Freedom of the press is offered as one of the most important elements in a free society because only a journalistic
community unhampered by governmental control can work to root out corruption, expose wrongdoing, and provide
the information which the general populace must possess if it is to responsibly exercise its fundamental rights.
Journalists themselves proudly point to such events in American history as the Watergate crisis, the Pentagon
Papers, Iran-Contra, and many others, as examples of the way the American free press works in the interest of the
Importantly, one of the key justifications for society’s need of an unfettered press is the need of the people to
know, a need which must be met in a society which is ruled by the people. Without adequate knowledge, the people
would be unable to take responsible action, either in their own interest or in the interest of society in general.
Framing this concern a little differently, it is a prerequisite of informed moral agency that the people be provided
with accurate information. Moral agency, always a troublesome concept, is basically the idea that people, as
individuals, are, and ought to be, held accountable for the "rightness" or "wrongness" of their actions. Moral
agency has something to do with the relationship between means and ends – actions, intentions, and consequences.
A society which does not provide adequate information to its citizens challenges their effectiveness as citizens, and
it challenges their ability to make informed choices at all. In short, it challenges their ability to hold themselves and
others responsible for all of their actions: it challenges their moral agency.
A fundamental issue for this paper will be the development of an adequate conception of moral agency, and the
conditions necessary for individuals to practice it fully, with the intention of demonstrating that these conditions are
not met in American society, and that this lack is at least partly due to the media. To accomplish this, I will outline a
propaganda model of the mass media from Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent1, which
attempts to explain how the American free press, the supposed vanguard in the defense of democracy, actually
serves elite interests in our society, and fails in its self-proclaimed mission to provide accurate information to the
people. After examining the quality of the society created by such a propaganda system, I will compare it to the
requirements of my model of moral agency, and show how society, and the individuals in it, can come up wanting,
before finally offering a few suggestions as to how this situation might be improved.