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  • How the Constitution Makes News

    When was the last time a journalist asked a question about federalism in a presidential debate? Answer: 1960.

    The American news media, much like American politicians, are less and less attuned to what the Constitution actually says and more and more focused on the often vague notion of “rights.”

    News reporters, editors and producers are quick to wade into what they see as a juicy conflict over rights denied — at least those they ascribe to “community organizers” or atheists or gay activists or abortion clinics. The media don’t tend to give serious scrutiny to the structure and limits of government power actually prescribed by the Constitution.

    Today, Constitution Day, is a good day to highlight the results of some related media research by Andrew E. Busch, an associate professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College.

    In a Lexis/Nexis search of the major media for mentions of constitutional issues during a period of six months, Busch discovered news organizations to be “much more interested in rights than in structural questions.”

    Federalism, “one of the most important structures of the American republic,”  was mentioned in a modest 116 articles — and many of those stories were about federalism in Canada.

    The biggest hits:

    • Civil rights, civil liberties and abortion (1,000-plus articles).
    • Gay or same-sex marriage (500).
    • Constitutional amendments and Supreme Court appointments (426 each).
    • The First Amendment (326), Roe v. Wade (241), and sovereignty questions raised by the International Criminal Court (134).

    Busch reports that no other searches for 33 key words produced more than 100 hits, including “war powers,” “Kelo” (the notorious property rights case), “Electoral College amendments,” “original intent” or “Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction.”

    He observes:

    Much evidence points to a cohort of party activists who are more ideological and more polarized today than in
    1960. This trend helps to explain both the increase in constitutional discourse in elections since 1960 and why it is
    that party platforms have more such discourse than alternative forms of campaign communication. Activists write
    the platforms — and are almost the only ones who read them.”

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to How the Constitution Makes News

    1. Michael Proctor OKC, says:

      I believe we need to tell senators and congressmen, that we need to get back to the constitution. I feel that we are WAY of the target That our founding father's had envisioned for us.

    2. Bill San Antonio TX says:

      Limits of government power?

      I feel sorry for the young, or old, person that gets elected and goes to Washington for all the right reasons. They want to be part of something really special. They want to represent their constituents and country to the best of their ability. In short, they want to make a difference.

      They are willing to undergo intense scrutiny in their personal lives; sadly, even their families all too often go "through the wringer".

      Upon arrival, they soon learn that whatever politics they may have experienced earlier, nothing has prepared them for what they will NOW learn. Afterall, this is the big leagues.

      Somewhere along the way, the true meaning of our mighty Constitution (arguably the greatest document ever written, which many thought would not last 20 years) was diminished. All too many lawmakers look for ways to "re-interpret" rather than to "adhere to".

      The lobbyists descend (as they always have) like a pack of wolves; unsavory coalitions often drag many legislators to unfamiliar turf (if they do not cooperate, they are isolated and marginalized; subtle threats and "looking the other way" are tolerated at the expense of the fundamental reasons they were elected by their constituents in the first place – to protect and defend the CONSTITUTION and thus, the freedom of US Citizens. A lie detector test would prove my point.

      Deals are struck that our Representatives KNOW is fraud, waste, and abuse but LEGALLY it is not. It is called "compromise", and ends up being just – PORK. It is all too often not in the best interests of America.

      The "power of the purse" becomes a personal credit card for a few hundred people, who would never operate a business in such a manner. They either will not or cannot stop the fraud, waste, and abuse. The answer is simple, get more revenue by taxation, fees, and tinkering with tax laws. This is pretty "cavalier" since most of them already have created their wealth. What about the entreprenuers and Americans who dream of doing the same?

      Too many view the Constitution as a "living, breathing" document. That is so much liberally-taught nonsense. The founders left this document with some flexability. However, they never intended that it be abused; for example, by using the Commerce Clause as a "catch all". Make no mistake, for far too many, it is simply about POWER (although they will act indignant and angry if this is suggested).

      Politicians should voluntarily read this great document once a week. No one said being a lawmaker was easy; we know it is not.

      But, for the sake of the oath you took, quit playing games and looking for legal angles and just enforce the Constitution as it was intended.

    3. Bobbie Jay says:

      In today's ugly world, no one should be up for a vote and able to hold office without being tested and pass the American Constitution. This would show their TRUE will to this country and the people.

      Do your job, government! Keep America independent and motivate those that aren't.

    4. Albert campbellsvill says:

      Did they remove the 10th amendment without telling me.

    5. PWIllini84 says:


      One of the best, most accurately concise comments made on this site, thank you! I'm reading Levy's http://www.amazon.com/Original-Intent-Framers-Con… one of the best books about the Constitution! A must read for all new members of Congress, so they know what the Founders said their job was to be!

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