is there a canon of journalism that we might have there out of the problem is that they have too many canons of journalism and they're all imposed by the federal government they can lose their license and go but that is not my whole point that isn't freedom of the press freedom of the press doesn't responsibility to the press deal with the news in any form.
In other words couldn't couldn't we hold to some critical evaluation the FCC seize control which is using x as an excuse really. Well I don't I feel I mean I think this is a good example you have in this city one dominant print media. And you have three intensely competitive TV stations. Now to my judgment if you took the shackles of the FCC off those TV stations you'd get some really fantastic television news. And the FCC inhibits where we as citizens need protection is when there is that one monopoly. We need protection over the print media. We don't need protection we get competition between those three two U.S. TV stations and they're going to be working as hard as they can to provide us to deliver us a better story. If they had to if they could if they could they can't now because they are restricted by the federal government. They are strict by the federal government from taking positions from not offering.
From there with the fairness doctrine and the equal time law all restrict intensely what they can do and the price they pay is jeopardizing their license. Well but they are. It's part of the news business. If we're talking about canons of journalism isn't it time that the parochialism between the print and the electronic boys and women were ended so that the issue could be joined. You know isn't this an issue of freedom of the press. How can you do that until you apply either playa fairness standard to the print media or take the Fairness Doctrine away I think you have to take the Fairness Doctrine away from the electronic media. Well that to me within certain bounds the same bounds that apply to the press you have to be fair but not necessarily under that doctrine you have to be fair under general usage or people who don't buy your paper or. Or you may find yourself in front of a court. Now you have to be fair as you said early in the program you worried about court cases. Within that same bound television stations would be even fairer they're much richer than the real paper on the average and
therefore they could afford to have their lawyers come out whenever somebody debated something so long as they felt they were on good grounds. One of the canons of journalism then I'm not sure whether you agree with me should be mutual regard for the common problem. Well I think that's right. I think there's a lot of mistrust between electronic and print media and it's very hard I think that the electronic media people that I talk to are very defensive. About the pressures that they work under and the freedom the relative freedom to which the print people work under in the print people of course are intensely critical of the electronic media because their stories are so shallow and yet a newspaper man. Well at the kwil dinner last week Jack kinds of one of the Boston channels was given an award and and he thanked them for letting him out of the cold to use that expression he said we've been out in the cold a long time. I'm glad you let one of us in. That was a symbolic gesture.
Should it be symbolic though as there must be some very good reporting being done and some very terrible reporting. Do you cover in your stories in the real paper this issue of how bad the electronic press is. Well we do have a woman on our staff who writes a column which appears regularly probably about 12 or 15 times a year called on the air and she used to work for one of the TV stations and she writes essentially about the way TV works and particularly about the way TV news works. So we try to hold them accountable a little bit for the quality of their journalism. But I I want to repeat I think they work under handicap that the print media doesn't face a lot of handicaps. And in addition I think that there the line between information and entertainment television is a very thin line. And I've done enough television work myself to have a sense that that half the time I think I'm doing theater and half the time I'm doing journalism. Well actually the line between television and sleeping pills is also
a very thin line as is coming on. I was at a television station UHF station and we can have a girl being interviewed about politics and it came up before the program that I asked the question how do you handle community news. And the interviewer said well we want to do a lot more news. And I said well what part of the area do you cover with your limited facilities and she said we don't do any of it because we don't have a portable camera. We cannot leave the building. And so I said on the air later I guess unfair to the management. I said that any station that is in television claims to be doing news for the community and doesn't have a single portable camera should not be censored by the FCC but ought to be required by the FCC to explain what they mean by doing community news with their medium. Now for example do you think that is common that people now are unaware that certain television stations are literally in the business of movie reruns.
And it's just an excuse to put packaging around their game shows and so on. Well oh only to the extent that we should demand that those stations have a different kind of responsibility if they pretend that they're doing something and they're not doing then they're putting their license in jeopardy. But entertainment is entertainment. Well Norah BELOFF who works for The Times and The Observer in the Telegraph London was a guest on this program very recently and she is she raises a point she said in London we have nine major newspapers and one is surely entertainment and one is purported to be a great newspaper and all the rest of it. Do you subscribe to that theory that that a newspaper or something that used to be called a newspaper can exist merely because it has an audience and pander to the lowest common tastes. And should be accepted as a MILF or should be accepted is the key. When I accepted you don't think so. Should it be allowed to exist. Yes I think it should. Yes you know I believe that you know the way newspaper started in
this country is like in London now there were nine newspapers in every city only they were newspapers they were sheets and they had different political points of views and they differ different standards in people but the one that worked for the U.S. we ought to have forced on newspapers and three star newspapers are great and I will use light hotel room just Brits like the New Age therapies you know here you take the one that works for you the neighbors you the Copa neighbors you see the world in a way that allows you to deal with it successfully. And I don't think that I think that the problem we have is lack of choice and it's not a problem of bias and it's not a problem of really unfairness but it's a problem that the the consumer the reading sooner you can't just start a newspaper today unless you are a very very wealthy person. And the problem is that the reading consumer the person who wants to consume that news has very have has very few alternatives. I notice that many of the news magazines are also limiting choice by changing their formats to becoming something of television imitations of even one of the major encyclopedias that has just come out as a
random house. Has thousands of pictures and virtually hundreds of words surrounding those pictures and many people are wondering about whether we're doing the right thing or whether we're all escaping from real well but the New York says not to do with freedom of the Desert The New Yorker has netted pictures no photographs in the New Yorker and there's a place for that The New York Review of Books hasn't added pictures in its place for that. I mean I think this is one goes down one goes up well you know why would you change it to make it say I'm not sure it's down and up you know. I mean the the again the paper I work for is a different publication than it was five years ago. It is more like a magazine we try to tell convey more information through graphics and illustrations than we ever used to before. Well I don't find that even as a person reads a lot and I'm sensually a writer you know and not a photographer. And I'm a very literal person trained as a lawyer but I don't find that offensive. You know I don't I'm not offended by the fact that someone's trying to tell me a story with pictures rather
than tell me a story with words I'm not offended either. It's just I'm wondering about the trend. Are we going to have more people captivated by less information than ever before. Well I think that's where television has made its impact as we're a visual increasingly visual community and I see that in my own children who we're constantly trying to get to read and do read voraciously but they're also wedded to television also they they get information from television they learn to spell from television they understand how to use that box probably better than we do and I don't rely on it and they they discriminate to it's and they discriminate between good and bad on television. And I think that has had an impact on the way we how we get our information. You know and for print publications whether you time the Boston Globe or the real paper packaging and cosmetics and graphics and illustrations become almost Binny become increasingly important part of the message we get a tremendous amount of
criticism tremendous amount that's exactly where we get some substantial criticism because we allow pieces to run too long. The people who are commercial say to us hey nobody reads a thousand euros why I buy the real paper. Well and that's why I edited. You know I mean that's what makes it fun for me to get back to the canons of journalism issue. I gather if I don't misread you that you would be like most of the journalists happily and say let's not have cannons thrust upon us of any type but there is a collective wisdom. That wise journalist draws upon. Well let me argue it from this point of view Bernie. I don't think we can call ourselves a profession. Unless we have some standards. The two are inconsistent what profession means is standards. And I don't care personally whether the PRF standards are a profession wide or media institution wide or personal. What I want. Reporters who work for me to do is to have thought through these issues so that they can recognize them when they come down the
pike when they have to face an issue of privacy and face an issue of fairness. They can deal with those terms they can make a judgment what they feel comfortable with and defend it to their readers. And that's why I think we should be aspiring for. And you feel comfortable the real paper has has met that test. I have my days. You have your days you have other days it all depends on the story that you're arguing and arguing a point about I want to say that I feel very comfortable Marty Linsky that we've spoken on a sensible plane about something that we are going to be talking about endlessly canons of journalism. And I thank you. This is Bernard Rubin saying good night. The eastern Public Radio Network in cooperation with the Institute for democratic medication at Boston University has presented the First Amendment as a free people weekly examination of civil liberties in the media in the 1970s. The program is produced in the studios of WGBH Boston.
- The First Amendment
- Marty Linsky
- Producing Organization
- WGBH Educational Foundation
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/15-15p8d794).
- "The First Amendment is a weekly talk show hosted by Dr. Bernard Rubin, the director of the Institute for Democratic Communication at Boston University. Each episode features a conversation that examines civil liberties in the media in the 1970s. "
- Talk Show
- Social Issues
- Media type
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
Production Unit: Radio
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 77-0165-12-09-001 (WGBH Item ID)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “The First Amendment; Marty Linsky,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 27, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-15p8d794.
- MLA: “The First Amendment; Marty Linsky.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 27, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-15p8d794>.
- APA: The First Amendment; Marty Linsky. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-15p8d794