September 25, 2019

Panel considers the First Amendment in politics

This article was originally published in the Mount Mercy Times by Elaina Kinser, staff writer.

Media and the First Amendment

Local media professionals and MMU professors dived into First Amendment rights and their impact on today’s news media in a Constitution Day panel on Sept. 17.

The panel consisted of Zack Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette; Lyle Muller, retired executive director and editor of Iowa Watch; Richard Barret, assistant professor of political science; and Joe Sheller, associate professor of communication.

Sheller started off the discussion with a small presentation to introduce the different parts of the First Amendment and what rights it covers, including the idea of a marketplace of ideas.


Breaking it down

The main parts of the First Amendment that were touched on included the freedom of speech and press. The panel mentioned that the press at our founding wasn’t what we have now.

“Unfortunately, because our news is digital, we don’t always know what we’re looking at,” Sheller said.

“Unfortunately, because our news is digital, we don’t always know what we’re looking at.”

One issue the panel covered was how there are far less journalists now than 40 years ago, as well as a decrease in the number of newspapers. This leads to the idea that the nation is polarized because United States is not represented equally.

“When it came to cover Trump as legitimate news, the most inexperienced reporter was sent,” said Muller.

The second answer explored how social media such as Twitter can be both a tool and enemy of journalists. The fast-paced response available to Twitter users has led to credibility issues, from the ability to interfere with the last election, to the younger generation not being able to tell editorial or opinion pieces apart.

“The vast majority of Americans don’t seek out the news and don’t sort through it,” said Barrett.

After-effects and what to do next

The conclusion of the panel was that fact checking and context are the most important aspect of writing for our journalists today, and how applicable these skills would be to the general public.

“I believe there’s more fact checking and vetting now than ever before,” said Muller.

The panel discussion, Mount Mercy’s official Constitution Day event, was called: “If You Can Keep It: The Election of 2020 and the First Amendment.”

Sheller explained that the title comes from a famous story about Benjamin Franklin.

“As he was leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was questioned by a Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia, who asked, ‘Well, Doctor, will we have a monarchy or a republic?’" said Sheller. "Franklin immediately replied, ‘A republic. If you can keep it.’”

The event was co-sponsored by the MMU student Law and Politics Club and the Mount Mercy Times.

‘Well, Doctor, will we have a monarchy or a republic?’ Franklin immediately replied, ‘A republic. If you can keep it.’

Joe Sheller
Associate Professor of Communication