In democratic countries any efforts to restrict the freedom of the press are rightly condemned. However, this freedom can easily be abused. Stories about people often attract far more public attention than political events. Though we may enjoy reading about the lives of others, it is extremely doubtful whether we would equally enjoy reading about ourselves. Acting on the contention that facts are sacred, reporters can cause untold suffering to individuals by publishing details about their private lives. Newspapers exert such tremendous influence that they can not only bring about major changes to the lives of ordinary people but can even overthrow a government.
The story of a poor family that acquired fame and fortune overnight, dramatically illustrates the power of the press. The family lived in Aberdeen, a small town of 23,000 inhabitants in South Dakota. As the parents had five children, life was a perpetual struggle against poverty. They were expecting their sixth child and were faced with even more pressing economic problems. If they had only had one more child, the fact would have passed unnoticed. They would have continued to struggle against economic odds and would have lived in obscurity. But they suddenly became the parents of quintuplets, an aeroplane arrived in Aberdeen bringing sixty reporters and photographers.
The rise to fame was swift. Television cameras and newspapers carried the news to everyone in the country. Newspapers and magazines offered the family huge sums for the exclusive rights to publish stories and photographs. Gifts poured in not only from unknown people, but room baby food and soap manufacturers who wished to advertise their products. The old farmhouse the family lived in was to be replaced by new $500,000 home. Reporters kept pressing for interviews so lawyers had to be employed to act as spokesmen for the family at press conferences. While the five babies were babies were still quietly sleeping in oxygen tents in hospital nursery, their parents were paying the price for fame. It would never again be possible for them to lead normal lives. They had become the victims of commercialization, for their names had acquired a market value. Instead of being five new family members, these children had immediately become a commodity.