Commentary by MTSU Journalism Professor: Who Does Freedom of the Press Belong To?

Oct 23, 2023 at 07:40 am by WGNS News

A media anniversary of sorts occurred on October 20th. With more, here is MTSU Professor of Journalism Larry Burriss...

VERBATIM: "Media critic A.J. Liebling is reported to have said, "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one."  Those words, perhaps, express the feelings of many people who see the First Amendment as protecting newspapers, radio and television, perhaps protecting movies and advertising, but probably not having a whole lot to do with the individual. For many people, the First Amendment, as an abstraction, is of no value.
October 20, marked an anniversary of sorts, that vividly illustrates the principle that the First Amendment protections belong not just to the media, but to everyone.
During the evening of Oct. 20, 1953, on "See It Now," Edward R. Murrow aired "The Case of Milo Radulovich," the story of an Army lieutenant who worked as a weather forecaster.
Radulovich's father was from Albania, and he regularly received letters and newspapers from "the old country."  In the eyes of the Army, this made young Milo a security risk:  his father was from a Communist country, he maintained close contact with people in that Communist country, and therefore his son was a security risk.
Milo was on the verge of being cashiered out of the Army when Murrow found out about his case.  After showing a series of interviews with Milo, his father, and a group of Army officials, the investigation was dropped, and Milo allowed to continue his Army career.
What happened here was that the media, in this case a fledgling television network, exercised its First Amendment rights to protect someone.  Radulovich had no prior connection with the press or media; he had no connection with the media industry; he had no way to use the First Amendment on his own.  Yet because of the First Amendment, his rights were protected.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, his is not an isolated case.  Every day we see examples of people whose rights are being diminished by overzealous officials, by unwieldy regulations, by self-important bureaucrats.
It is the First Amendment that allows the media to expose these abuses and excesses. 
Does the First Amendment belong to the press?  Yes, it does.  But in the same way it belongs to everyone, and anyone, who wants to use it. - I'm Larry Burriss."
About Dr. Burriss - Larry Burriss, professor of journalism, teaches introductory and media law courses. At the graduate level he teaches quantitative research methods and media law. He holds degrees from The Ohio State University (B.A. in broadcast journalism, M.A. in journalism), the University of Oklahoma (M.A. in human relations), Ohio University (Ph.D. in journalism) and Concord Law School (J.D.). He has worked in print and broadcast news and public relations, and has published extensively in both academic and popular publications. He has won first place in the Tennessee Associated Press Radio Contest nine times. Dr. Burriss' publications and presentations include studies of presidential press conferences, NASA photography, radio news, legal issues related to adolescent use of social networking sites, legal research, and Middle Earth.

Dr. Burriss has served as director of the School of Journalism, dean of the College of Mass Communication and president of the MTSU Faculty Senate. He was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Board of Regents. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and served on active duty in Mali, Somalia, Bosnia, Central America, Europe and the Pentagon.
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