Value Judgment

Conventional wisdom says that you can bank on Republican administrations being more friendly to the media business. In this presidential election, it's harder to come to that conclusion.

Successful media, beyond the balance sheet, depend on an obligation to use and defend the First Amendment.

But under this administration, "indecency" enforcement has become a frightening crusade. Broadcasters have been cowed into submission by overzealous regulators.

The Hobson's choice, of course, is that John Kerry could create a commisssion that would even more aggressively pursue this wrong-headed assault on content.

Still, there are justifiable fears that if President Bush is re-elected, he would fill looming Supreme Court vacancies with justices who would uphold the ridiculous fine over the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction"—if that appeal ever reached them. A Bush-stacked court is likely to increase the FCC's control over content, not limit it.

Then there is this administration's onerous control over information. President Bush has had only 15 formal press conferences during his presidency, fewer than any commander in chief in 50 years.

Our business is communication, and a White House intent on restricting it deserves all the scrutiny it can get. But a Freedom of Information filing under this administration is too often an exercise in futility. Access to government records can become a moot request at the mere invocation of "national security," and there's no relief in sight. Americans are paying with their lives for what the press didn't know or didn't try hard enough to find out about Iraq.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the threat to press access to terrorism and immigration proceedings under the current administration is "severe." Had that not been the case, could the abuses at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo have come to light sooner? We think so.

We are troubled by the slow economy, as are media owners who recognize what that means to their advertising base. When the president pushed for a tax cut, he said it would help generate 306,000 new jobs a month, starting in July 2003. That would have meant 4.59 million new jobs by now. In fact, since the tax cut, there are nearly 3 million fewer

Our industry needs a healthier economic outlook. Kerry's economic plan promises better—yet, as with other issues, we haven't seen a comprehensive blueprint.

The big audience for the TV debates proves Americans want more than the sound bites they've gotten about the Bush and Kerry agendas. But the election process has been hijacked and trivialized by the 24-hour news cycle. We received doctored documents and dubious documentaries. What we needed was a serious look at the issues.

Over the next week, the media have the power to convert every gaffe, every out-of-context statement, into a national story. What a waste. The media also still have the opportunity to really give their audience the hard facts and the fairest analysis. They should use their power. Americans deserve that.