Cyber Tydings


March 2014

Preserving Freedom of the Press

According to, libel is “defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures; the act or crime of publishing it; a formal written declaration or statement, as one containing the allegations of a plaintiff or the grounds of a charge.” Anyone can be sued for libel, but journalists are frequently targeted if they misrepresent an individual in the news. In 1964, during the New York Times v. Sullivan the Supreme Court ruled that public officials needed proof that the information presented in the news was intentionally malicious. In this instances, a pro-civil rights campaign was showing how police mistreated African-Americans.

The police chief, L.B. Sullivan, sued the paper claiming that it was libelous. At first, he won his case locally. But because of the connection to civil rights and the potential ramifications, the Supreme Court took the case and ruled in favor of the paper. This decision protected free speech and freedom of press, making it pivotal in American journalism. News is most effective when it can present the facts accurately, without pressures from political groups or powerful individuals to sway the story.

If L.B. Sullivan had won the case in the Supreme Court, it would be easy for public officials, government leaders and high-profile citizens to alter the news so that they look good in the public eye. Protesters, like those in the civil rights or, more currently, gay rights movements would have an even more difficult time expressing their beliefs and airing injustices.





Katherine Graham: From Housewife to Powerhouse

Katherine Graham was thrown into her career because her husband, the owner of the Washington Post, committed suicide. Most people with very little experience in running a newspaper would crack under such emotional, financial and social pressures, but instead, Graham became one of the most influential women in journalism. In this stressful circumstance, Graham took many risks in an effort to relay the truth to the public. She was the head of the Post during the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which she insisted on publishing despite threats against her and her paper.
Katherine Graham described herself as a timid homemaker, yet she was known as the most powerful woman in the world. She was savvy and amicable, despite her lack of formal training. She treated all news with similar scrutiny and objectivity, even when the news was about her many high profile friends. Graham purposefully maintained friendships with people of many different political and social views to prevent bias from creeping into her publication.
Katherine Graham received personal threats and negative feedback from government officials and readers alike when the Washington Post published something controversial. Yet, she stuck with her decision to support Woodward and Bernstein because she believed it was the moral thing to do. She was a strong woman with a powerful vision for her newspaper. Her work transformed the news and the Post; her legacy is key to the foundation of modern journalism.

He Did Not Want the Pulitzer

Pulitzer Prize winner Eddie Adams would rather have not taken the photo that he became so renowned for. He said of the attention the photo received “I still don’t understand to this day why it was so important, because I have heard so many different versions of what this picture did.”
Eddie Adams was a photographer who photographed the horrors of war in Korea and Vietnam. He had special clearances and accesses that were denied to most because he was an ex-marine. His most famous piece captures the execution of a young Viet Cong officer, called the “Saigon Execution”. The picture is so stunning because it preserves the exact moment of the bullet penetrating and subsequent death. These atrocities were not so rare in the war zone, but it most certainly captured the attention of the public. Adams was very haunted by the image and the horrors he had witnessed as a soldier and a photographer.
Once Americans had seen Adams’ photo, it fueled the anti-war movement, which was gaining momentum. Adams also documented riots and war protests with his camera, capturing the counter-culture whose cause his work had lent validity. In addition, he immortalized many famous figures, including Mother Teresa, in his portraits. Eddie Adams earned numerous prestigious awards for his photography such as the George Polk Award for News Photography, the Robert Capa Gold Medal, the Pulitzer Prize and more than 400 others. His work inspired many, especially during the politically charged Vietnam era.

An American executes a Viet Cong officer
The chilling photograph captures the moment of death.

A Liar Writes the News

It is disconcerting to think that the newspaper could be lying. While it is true that most respectable news sources do relay facts and accurate information to readers and viewers, sometimes trusted news sources are faulty. For example, the credibility of the New York Times was damaged when a young journalist, Jayson Blair, falsified stories and plagiarized instead of writing original news pieces.
As it turns out, Blair was a pathological liar and he resigned from the Times, but not without first damaging his own reputation and the reputation of the paper. In one instance, he wrote a story that centered on the mother of a soldier who was deployed in Iraq. The source was fabricated and so was the story. He also covered a sniper attack, drastically sensationalizing the story, which was already tragic and frightening enough. He often claimed to be in one place interviewing sources when he was not. He plagiarized the writing of coworkers and stole other journalists’ stories from the internet.
Jayson Blair did a great disservice to himself and the paper he worked for when he employed such childish tactics to write his stories. Students are taught that plagiarizing is stealing as early as elementary school. It is known that a journalist’s obligation to the public is to accurately represent facts to the best of his ability. In a time when information is so easily accessible and computers can sift through millions of articles, it is amazing that Blair believed he could get away with taking others’ work. In the end, he lost his job and his credibility; no shortcut is worth such steep ramifications. Novelists make up stories, journalists tell it how it is. The essence of newswriting is to tell the truth and Blair should have respected that.

Jayson Blair
Jayson Blair

Works Cited:

Government, Secrecy and the Media

We live in an age where it is easy to take for granted the accessibility of information and the transparency of authority and celebrities. The type of disclosure that we are exposed to is nearly too much information, but in the near past, mum was the word for everything: government operations, the President’s life, even the lifestyle of Hollywood stars was more speculation than fact. In 1971, government secrecy was challenged in the first major leak of top-secret government information, the disclosure of a series of studies nicknamed the Pentagon Papers.
The Pentagon Papers detailed the history of US military involvement in Indochina before and during the Vietnam War. In 1971, the conflict in the Pacific was quite controversial; many Americans mistrusted the government and opposed the war effort. When David Ellsberg, a member of the RAND Corporation with a top-secret clearance, came to staunchly oppose the war effort he decided it would be in the public’s best interest to release the details of the Pentagon Papers. After a few failed attempts to get senators to disclose the information, he handed the information over to Neil Sheehan of the New York Times.
The confessions that the Pentagon Papers contained infuriated many citizens. It proved what many had suspected, the government had mislead and misinformed the public about US involvement in Vietnam. The papers revealed that the conflict had been intentionally escalated at some points and in many cases, the President had plans for the war that were not necessarily beneficial to the country. The media exposed the truth. Nixon had to deal with this breach of security (although Ellsberg intentionally left out any part of the documents that would jeopardize national safety) and there was no precedent for it. The president turned to unsavory methods of disgracing Ellsberg, as he was wont to do.
Although the relationship between governmental secrecy and an obligation to share information with the citizens will always exist in a gray area, the release of the Pentagon Papers helped to set a precedent for transparency. People wanted a right to know what was going on in government to make informed decisions about what to support or oppose. Through media, people are able to keep up with the actions of authority. An informed population keeps a democratic system running smoothly, and the job of media is to disclose the truth to them.

Article talking about the pentagon studies
New York Times article spills the truth to the public, breaking the precedent of governmental secrecy

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