This week, the biggest news story in the country was covered in much the same way it would have been covered before the advent of modern technologies. That’s because the Supreme Court of the United States does not care about PR in the least.
Holding the future of American law in their hands and all paid by the taxpayers of the United States, the Justices of the Supreme Court operate outside of the public eye in ways unimaginable to any other top-level public employee in modern society. This week’s arguments on the legality of “Obamacare” were not televised, broadcast online or even reported in real time. In an age of consumer demand for live coverage across multiple platforms, the public had to rely on after-the-fact journalist accounts and “handout” audio recordings.
The tops of the other branches of the U.S. Government communicate regularly to the public via media. In the legislative branch, Congressional proceedings have been televised since C-SPAN began in 1979. In the executive branch, the President has a public schedule virtually every day. Only the Supreme Court operates with archaic policies that now, in effect, deny public access to its proceedings.
If I remember correctly, the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, at least once considered allowing its proceedings to be televised but would not because of the fallout from the O.J. Simpson case. Now, that case is nearly 20 year-old history and its Hollywood-esque “playing to the cameras” has proven to be the aberration.
Court cases on TV do not necessarily bring high ratings (just look at the extinction of Court TV). But, the public has a right to be exposed to public proceedings, as much as technology will allow. As audiences before more niched and mass media continues to transform into personal media, the extreme disconnect between the Supreme Court and the American public will continue to become more evident.