Today, I had the privilege of visiting the Newseum. I was told an exhibit on President Kennedy’s assassination in relation to the media was on floor six. Intrigued, I headed straight upstairs.
Upon entering the exhibit, I noticed what looked like a mug shot out the corner of my eye. A closer look revealed a face identical to Kennedy’s. I furrowed my brow as I tried to figure out who it was. Surely, I thought to myself, the portrait of a president would never appear to be criminal. I then read the display’s description and discovered the portrait was indeed Kennedy’s.
The next question that popped into my head was “why?” Why, I thought, would anyone feel the need, let alone allow, the president to be presented this way? The answer came when I read the display’s text and accompanying description.
The description explained how dozens upon hundreds of flyers like this one were distributed in Dallas, where the president was later shot. I immediately felt a pang in my stomach. This may have been exactly what inspired Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate JFK…
If the president had committed treason, the media could have addressed it with less aggression. Not only did they cast Kennedy as a criminal, the accusations made against him had little support. For example, the claim that “he has been WRONG on innumerable issues…” is an opinion, not a fact.
Aristotle once said mass media was the enemy of injustice. Put in positive hands, the news does just that. When the media overinflates social issues with emotion and bias, however, it becomes the friend of injustice.
While it is up to scholars, not journalists, to provide the world with unbiased information, the media plays a dramatic role in public perception of crime. In an ideal society, the media would realize the power they hold over the masses, and choose to yield it responsibly. For most Americans, what appears in the news is their only connection to the outside world.
It is extremely important that we recognize the links between crime and the media. Only then will we be able to distinguish where journalists stand and speculate from the naked truth. Only then, will people, and in-turn, the criminal justice system, be able to make decisions needed to improve society.
Media, like the criminal justice system, works like a cycle. Society and culture influence what gets put into the news, and the news in-turn influences society and culture. In JFK’s time, there were emerging technological advances in media unseen in prior generations. The fast, up-to-the-minute nature of modern news has outpaced social change in many ways. The result is often that people believe whatever the media tells them, as they have little time to think amongst themselves.
Now more than ever, media is impacting society and the criminal justice system. It was the media who accused Kennedy as a criminal. That widespread accusation inspired much hate against the president, and perhaps even the justification behind his Oswald’s decision to kill; which was a major crime in itself. The media can lead to repression and hate; at times, even death. Yet, it is our only hope for freedom. As long as any of us are alive, we should strive to make society, the media, and the criminal justice system work together for optimal American efficiency.