Burriss on Media: Sunshine Week

Mar 11, 2013

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  In case you didn't know it, and apparently many people don't, this is Sunshine Week, and this Saturday is both Freedom of Information Day, and the birthday of James Madison, generally considered the father of the Constitution.
     But, there also seems to be a generalized fear that the media have grown too powerful and too aggressive. Yet, if we stop for a moment and take an historical look at American media, we'll see they have always been a powerful influence in American life.
     This March 20th is the anniversary of the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Some historians directly link the novel with the start of the Civil War, and President Abraham Lincoln is reported to have met with Stowe, and commented that she was the little lady who started all of the big trouble.
     On March 19, 1859, the first Thomas Nast cartoon appeared in Harper's Weekly. Nast, of course, gave us the images we still use of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, the Republican elephant the Democratic donkey, and in the area of influence, helped bring down the corrupt government of Tammany Hall.
     Thomas Paine is credited with almost single-handedly turning public opinion against the British at the start of the Revolutionary war, and Ida Tarbell, one of the muckrakers, took on Standard Oil, and won a major anti-trust victory over the petroleum industry.
     Fortunately, history has shown us that the media can only be as powerful as the public lets them be, and that ultimate control over public opinion rests, not with writers and speakers, but with you, the reading, viewing and listening public.

I'm Larry Burriss.