Access to Information and Opinion
Voters cannot make sound decisions on the issues before them without a free flow of information and opinion. Freedom of information is a fundamental aspect of American democracy and is vital to its proper working.
The American voter has a virtually limitless supply of information. Sources include newspapers, magazines, radio, television, books, pamphlets and mailed communications. The press of the United States provides daily coverage of all important local, state, national and international developments. Speeches and statements of government officials are published and broadcast, Senate and House debates are widely disseminated and the press conferences of major officials are covered in detail.
The mass media are committed -- at least as an ideal -- to impartial, unbiased reporting of the facts. To enable voters to make intelligent decisions, however, the media also analyze the meaning of developments and, in clearly identified columns or broadcasts, express editorial opinions supporting or opposing the decisions of public officials. The broad freedom of the American press has, at times, been criticized as weakening the power of the government to act for the public good. But Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, had a ready reply to such criticism. In 1787 he declared:
The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
Several of the largest American weekly magazines, such as Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report, are devoted exclusively to reporting and interpreting the news, and a number of radio stations similarly broadcast only news. Other publications and electronic media devote a substantial portion of their output to the news. Both the print and electronic media offer debates in public issues and interviews with persons who support or oppose specific actions. There are also special-interest publications devoted solely to the presentation of one or another side of various questions. During elections, the political parties make ample use of all the media to present their positions to the American people.