The Press and the Public Interest: An Essay on the Relationship Between Social Behavior and the Language of First Amendment Theory

I would like to explore in this essay one aspect of the contemporary American debate over the theory of freedom of speech and press. The subject I want to address is this: whether the principle of freedom of speech and press should be viewed as protecting some personal or individual interest in speaking and writing or whether it should be seen as fostering a collective or public interest. Sometimes this issue is stated as being whether the first amendment protects a “right to speak” or a “right to hear,” though in general the problem seems to be whether we should conceive of the principle as securing speech against government intervention without regard to the potential benefits that speech offers for the larger society, or rather only because of them.