Beyond the Watchdog: Using Law to Build Trust in the Press

3 J. of Free Speech L. 57 (2023).

Georgetown University Law Center Research Paper No. Forthcoming

(2023). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 2494.

Media and Society After Technological Disruption, Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming.

19 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2023 Last revised: 16 Feb 2024

See all articles by Erin Carroll

Erin Carroll

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: March 9, 2023

Abstract

Declining trust in the American press has been longstanding and corrosive—both to our information environment and to democracy. It is tempting to think that if journalists could just repeatedly and brilliantly play their key role—that of watchdog—it might be redemptive. But doubling down on the watchdog function holds risks in our polarized climate. Research shows that some conservatives recoil from watchdog journalism, finding it too cynical and politicized.

This essay argues that a different journalistic function—one that has received far less attention and adulation from judges and legal scholars—should be encouraged and amplified. This is the press’s role as a convener and facilitator of the public square.

Traditionally, this public square has been synonymous with the marketplace of ideas—a space that the Supreme Court has called “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” where debate “may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks.” But a metaphorical public square for today’s flagging democracy—in which sharp attacks abound—needs to operate differently. For one, it needs to better take into account how to build trust, understanding, and what philosopher Robert Talisse calls “civic friendship.”

This essay investigates how the press might take up the role of architect, convener, facilitator, and even listener in what I call “public fora”—spaces not simply marked by debate but also by collaboration and deliberation. It looks at how law might help. It argues that with law’s backing, the press can build citizens’ trust in it by helping citizens to trust one another.

Note: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the Journal of Free Speech Law originally available online at: https://www.journaloffreespeechlaw.org/carroll.pdf.

Keywords: Press, Watchdog, Trust

Suggested Citation

Carroll, Erin, Beyond the Watchdog: Using Law to Build Trust in the Press (March 9, 2023). 3 J. of Free Speech L. 57 (2023)., Georgetown University Law Center Research Paper No. Forthcoming, (2023). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 2494., Media and Society After Technological Disruption, Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4397934

Erin Carroll (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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