Personal tools


DIAC 92 - Report

CFP'92 - KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Freedom in Cyberspace: New Wine in Old Flasks?

ALLEN NEUHARTH, Chairman, The Freedom Forum

Wednesday, March 18, 1992 1:00-2:00 PM

HOFFMAN: My name is Lance Hoffman. I want to welcome you here. I'm a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at The George Washington University. GW is the host of this event; the sponsor is the ACM. I will be going through a lot of the people who made this possible later on, but I want to get this off to a good and a fast start, following in the footsteps of Jim Warren last year at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy-1 to be on time. So without further ado, I will introduce President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to welcome you on behalf of the University. (applause)

TRACHTENBERG: Thank you very much, Lance. As President of George Washington University, I welcome you. I welcome you to Washington, I welcome you to L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, and I welcome you to one of the more important conferences being held in the United States this year. And so much for my role as University President, because I'd also like to welcome you as a typically worried American citizen -- someone who grew up with Dick Tracy, when it was the very first comic strip to meet your eye each Sunday when you opened the New York Daily News. The Dick Tracy of my youth sported this absolutely unbelievable communications device known as a two-way wrist radio. Now, had Dr. Freud survived into the late 1940's and early 1950's, long enough to study the children of Brooklyn, at a time when their upward social mobility was still mainly forthcoming, he would have found Dick Tracy's two-way wrist radio playing a considerably more active role in their dream lives than anything as hackneyed and predictable as sex. As for the two-way wrist TV that inevitably followed, it was even more fantastic than the notion entertained by a small and kooky group of science fiction addicts that representatives of the human race would eventually set foot on the moon and begin the exploration of outer space.

So here we are today, March 18, 1992, only a few days gone by since the media reported the very imminent arrival of the videophone and all of its latent capacities for intruding on our privacy. And it was only a month ago, in a periodical named Mobius, that Professor Alan F. Westin of Columbia University predicted the arrival, in this decade, of a series of defenses against the unapproved, uncompensated use of personal data on you and me and all the other inhabitants of Planet Earth.

It was in 1967 that Atheneum published Prof. Westin's path- breaking book, Privacy and Freedom. In that book, he discussed new developments in physical surveillance, psychological surveillance, and, what is particularly relevant to this conference, data surveillance. And by the latter he meant, and I quote a paragraph of his own words:

"The rapid pace of computer development and usage throughout American society, which means that vast amounts of information about individuals and private groups in the nation are being placed in computer-usable form. ... The possibilities increase that agencies employing computers can accomplish heretofore impossible surveillance of individuals, businesses, and groups by putting together all the now scattered pieces of data."

And having anticipated his Mobius article with a brilliant discussion of such questions as, what constitutes consent to surveillance on the part of a person being subjected to it, Prof. Westin went on, in 1967, to consider appropriate controls and countermeasures that would help to limit the intrusions on personal privacy rendered all too simple by the advance of modern technology.

Those of you who would like to congratulate Prof. Westin on the prophetic quality of what he wrote a quarter of a century ago will be able to do so, I understand, at this conference in which I believe he is taking part. I myself would like to congratulate him on his ability in last month's Mobius article to look hopefully ahead, and to do it at a time when so many people, and so many young people in particular, have given up the battle, abandoned any hope, that they can protect their privacy. What I hear, and overhear, each day, are university students who assume, or say outright, that privacy is now the vestige of a former age to which we can only look back with a certain nostalgia.

And what I very much look forward to hearing at this conference is at least some discussion of what it is doing to us psychologically as individuals, as a nation, and as members of an increasingly global community, to feel that each and every one of our words and deeds may be under surveillance from somewhere by somebody. Is the resulting atmosphere a kind of theological throwback to a time when human beings believed themselves to be under nonstop scrutiny by invisible deities and demons? Have many human beings already, in some fundamental fashion, given up on the very idea that personal privacy is possible? And if so, then can Humpty Dumpty, in this case, be put together again via the safeguards suggested by Prof. Westin, or in other ways? Or will the suspicion always linger that the forces usually summed up as "they" are nibbling at every safeguard and are busily inventing still newer technological methods to replace those no longer considered legal?

I await the wisdom you will be offering us at this conference, and once again, on behalf of George Washington University, I welcome you both officially and personally with a whole heart and an eager mind. Thank you. Lance, the microphone is yours. (applause)

HOFFMAN: Thank you, President Trachtenberg. I have a media note before we go on: our keynote speaker's comments, in print, will be available immediately after this session in the pressroom down the hall, the Caucus Room.

Jane Kirtley is Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. She has contributed much as a Steering Committee member to this conference and has known our keynote speaker for some time. I'm going to turn over the floor to her to introduce him.

KIRTLEY: What can you say about an SOB? A man who, during his tenure at Gannett, a communications company that includes more than 80 newspapers and nearly 30 radio and television stations, schemed to remove his mentor, eavesdropped on a rival, and manipulated his colleagues and board, and who then bragged about it in his best-selling autobiography. What can you say about a man who so accurately takes the nation's pulse that he conceived and engineered the launching of USA Today ten years ago. Critics called it "fast food for the brain," or "McNews;" "A quick easy read for those in a hurry," or "for travelers seeking news from home, and a look at the national weather." But under Al's influence, USA Today grew to have the second largest circulation of newspapers in the United States, and its bold graphics and use of color revolutionized the way other papers designed and presented the news. It will never be the same again.

Since his retirement as Chairman and CEO of the Gannett Company in April 1989, Allen Neuharth has devoted himself to the Freedom Forum, the largest information-oriented foundation in the country, which he has chaired since 1986. A keen observer of global communications issues, Al's nose for news and uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time insured that he and the Freedom Forum trustees were in Moscow last August 19th, the very day a hard-line junta attempted to oust Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. As Al put it, he walked out of his hotel into history. In addition to being an eyewitness to the events of the next few days for readers here and abroad, Al Neuharth and the Freedom Forum helped former Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze disseminate a statement in opposition to the coup, translating it and conveying it to news outlets and diplomats in Washington when there was no other way for him to do so. For Al, this was just another example of the principles that the Freedom Forum promotes in a tangible way: free press, free speech, and free spirit for all people. It is my great pleasure to introduce Al Neuharth. (applause)

insert photo

NEUHARTH: Thanks, Jane, for the very complimentary introduction. I thought it was a little short.

I am really delighted to be here with you today for several reasons. It's a privilege to launch this second conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy. I would say that judging from the program which I have had the privilege of studying for a few weeks, thanks to Lance, that CFP-2 will be even more meaningful than was this conference a year ago.

The second reason that I am delighted to be here today is that the other thing that I was asked to schedule myself to do is to be over to the National Press Club this noon, bring my $5.00 to listen to Ross Perot tell us why he should be the next President of the United States. (laughter) I think I'd rather be with you. (laughter)

George Washington President Trachtenberg and Conference Chairman Lance Hoffman, I really think you're to be congratulated for having established what in just a couple of years now has become THE forum for discussing and trying to grapple with electronic information age issues. I'm intrigued by the range of diverse interests represented by you participants in this conference. Lance sent me an advance registration list, and by my count at that time, there were about 300 advance registrations. The leading representation on that list was from the Internal Revenue Service (laughter) and the telephone companies. Lance, by my count there were then 16 IRS representatives scheduled to be here -- they are all around you (laughter) -- and about an even dozen from the brothers Bell. I would expect that before Friday night you will have discovered what their special interests are in computers and freedom and privacy... maybe in such mundane things as payments or payoffs or something along that line.

I think your three-day program features a really marvelous mix of experts. I will confess to you that I am not one of the experts in the science of computers, so I am going to leave that subject to those who are much better qualified than I to talk about it.

My special interest focuses on the freedom and the privacy aspects of this conference, especially on three prime personal freedoms that I think are of utmost importance in this Cyberspace age, because I believe that free press, free speech, and what I broadly call free spirit, really will determine how well we harness the technology of our age. And without those freedoms, computers, no matter how sophisticated, would become just a bunch of high-priced junk. I do know that it is because of the technology of this age that our world indeed has become one huge global village, just as Canada's Marshall McLuhan had predicted it would more than 25 years ago. One global village, linked electronically with over 5 billion villagers, sharing a lot of the same information, but with very diverse problems and hopes and opportunities and direction. It's my hunch that your tutorials this morning on different subjects have your thoughts headed in several directions, or on several principles, as you focus on the next three days. I'd like to talk with you about three that I hope that you might include in your broader discussions between now and Friday evening.

Number 1 is the fact that I believe the First Amendment freedoms are for everyone. Those in the electronic publishing business, or who would like to get into it, should not be shoved to the back of the free press bus that the print media for so long has controlled. No one, least of all newspaper publishers, should relegate anyone, even competitors, to the status of second-class citizens when it comes to the First Amendment.

Number 2, I think some of our concern, perhaps much of our concern, over privacy is a bit overrated -- or at least a bit misplaced. And I have concern if that passion for privacy is pushed too far, our democracy, which depends on an informed and participatory citizenry, will be in danger of faltering, perhaps even failing.

Number 3, I think publishing, or otherwise distributing, misinformation is a far greater danger than any overkill of information. And some of our most prestigious publications are as guilty of doing that now as are some of our most sleazy tabloids.

With those three things in mind, let's look first at the First Amendment. It's ironic to me that a trade association which ostensibly is dedicated to promoting the cause of a free press currently is engaged in a misguided effort to limit free enterprise. I'm referring, of course, to the fact that the American Newspaper Publishers Association is leading a campaign to keep the regional Bell operating companies out of the electronic information business. Some newspaper publishers and some of their hired hands are actually trying to make a case that the free press clause of First Amendment applies only to newspapers. Well, that wasn't true when the First Amendment was written over 200 years ago, and it certainly is not true today. Common sense and court rulings should have made that clear by now. The invention of radio and television, which, I might add, some newspaper publishers still only grudgingly concede, long ago should have laid to rest any priority claims to the free press clause. And now desktop publishing, electronic bulletin boards, online information services have given a whole new meaning to the term publisher, but some leading newspaper publishers have not yet recognized that. The baby Bells, as most of you know, now want to go into delivering information electronically. It's a fact, of course, that many newspapers already do that. It may come as something of a surprise to some of my old friends and colleagues, in and out of ANPA, but the telephone companies, in my judgment, really do have First Amendment rights too, and they should be respected and even defended by the rest of us.

Unfortunately, some publishers and their partners are doing just the opposite. After two centuries of battling for the broadest interpretation of the free press clause of the First Amendment, they have become what I guess could be called modern day Luddites, like Great Britain's 19th century workers who feared the heavens were falling when machines were introduced. They're spitting into the winds of change of technology, rather than harnessing those winds to sail into a new world of information distribution. And we have a real irony here, when you have the champion of a free press trying to stifle free enterprise.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Not all newspaper publishers are happy with the position being taken by ANPA, and many or most newspaper editors are downright aghast at it. And so what you have now is a great deal of internal warfare going on at newspapers large and small over the editorial page stances to take on that issue. In my view, now is the time for newspaper editors and publishers to stand up and be counted for the First Amendment. Now that position will not make publishers and editors popular with their trade associations, but when was the fight over the First Amendment ever a popular issue? It seems to me that publishers and editors should spend less time worrying about competition from the baby Bells, because if they continue down this road of "Stop the competition at all cost," they may find that they have a new business partner. They may unwittingly create a climate of regulation that makes the government, rather than the baby Bells, their new partner.

It is an especially serious mistake to invite Congress into this act. (laughter) We have the Cooper Bill in the House and the Inouye Bill in the Senate, pushed by the ANPA and others, to slow the baby Bells' entry into information service. Well, asking Congress to regulate telephone companies as electronic publishers at a time when the explosion of electronic publishers includes more and more newspapers is sheer folly. And I think that's the kind of thinking and the kind of action that's sure to boomerang. It flies in the face of those First Amendment words that say, "Congress shall make no law..." Hopefully, the people over on the Hill will recognize that the First Amendment does not belong just to newspaper publishers, or to just the baby Bells, for that matter. It belongs to the people, and all of them deserve to get their news when they want it, where they want it, and how they want it ... whether it's tossed on the front porch, or called up on computer screens in the den or the office. Some will want it one way, some will want it another way, and I suspect that many will want it both ways, and other ways also. And that really does leave a lot of room for both newspapers and baby Bells together and separately to work at that. I should add that some more enlightened newspaper publishers have already recognized the inevitable and are exploring partnerships with the baby Bells. Those who don't learn when to compete and when to cooperate will not thrive and they may not survive. Even Frank Blethen, who is the publisher of the Seattle Times and was the chairman of ANPA committee leading the charge against the baby Bells, is hedging his bet. One of the largest of the baby Bells, U.S. West, is promoting a service that allows cellular phone users easy access to the Seattle Times info line.

I believe that ANPA is creating a myth about the baby Bell monopoly. And can you imagine the gall of any newspaper, or publisher, or owner screaming monopoly at someone else? The baby Bells would, of course, add many voices in the free flow of information, and I think that is what the framers of the First Amendment had in mind.

Now lest these remarks be interpreted as my being a shill for the telephone companies, let me point out that I think there is strong evidence that newspaper publishers are really dealing from a position of strength if they will use it from a competitive perspective. Telephone companies have yet to demonstrate real expertise in the electronic information era. They certainly have no experience in gathering news and information -- gathering it. Their corporate culture -- I think it's fair to say -- is still dictated by an outmoded allegiance to technology and to regulation, and they still have problems delivering some of their basic services. By this time next year, I expect there will be about 2000 newspapers -- dailies, weeklies, free community newspapers -- that offer some kind of audiotext service. Even if they escape government restrictions, how many baby Bells do you think will be offering competitive services by then? Not very many. Even if newspaper publishers lack the courage or the foresight to beat the baby Bells, or to join them, they should not abandon the First Amendment principles that most have fought for and nourished over the decade. They were right then. They are wrong now. It's that simple.

Well, let me turn now to a matter that may be even more near and dear to your hearts, and that's the matter of privacy. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a computer genius to determine, after scanning your conference program and the list of attendees here, that the issue of privacy weighs very heavily on your minds. That's understandable. Personal privacy is important. Most of us want as much of it as we can get. And obviously privacy is getting harder and harder to come by in what some have dubbed "the surveillance society." I think some concern is warranted. You can't call up Sears now without computers fetching and recording intimate details about your financial situation and your buying habits. The same thing is true at the grocery checkout counter. It is true at work. Your boss can monitor your work habits and your efficiency as you labor over a hot PC. And, of course, they can even eavesdrop on your E-mail. Away from work, with a personal communications network, personal communications services will make you a walking telephone number that any eye in the sky can locate almost anywhere at any time. And at home, as we all know, you're never safe from the random dialer armed with personal information from some anonymous database. Meanwhile, here in Washington, billions of bytes of personal and impersonal information about us keep piling up in the bowels of government computers.

So understandably, all of that and more put some of us in a panic about privacy, but from my perspective, the concerns about privacy are considerably overrated and sometimes misplaced. There really are laws on both the state and national level that protect individual privacy and provide for penalties for those who invade privacy wrongly. They might not be entirely adequate, but the Federal Privacy Act, for example, was passed to protect individual privacy. Even more important, the federal Freedom of Information Act has a specific exemption for personal confidential information. Most states have personal privacy laws as well, and most of those establish very specific procedures for the interdepartmental transfer of sensitive personal information. Most states also give individuals the right to examine their own records at any time just by asking. And as for personal information in private hands, there are protections in place there also. The individual can protect himself or herself, you know that. When filling out credit applications, or other such forms, individuals can determine the limit to the information that might be disseminated. And of course the individual can sue when a private firm wrongly uses personal information or wrongly invades a person's privacy. And keep in mind, on the subject that we left a minute ago, that publishers' complaints in this fight about possible invasions of privacy by the telephone companies are prompted simply by concerns about a marketing advantage, not about your personal protection, no matter how it may be presented. Also keep in mind that the recent scare over the Lotus household database with information about millions of customers, that that was handled really by a public outcry by users over their electronic bulletin boards. It didn't take Congressional hearings or new laws to stop that mistake in its tracks.

If there is any substantial threat to individual privacy, it seems to me that it comes from the government that collects and manipulates data. No individual citizen, no academic researcher, no journalist, no marketing genius has the ability to harm an individual the way an agent or agency of the government can. We have an example of that here this week. The special Senate counsel's attempt to subpoena telephone records of National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg and Newsday's Timothy Phelps is outrageous. He should be targeting those with the government who leaked the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas information if he is intent on pursuing it, rather than targeting the reporters who reported it. Despite that, I'm confident that the full Senate or the courts ultimately will block the subpoena attempt. In other words, I think occasional examples of such misguided attacks on privacy can be controlled by existing rules and regulations.

So it seems to me that common sense, judicious use of the courts, and an emphasis on ethics and safe practices by the computer community -- and not more laws -- will give us the best answer for our concerns about privacy.

Now let me turn to the third matter, the matter of misinformation and how it is fueling the mistrust of nearly all of us who make our bread money in the news or information business. A nationwide poll by the Times Mirror Company of Los Angeles reported that twice as many people considered the media not as believable now as they did in 1985. That means our negative rating went up from 16% to 32%. The information or misinformation that we in the media peddle which fuels the public's mistrust of the press takes primarily two forms. The first is the despair that so many in the media peddle, especially some Eastern metropolitan newspapers and TV network newscasts. That penchant for a negative spin has really been evident in the last year or so as the lingering effects of the recession have been grossly overplayed and the signs of economic improvement underplayed. I think most people out there agree with Charles Kuralt of CBS-TV who says, and I quote, "The country I see on my television screens and on my newspaper front pages is not quite the country that I see with my eyes, and hear with my ears, and feel in my bones." Will Rogers put that another way. The old Oklahoma sage said, and I quote, "I hope I never live to see the time when things are as bad as my newspaper says they are." (laughter) Well, even when the news is bad, is it the role of the daily newspaper or TV newscast to help you wallow in it, or to help you see your way out? I think it's the latter, and I think it's simply a matter of balance. Responsible journalism, or peddlers of information, can and should and must cover all of the news, the good as well as the bad, the glad as well as the sad. I also believe that a new journalism of hope and help is much more likely to survive and thrive then the old journalism of despair and defeat.

The second, and perhaps the most damaging aspect of mis- information is the misuse or the abuse of anonymous or so- called confidential sources. Three things generally happen when reporters are permitted to use unnamed sources: first of all, the source often tells more than he or she knows. (laughter) That is especially true around this town. And then the reporter, being human, sometimes writes more than he or she hears; and when you take that combination, the public just doesn't believe it. So most readers and viewers think the reporter who doesn't name sources made it up, and often they're right. Granted, anonymous sources sometimes provide valuable tips or information that lead to legitimate news stories that are a public service: The Pentagon Papers, Watergate are examples. Although I must say I believe in both those cases some sources could have been identified or at least verified. More often than not, anonymous sources provide misinformation that does irreparable harm to the targets, or it provides for the use of such confidential sources to enable some reporters and editors to simply substitute fiction for fact. Janet Cook's make-believe series about a fictional nine-year-old drug addict here in Washington is an example. That junk embarrassed the community, and when the Washington Post had to give back a Pulitzer Prize it had proudly sought and won, it embarrassed the good newspaper, and it embarrassed our entire profession. Yet the Washington Post continues to be the number one user of confidential sources. Dozens of critical stories everyday carry no attribution, especially in Washington, a town full of people with axes to grind. Withholding the identification of sources simply encourages exaggerating or fabricating information or misinformation. And the damage done by regularly publishing such simply exceeds any value that might come from an occasional use of an unknown source.

The only cure, it seems to me, is for the media -- all the media -- to stop using anonymous sources. Even Abe Rosenthal, the retired executive editor of the New York Times, which is the second worst offender (laughter), now expresses some qualms about their use. Rosenthal says, and I quote, "The source is an important part of any story and lends strength to the story. The so-called anonymous source is only a last resort." Now I'm not suggesting that the press should stop seeking the truth ... far from it ... just the opposite. I am urging that we make sure what we publish and disseminate is the truth -- information, not misinformation, because that's what our public expects. And that does not suggest a sameness or a blandness in the free press. In fact, readers generally love their newspapers to have a distinct style, but they want their newspaper to be very open about its philosophy, policy, and style, and especially to confine opinions to the editorial or opinion pages, rather than hiding them in news stories. The freedom of practicing different philosophy, policy, and style is an essential element of the free press, so long as we don't pretend we are what we are not.

The former editor of USA Today, John Quinn, succinctly captured styles of newspapers when he described in a National Press Club speech how he thought four of the biggest newspapers in this country would headline what we call the ULTIMATE STORY, that of course being the end of the world. He said each of those newspapers would headline the story according to its own prejudices, philosophies, or style. In the New York Times, he said the headline would read WORLD ENDS, THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES HARDEST HIT. (laughter) I see some of you are Times readers. (laughter) In the Wall Street Journal, WORLD ENDS, DOW JONES INDUSTRIAL AVERAGE HITS ZERO. (laughter) In the Washington Post, WORLD ENDS -- WHITE HOUSE IGNORED EARLY WARNINGS, UNNAMED SOURCES SAY. (laughter) In USA Today, WE'RE DEAD, STATE BY STATE DEMISE (PAGE 8A), FINAL FINAL SPORTS SCORES (PAGE 8C). (laughter) Well, our styles really do show through, and in a free press they should, as long as we don't camouflage what it is that we are doing.

Now let me turn, finally for just a moment, to the title of these remarks as they appeared on your program. The title for my remarks is "Freedom in Cyberspace: New Wine in Old Flasks." The end of one's speech may be a little late to get around to the announced subject, but there is a reason. It's a call to misinformation. When Lance Hoffman and I agreed on a title for my remarks, it was "Freedom in Cyberspace: New Wine in Old Flasks?" Correct?

HOFFMAN: Correct.

NEUHARTH: But when the program was printed, some demon dropped the question mark. It came out as a statement. Lance and I laughed about it, but we agreed that I could still treat it as a question. And the answer to that question seems to me to be pretty simple. The 200-year-old First Amendment -- that flask -- has served our tastes pretty well, and so has the wine in it. If anything, like good wines, I think it has improved with age. So I suggest that we not pour out the wine, or throw away the old flask for a new one; that we do not need another amendment or a lot of laws and regulations. The First Amendment still works in the Cyberspace Age if it is widely and broadly interpreted. It will serve us well in this age if we understand that to remain free and fearless, we must also be fair. (applause)

HOFFMAN: Thank you, Al, for, as usual, a very good and thought-provoking speech. I'm delighted to announce that even though Al has to catch a plane and leave for the airport in five minutes, we do have five minutes for unrestricted Q & A. If you are going to ask a question, would you position yourself at one of the three microphones? This is being recorded, so state your name and identity, hopefully, and ask away.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. Neuharth, thank you very much for your talk. There is a great deal that I have to question, but I will keep it to one. You say the consumer has much to look forward to and nothing to fear by allowing the regional Bell operating companies to become information providers and information vendors, and you analogized to several other businesses. What other business can you point to that (a) has total monopoly in their local area, no other competitor for the local loop and (b) has shown a historic propensity to hit the ratepayer base for costs that are not part of what the tariff covers?

NEUHARTH: The answer to both those questions is the same. I can point to newspapers as an example of both -- having the monopoly and forcing the consumer to pay whatever price would be necessary in order to make a profit. Incidentally, I did NOT say that the consumer has nothing to fear from the baby Bells. What I did say was that the First Amendment belongs to everyone. I don't care whether you print a pamphlet, whether you deliver over a telephone system, whether you deliver from an electronic base, the First Amendment belongs to everyone. I think the free enterprise system does too, and I don't think that free press and free enterprise are mutually exclusive.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Besides anecdotal evidence in isolated cases, is there some sort of study or something that you could point to to justify your claim that in more cases than not, unattributed sources lead to fiction or misinformation?

NEUHARTH: Well, yes. I don't have the document with me to show how many libel charges have been brought against newspapers or the media because of unnamed sources, and of course, I did cite for you one that you're all familiar with here, where one of the great newspapers of this country printed fiction and had to apologize for it.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, but compared to the amount of time we see unattributed sources, it certainly is a potential for abuse and it has been abused. But when you said, in more cases than not, I guess I was struck by it, and wondered whether I missed something.

NEUHARTH: I think what you have missed is the 50 years of experience that I have had reading and working on newspapers. I hope that as you review, that you go back and look at what has happened over that long period of time, and I think you might then agree with me.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Actually it would be interesting to see a study and see how that came out.

RICHARD NEUMEISTER: Mr. Neuharth, my name is Richard Neumeister from St. Paul, Minnesota. I have two questions, one is your comments in regards to the Cohen case, what the Supreme Court did against the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Tribune. Secondly, you spoke about voluntariness in the private industry. I have been reading for many years the recommendations of the U.S. Privacy Commission that came out in the mid-1970s that said that private information -- like employer record laws, personal marketing information things -- was given voluntarily to private industry to develop. And here, fifteen years later, we are still hearing the same complaints, the same anecdotes. At least laws in those areas are being passed state by state. Would you still suggest that it can be done on a voluntary basis, or maybe should we get some laws in those areas?

NEUHARTH: I said, in fact, that there are state by state laws that are in place that I think are appropriate. As to your first question, I'm not sure that people are familiar with your St. Paul case. Do you want to just take 30 seconds to explain it?

NEUMEISTER: Lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Marlene Johnson was running as a candidate, and two newspapers picked up a story by an anonymous source -- by a guy named Cohen -- that she had a petty theft record in 1970 or something like that, and she ran in 1982. The story then ran and was given to the reporters based on an agreement that there was an anonymous source, confidential, and they took it. The Supreme Court in our state interpreted it as an oral contract and it went from there.

NEUHARTH: And that meant that the anonymous source had a right to be protected by the newspaper, once the newspaper had pledged that it would keep the source anonymous. The difference, of course, is that I suggest that newspapers should not pledge to keep any sources anonymous, but I certainly agree with the legal interpretation of the St. Paul case.

GLENN TENNEY: Hi, my name is Glenn Tenney. You and I seem to agree very much ...

NEUHARTH: Thank you very much, but I hope this will be the last question.

TENNEY: It will be. (laughter) On letting the RBOCs into the information business -- you talk about First Amendment rights. Can you speak briefly on what the cable industry is saying about their First Amendment rights to keep things on and off cable?

NEUHARTH: Well, you see I feel that cable, television, the broadcast industry, and any electronic information dissemination have exactly the same rights and privileges as print. I don't believe in the fairness doctrine -- I think that was a silly thing for the FCC to have established. And I do not think that government should try to control what's on cable or what's on the tube, any more than what's in print. I believe in the First Amendment.

HOFFMAN: Because of the time constraints, we'll take this one last question, since you have been patiently waiting.

BRAD TEMPLETON: My name is Brad Templeton, I'm a publisher of an electronic newspaper, but I think down the road that actually my role might disappear, because I think the new wine is going to be the disappearance of the publisher as a conduit between the author and the receiver of information in computer networks. Do you not think that, while publishers will not go away entirely, that that might not have a stronger effect on the whole concept of publishing? (pause) Is the question too much? (laughter)

NEUHARTH: Well, I think the assumption is too much. I think you're too concerned, and I don't think that it's likely that you will disappear as a publisher, as much as you seem to think you will.

TEMPLETON: Oh, I think a lot of us, book publishers more than newspaper publishers, will fade, not disappear.

NEUHARTH: I would say then, and this is meant to be helpfully critical, that perhaps you're in that category of those 19th century Luddites that I put my newspaper publisher friends in. (laughter) I think you ought to take a more optimistic point of view, and I think you have reason to. Have a good three days. Thank you for letting me be here. (Applause)

HOFFMAN: Thank you, Al, I think that we got the conference off to the kind of energy-rising start that we had last year.

Return to CPSR conferences page.

Return to the CPSR home page.

Send mail to webmaster.

Archived CPSR Information
Created before October 2004

Sign up for CPSR announcements emails


International Chapters -

> Canada
> Japan
> Peru
> Spain

USA Chapters -

> Chicago, IL
> Pittsburgh, PA
> San Francisco Bay Area
> Seattle, WA
Why did you join CPSR?

The need for CPSR's activities has never been greater.