Reading proofs of Mark Levin’s superb and almost depressingly timely new book — Unfreedom of the Press (official pub. date May 21) — the question that constantly comes to mind is whether unbiased reporting is even remotely possible. Can journalism ever be, as some have sought or claimed, “professionalized”?
Those of us of a certain age remember when that anchorman of anchormen Walter Cronkite was considered the ultimate authority, nothing short of the pope when it came to the news.
He wasn’t. (Neither is the pope.)
Cronkite — in those supposedly halcyon days of “even-handed” reporting (1968) — went over to Vietnam and alleged the U.S. had lost the Tet Offensive (this was news to North Vietnamese General Giap — but he took it) and therefore the Vietnam War. The anchorman imparted this “knowledge” to the American public, swaying them against the war and leading to Lyndon Johnson essentially resigning from the presidency.
However you stand on that war, this is reportorial bias taken to the nth degree. Jim Acosta could only dream of being that powerful.
But back to Levin’s book. On the most basic level, it provides an excellent overview of the history of the American press, starting with the Revolutionary period. Levin tells us the first printers were uniformly liberty-oriented patriots working to free the colonies from the British. For those people, First Amendment protections were axiomatic. (He also points out how progressives historians tried to revise this, claiming the printers just held those views “for the money.” We might call this an early version of projection.)
The Revolutionary period morphed into the era of the Party Press, i. e. periodicals representing the political parties, much as they do today. It’s hard to say which is more extreme, then or now, although, given the overwhelming Democrat dominance of our media, now is likely the unfortunate answer.
Nevertheless, in many ways the John Quincy Adams versus Andrew Jackson election and its press make Trump v. Clinton seem like a pillow fight. Jefferson versus John Adams wasn’t the proverbial walk in the park either. These political donnybrooks were reflected in brutal, highly biased “news” coverage that outdoes much of ours. Adams went so far as to put four Jeffersonian journalists in jail. “There’s nothing new under the sun” is a cliché for a reason.
Naturally, Levin takes things to our contentious present — the obvious motivation to write this book. Along the way, however, are interesting anecdotes dedicated newshounds may have missed, such as details of JFK’s relationship with the Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee. The sainted president evidently shared FBI files of his enemies with the WaPo editor and demanded (and received!) from the man later lionized in All the President’s Men approval of anything that ran in the Post’s subsidiary Newsweek.
Imagine if Trump pulled a stunt like that. Forget impeachment. Think public flogging on the streets of Riyadh. Speaking of which, the book contains several pages, kind of a montage, of particularly deranged (to put it mildly) media comments about Trump. including the requisite references to Hitler, which are, let’s hope unconsciously, anti-Semitic.
They come from a litany of the usual overheated suspects — MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough; the New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman; CNN’S Chris Cuomo, Brian Stelter, and Don Lemon; MSNBC’s Chris Matthews; ABC’s George Stephanopoulos; Washington Post columnist Max Boot; Time’s Walter Isaacson, who calls Trump a “destructive virus created by Vladimir Putin”; Politico’s Roger Simon (not to be confused with your humble servant), who wrote of Trump “[w]e can imagine a future of jackboots crashing through our doors at 2 a. m.”; the Washington Post’s (now CNN’s) Carl Bernstein, comparing Trump to both Stalin and Hitler; MTV’s Jamil Smith (“There are a variety of ways Trump could kill us all.”); etc., etc., and, as a laugh for PJ Media readers, former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who informs us Trump is the most “psychologically troubled [president] since at least Richard Nixon.” At least.
The second half of Levin’s book is, in essence, a history of our benighted times, this Era of Collusion/Delusion that we are all living through almost exclusively via media. A seemingly endless flow of press bias, lies, and leaks have shaped our electronically-connected world in a hitherto unimaginable and almost always despicable fashion.
Unfreedom of the Press makes a great and, alas, accurate companion to this madness and, I predict, will in the future be an important historical source for this extraordinary period.
Roger L. Simon—co-founder and CEO emeritus of PJ Media—is an award-winning novelist and an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter. His new novel – THE GOAT – will be published shortly.