Originally, politics had to do with the Proprietors, then the immigrants, then the King of England, then the establishment of the nation. Philadelphia first perfected the big-city political machine, which centers on bulk payments from utilities to the boss politician rather than small graft payments to individual office holders. More efficient that way.
Freedom of the Press seems a tiresome, old topic, until the Internet gets considered. What's fundamentally always been at issue is the election process, useless without people knowing what they are voting on. Freedom of the Press has smaller value, the day after election.
The point here is that the Internet has added considerable speed to the spread of public information, and its two-way character also speeds up the process of reporting falsehoods. Everyone understands politics can get dirty, and it is most important to discourage lies and discredit liars, in time for election day.
Newspapers are only a part of the process. Investigative reporters actually investigate very little; they sit about the newsroom hoping for someone to bring in the news of a scandal. Because informants usually have some self-serving motive, a responsible editor will not permit such a story to be printed without independent verification. If the election comes and goes before the story is verified, it's too bad for democracy, why to bother with a useless expose; The traditional way to slow down publication is to threaten a libel suit. In this way, libel suits, investigative reporting, editorial courage, and political campaigns are all one big ball of wax, different parts of the same game. Protection of anonymous press reports accelerates publication, while libel suits retard publication. Early in November, time matters, so enter the Internet.
In a funny sort of way, the Internet tends to diminish the injury of labeling someone, just because it lacks much restraint. Websites have a smaller audience than newspapers, and their audience is more specialized. Therefore, collective injury to an innocent person's reputation is greater where the audience is also more innocent, as it is when a whole city picks up the morning paper. Furthermore, the Internet audience can react. They can pummel the reporter's boss, the editor. They can pummel the editor's boss, the publisher. Hit and run dirty politics will always be with us. But with the web there's getting to be less time to run -- after the hit, but before the exposure.
Originally published: Wednesday, June 21, 2006; most-recently modified: Monday, June 03, 2019