Below are excerpts from a famous speech made by Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1969. His concerns about the power and influence of the media have repeatedly been echoed by leaders and citizens from all political ideologies.
Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, speaking to the Midwest Republican Conference on November 13, 1969.
Tonight I want to discuss the importance of the television news medium to the American people. No nation depends more on the intelligent judgment of its citizens. No medium has a more profound influence over public opinion. Nowhere in our system are there fewer checks on such vast power. So, nowhere should there be more conscientious responsibility exercised than by the news media. The question is, are we demanding enough of our television news presentations? And are the men of this medium demanding enough of themselves? . . .
First lets define that power. At least 40 million Americans every night, itís estimated, watch the network news . . .
According to Harris polls and other studies, for millions of Americans the networks are the sole source of national and world news. . . .
Now how is this network news determined? A small group of men, numbering perhaps no more than a dozen anchormen, commentators, and executive producers, settle upon the 20 minutes or so of film and commentary thatís to reach the public. This selection is made from the 90 to 180 minutes that may be available. Their powers of choice are broad.
They decide what 40 to 50 million Americans will learn of the dayís events in the nation and in the world.
We cannot measure this power and influence by the traditional democratic standards, for these men can create national issues overnight. . . .
They can elevate men from obscurity to national prominence within a week. They can reward some politicians with national exposure and ignore others . . .
Nor is their power confined to the substantive. A raised eyebrow, an inflection of the voice, a caustic remark dropped in the middle of the broadcast can raise doubts in a million minds about the veracity of a public official or the wisdom of a government policy.
One Federal Communications Commissioner considers the powers of the networks equal to that of local, state, and federal governments combined. Certainly it represents a concentration of power over American public opinion unknown in history. . . .
The American people would rightly not tolerate this concentration of power in government.
Is it not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a tiny enclosed fraternity of privileged men elected by no one and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government?
The views of the majority of this fraternity do not--and I repeat, not--represent the views of America.. . .
As with other American institutions, perhaps it is time that the networks were made more responsive to the views of the nation and more responsible to the people they serve.
Now I want to make myself perfectly clear. Iím not asking for government censorship or any other kind of censor ship. Iím asking whether a form of censorship already exists when the news that 40 million Americans receive each night is determined by a handful of men responsible only to their corporate employers and is filtered through a handful of commentators who admit to their own set of biases.
By way of conclusion, let me say that every elected leader in the United States depends on these men of the media. Whether what Iíve said to you tonight will be heard and seen at all by the nation is not my decision, itís not your decision, itís their decision. . . .
Now, my friends, weíd never trust such power, as Iíve described, over public opinion in the hands of an elected government. Itís time we questioned it in the hands of a small and unelected elite. . . .