Newspaper column: Book offers historic perspective on the press

The premise of conservative commentator Mark Levin’s new book, “Unfreedom of the Press,” is that modern journalism has devolved into an opinionated, group-think pack of politically partisan propagandists who oppose President Trump at every turn and think he is a danger to freedom of the press.

While we don’t think that conclusion is totally valid, the book does offer a worthy historic perspective on the behaviors of the press and our presidents.

Levin notes that for more than a century the American press was unabashedly partisan, often surviving on printing contracts from the party in power when the newspapers were able to put them there. He seems to accept the notion that sometime early in the 19th Century journalists altruistically embraced the concept of objectivity.

Actually the conversion was mostly profit-motivated. It was borne of the penny press.

The newspaper business model changed from being dependent on government printing contracts and political party handouts to one of being supported by advertisers, whose customers paid the same for a pair of shoes no matter which party they embraced. So why alienate half of your potential customers with partisanship? The newspaper that delivered the highest readership fetched the highest advertising dollar.

Levin’s book does point out correctly that Trump’s often repeated and tweeted animus for the press is benign compared to past presidents.

With the ink still damp on the First Amendment President John Adams pushed through the Federal Congress a series of Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These acts made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute …” The penalty was a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Under those laws more than 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. Among those was newspaperman James Callender who called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” These details are not in the book, by the way.

Levin notes Abraham Lincoln enforced censorship during the Civil War and jailed several reporters, editors and publishers.

11 comments on “Newspaper column: Book offers historic perspective on the press

  1. John L. Smith says:

    Kind of makes you feel bad for not being jailed, like you’ve fallen short as a scribbler. Well, there’s always time.

  2. Yep, a worthy goal.

  3. Steve says:

    Well, John L has been sued into bankruptcy….
    Does that count?

  4. Anonymous says:

    We all know the president has no qualms about ordering “his” people to do things, and he has said that people always obey his orders so my question is:

    Since he believes the NYTs and other “free press” organizations, have committed treason, what has he done about it? And, as you seem to suggest here Thomas, that he’s done nothing, does this mean he’s condoning treason? Is that an impeachable offense in your eyes? Or does this just show that he’s not “playing by (insert some guys name here) rules and owning libs?

    “President Trump late Saturday ramped up his attacks against The New York Times, accusing the newspaper of committing “a virtual act of Treason” over its report about the U.S. increasing cyberattacks on Russia’s electric power grid.

    “Do you believe that the Failing New York Times just did a story stating that the United States is substantially increasing Cyber Attacks on Russia,” Trump tweeted. “This is a virtual act of Treason by a once great paper so desperate for a story, any story, even if bad for our Country.”

  5. Trump’s comments seem a bit late.

    NYT on Sept. 20, 2018:

    “President Trump has authorized new, classified orders for the Pentagon’s cyberwarriors to conduct offensive attacks against adversaries more freely and frequently, the White House said on Thursday, wiping away Obama-era restrictions that his advisers viewed as too slow and cumbersome.

    “’Our hands are not as tied as they were in the Obama administration,’ John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, told reporters in announcing a new cyberstrategy.

    “Mr. Bolton rewrote a draft of the strategy after joining the administration in April. Many of his remarks on Thursday focused on a secret order — which Mr. Trump signed in August but which has never been publicly described — that appears to give far more latitude for the newly elevated United States Cyber Command to act with minimal consultation from a number of other government agencies.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    My English is not so good sometimes Thomas but really my question was more about why, if Trump says the Times has committed treason, why he’s not ordering “his” attorney general to file charges and then, since he hasn’t, whether failing to do; I,e. Failing to execute the laws of this country, should subject him to impeachment and if not why not?

  7. Because he is all lip. And he did say “virtual act of treason.”

  8. Anonymous says:

    Would you agree that it was virtual? Or was it really treason?

    And correct me if I’m wrong here, but sounds like you’re saying he should have told his boy…er ah “Attorney General” to prosecute them; based on what?

  9. No. It wasn’t treason. Virtually or literally.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Nonymus gets hooked by “Squirrel” Oh look!

  11. Steve says:

    Yup, fergot agin.

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