Is America About To Lose Its Free Press?

"Maybe, they think, efforts to 'open up our libel laws,' dismissals of the lamestream media as 'fake news' and even threats of violence against journalists could do the country some good."


Via Catherine Rampell for WaPo

We members of the media probably sound a little self-serving when we complain about constant attacks on press freedom.

Press freedom is a sacred democratic value, enshrined right there in the Constitution! we huff to whoever will listen.

Needless to say, lots of Americans remain unconvinced.

As I noted last week, a recent NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll found that 4 in 10 Republicans believe the United States has too greatly expanded freedom of the press. Since then, an American Press Institute survey found that 6 in 10 Republicans believe news organizations primarily just prevent political leaders from doing their jobs.

Fed a steady diet of media vilification (served up by both left and right), Americans are apparently unmoved by citations of political texts that feel far removed from their daily lives. Maybe, they think, efforts to “open up our libel laws,” dismissals of the lamestream media as “fake news” and even threats of violence against journalists could do the country some good.

To those indifferent to abstract political ideals, let me offer a more practical reason to be alarmed by assaults on media freedom: the fact that the government can, and inevitably will, screw up.

Events over recent weeks suggest that Republicans’ war on the media should not be viewed in isolation. It’s part of a broader strategy to discredit and disempower any independent voice trying, however imperfectly, to hold politicians to account.

Take, for example, the relentless attacks on the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan federal agency created in 1974 precisely so that Congress and the public could rely on technical expertise from independent analysts with no dog in the fight.

The CBO issues dozens of bill scores and reports each year, and no scores have come with higher stakes this year than its assessments of Republicans’ Obamacare repeal plans. Sensing that the news on the Senate’s latest bill would be bad, though, Republicans have been doing everything they can to smear the character, motives and competence of the agency. (Late Monday the bill was struck by what may turn out to be a death blow; two more Republican senators announced their opposition, leaving the legislation with no path to passage, at least in its current form.)

In March, asked about a CBO score forecasting that the House GOP’s health-care bill would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their insurance, former House speaker and Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich called the federal agency “corrupt” and “dishonest.”

White House officials ramped up their own attacks over subsequent months. This past week the White House criticized the accuracy of the CBO in a video that misspelled the word “inaccurately.” (You can’t make this stuff up.)  

The last straw came in an op-ed published by The Post over the weekend, when two Trump officials preemptively declared that whatever the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported on the Senate Republicans’ health-care bill, “the CBO’s estimates will be little more than fake news.”

That is, now the CBO is being slurred with the nastiest comparison of all: to the media.

The nation’s independent federal statistical agencies have lately found themselves in similar crosshairs. They have been praised when their numbers reflect favorably upon Republicans but mercilessly attacked when their data show otherwise.

The nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, the internal watchdog tasked with helping executive-branch officials avoid conflicts of interest, has also been repeatedly and unfairly accused of partisanship under this administration. The neutering of this agency has made it much harder to ensure that federal officials are making decisions in the best interests of the country — an embarrassment at home and abroad.

“I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point,” Walter M. Shaub Jr., the departing head of the agency, told the New York Times over the weekend.

And then there’s the Trump administration’s unrelenting attacks on an independent federal judiciary, the last best hope against government excess and impropriety.

The common message from Trump officials and co-partisans on Capitol Hill through all these actions: Trust us, and us alone. Anyone who contradicts us is spouting #fakenews. 

Maybe this plan will buy Republicans some time, but they can’t outrun bad news forever. At some point, presumably, members of the public will notice if they, oh, lose their health insurance. Just because President Trump declares a Russia story or the unemployment rate “fake” doesn’t make it so.


9 comments on “Is America About To Lose Its Free Press?

  1. Fiodhrid

    How’s about reporting both sides of the story? How about something regarding the media’s war on Republicans, huh? How about reporting an article that actually addresses the numbers being used by the CBO, huh?

    • ahh yes, from that bastion of credibility “IBD” which you can find advertised alongside self-lubricating catheters on conservative TV. IBD is a complete joke. there isn’t a single, solitary person anywhere that takes them seriously. it’s like WSJ for toddlers.

    • ‘Reporting both sides of the story’ sounds like someone believes that if everyone blathers nonsensically the truth will somehow emerge. There is no reason to believe this. We are now at a point where whatever position is taken by the right/left, the left/right will come out with an opposing argument just for the heck of it.

      If there is nothing accepted as factual then the status quo cannot be challenged; power rules. Pity those who still want a meaningful democracy in the U.S. One person, one vote is not enough for that.

  2. Curt Tyner

    Huh? Please read something more than the drivel leaking pompous artificial crap from the alt-right. There is a wonderful world of interesting information written by people from all sides of these and many more of your issues. The “koolaid”will just kill your ability to THINK. Peace!

  3. Anonymous

    The FREE PRESS is keeping tabs on WHO is doing WHAT and WHY they did it WHEN he was WHERE he was not supposed to be and HOW did it happen? You can apply most of that to the Trump Jr, Kushner and Manafart (I know) meeting on June 9, 2016 and without the FREE PRESS we would be thinking those ‘good boys’ were simply trying to adopt some Russian babies! Just think about all the Press does for us that helps keep us safe and others honest!

    – Murphy

  4. The plan for demise of democracy, free trade, free speech and free press is well under way. Hiel Bannon!

  5. Anonymous

    Symms, very trumpian of you to “Like” your own comment. ha! What is your bowling average?

    – Murphy

  6. I’m not a fan of the alt right press – News Corps various right to far right publications, but the idea that we have a “Free Press” in the age of “paid content” – both disclosed and too frequently undisclosed – is patently naive. You might want to listen to the President of CNN talk about his current marketing strategies for CNN News ( When we live in an environment when the “News” (right, center or left – and of course fake news) is “marketed” by anyone – the concept of a “Free Press” has gone out the proverbial window. When “news reporters” monetary success is based on their number of “viewers” or “readers – consumers one and all – the “news” is far from being unbiased.

    Similarly, when science is largely driven by corporate and government grants by companies and agencies with obvious “scientific” needs to justify their products and or bureaucratic existence – real unbiased science has also left by the same well monetized window that the “Free Press” was tossed from. It’s far worse than a society of “fake news” that we have come to live in – it’s a society of “monetized truths” where less well “monetized truth” simply can’t compete.

    • Anonymous

      no, no, no, you misunderstand the term. here, from

      Freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the freedom of communication and expression through various mediums, such as electronic media and published materials. Wherever such freedom exists mostly implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state; its preservation may be sought through constitutional or other legal protections.

      With respect to governmental information, any government may distinguish which materials are public or protected from disclosure to the public. State materials are protected due to either of two reasons: the classification of information as sensitive, classified or secret, or the relevance of the information to protecting the national interest. Many governments are also subject to sunshine laws or freedom of information legislation that are used to define the ambit of national interest.

      The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.[this quote needs a citation]

      This philosophy is usually accompanied by legislation ensuring various degrees of freedom of scientific research (known as scientific freedom), publishing, and press. The depth to which these laws are entrenched in a country’s legal system can go as far down as its constitution. The concept of freedom of speech is often covered by the same laws as freedom of the press, thereby giving equal treatment to spoken and published expression. Despite “freedom of opinion and expression” implemented in the United Nation’s 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, some countries continue to have laws prohibiting journalists, television presenters, media-outlets and media-officials of any kind from expressing their personal political opinions, (known as censorship).

      – Murphy

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