The Madison Project is a timely and much-needed assessment of the impact of free speech and free press on the future of democracy, at a time when democracy itself has come perilously close to the brink in America. The Project invokes the legacy of James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” and the efforts of our Founding Fathers to create a vibrant democracy rooted in freedom of expression.
The Madison Project reflects The Media Institute’s foundational beliefs in American democracy, free speech and press, a strong First Amendment, and the importance of an informed citizenry equipped to participate in the democratic process.
As The Media Institute embarks on a one-year celebration of its 45th Anniversary culminating in October 2024, The Madison Project is a high-impact, tangible effort to use this time effectively in service to the fundamental freedoms of speech and press that make our democracy possible. The Project’s Steering Committee is chaired by noted First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams.
It is no coincidence that The Madison Project will launch in the months leading up to the 2024 presidential election. The conduct of this election will be tied more closely than ever to the media – not just the usual barrage of political ads on television, but media broadly defined to include social media, targeted online advertising, highly partisan news outlets and pundits, algorithm-driven content, disinformation, and artificial intelligence (AI).
The need for The Madison Project is urgent because the nature and veracity of information reaching the electorate will be crucial – not only to the voting process and the outcome of the election, but to the character of American life well beyond election day.
We anticipate that the Project will result in an electorate that is better-informed about the role of the media, better able to distinguish fact from opinion and innuendo, more aware of the forces being brought to bear upon the information reaching them, and more mindful that there are no guarantees about the future of our democracy.
The Madison Project has three main program elements: (1) An enhanced Free Speech Week in October 2023 and a reimagined Free Speech Week (including a redesigned website) in October 2024; (2) an exploration of key free speech and press issues critical to the future of democracy; and (3) an expanded social media and communications presence and distribution of an e-book to make the Project’s work widely known. Media Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow Stuart Brotman is involved in programmatic aspects of the Project.
- Free Speech Week. This is the nationwide event held every October celebrating America’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The Madison Project has enabled The Media Institute to enhance Free Speech Week 2023 and begin expanding the FSW website into a year-round, constantly updated resource. We plan to launch a reimagined Free Speech Week 2024 that will include in-person signature events, a greatly expanded collection of First Amendment and free speech resources, and a redesigned FSW website for year-round use.
- Exploration of Key Issues. The Madison Project will examine in depth six critical free speech and press issues and their impact on our democracy. This exploration will take various forms that will include issue papers, discussion events, and a podcast series of interviews. Possible issues include: disinformation, content moderation, relevance of mainstream media, AI’s impact on political advertising, algorithms as social media drivers, threats to the First Amendment, and the evolving role of government regulation. Members of The Media Institute’s First Amendment Advisory Council will provide much of the content – particularly issue papers.
- E-Book. A major resource coming out of The Madison Project’s first year will be an e-book that elaborates on the Project’s analyses and conclusions regarding the key issues explored. This e-book will be made available to every public library in the United States free of charge. This ambitious distribution effort will ensure that the work of The Madison Project reaches the widest possible audience. Students, academics, researchers, social scientists, and members of the public will have easy access to this important resource, which should have a long shelf life.
The Madison Project will offer distinctive insights into the impact of free speech and free press on American democracy today, assess challenges and threats, and chart a course forward to maintain these essential freedoms as the bulwark of our democracy. In the process, the Project will enable more Americans to become better educated about these freedoms, to become better consumers of information, and to engage more fully in the work of democracy through their words and actions.
We are looking for a small number of engaged donors who wish to make a difference by supporting a high-impact project committed to preserving American democracy. For information about becoming a corporate or foundation donor – including extensive recognition and other benefits – please contact Institute President Richard T. Kaplar.