There is a difference between freedom and responsibility, and nowhere was this made clearer than in news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombers last week. (I won’t use their names — they don’t deserve even their infamy.) Terrorist acts on our soil still smack of novelty and so inevitably lead to a glut of news coverage. While I believe in the sanctity of our First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and the press, this freedom must be accompanied by a sense of social responsibility. Unfortunately, the meaning of “social responsibility” seems to be a moving target when it comes to live television coverage.
I first noticed this ambiguity during our first war in Iraq, where we might as well have had Al Michaels calling the action. Never before had warfare been presented with such immediacy as we watched live feeds of our troops storming the beaches through night vision lenses. Our sophisticated satellite arrays and vast communication network offered a clear advantage when facing Iraq’s outmanned army. However, exhaustive American network television coverage sometimes rendered that advantage useless. Who needs to send out reconnaissance when all the other side needed was a CNN newsfeed?