Mark Levin’s latest book, Unfreedom of the Press, examines the current state of our news media and explains how they became, with few exceptions, servants to the Democratic Party and “progressive” political ideology.
Like Liberty and Tyanny (2009), in which Levin anticipated the leftward lurch of American politics under Barack Obama, Unfreedom of the Press shows the author’s uncanny powers of premonition.
Levin’s new book was begun long before April’s full release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation into “Russia collusion,” which destroyed the media’s hysterical post-2016 conspiracy theory, and erased much of what was left of public trust in journalism.
Levin anticipated that collapse well in advance; his book is therefore especially timely.
In this reviewer’s opinion, Unfreedom of the Press is also Levin’s finest work.
In some of his books, such as Ameritopia (2012), Levin presents his best arguments up front, in the introductory chapter, and uses the subsequent chapters to expand on those arguments. In Unfreedom of the Press, however, as in The Liberty Amendments (2013), Levin retains a sense of suspense, using each chapter to present an entirely new idea. Each relates to the central theme but also stands on its own.
Read in the context of current debates about the media — in which a new scandal seems to appear every day — Unfreedom of the Press carries unique argumentative force.
Ten years ago, in Righteous Indignation, Andrew Breitbart identified what he called the “Democrat-media complex.” Levin takes apart the complex itself and explains both how and why it operates the way it does.
His inquiry, broadly, proceeds along two dimensions.
One is “vertical,” or historical, explaining the history of American ideas about the role of the press in a free society. The other is “horizontal,” or philosophical, exploring the ideas that leading American journalists currently express about what they do, and how those ideas compare to the standards expounded by journalists who sought, throughout history, to improve and protect the relationship between the press and the public.
Levin’s historical argument begins with the “patriot press,” the pre-revolutionary era of publishing and pamphleteering in which the very notion of “freedom of the press” was born. The press then, he writes, was partisan, urging support for independence. But it was also committed to promoting the principles of a free society.
The “partisan” cause of the free press, in other words, was freedom itself.
Today’s media, in contrast, while arguing for press freedom, does so while also arguing for the expansion of state power, such that the only the press will be free — and only the part of the press that conforms to left-wing dogma.
Following the revolutionary era, Levin continues, the “party-press” era emerged, in which news media consciously took sides in political disputes. They did not strive to achieve objectivity, but were openly propagandist. The result was a deeply divided country, one that would soon erupt into civil war.
We face a similar challenge today, Levin writes: “[T]he party-press is back, and with a vengeance.” The difference is that the media today are almost uniformly on one side. They had been “liberal” for decades, but dropped all pretense of objectivity — first in their support for Barack Obama, later in their disdain for Donald Trump.
Some even cloak their partisanship in civic idealism, arguing that Trump is such a threat to democracy that the news media should reject objectivity and instead advocate for his defeat.
It is common to hear the media complain that Trump is a threat to press freedom. But Levin points out that Trump has done nothing to restrict the press — in contrast to some of his predecessors. Levin notes “numerous examples of past presidents taking governmental actions that did, in fact, suppress press freedom.” These examples date back to John Adams — and forward to Barack Obama.
In the Trump era, Levin maintains, the real threat to press freedom is not President Trump but the press itself, which is destroying the distinction between fact and opinion in pursuit of partisan ends, which in turn means the destruction of “the press as a crucial institution for a free people.”
There is more at work than mere bias, Levin argues. He explores the ideas of progressive thinkers and policymakers who believe that the media ought to use propagandist techniques to shape public opinion toward the “right” views — on climate change, for example. In the case of the Iran deal, he notes, the Obama administration used the “echo chamber” provided by a pliant media to create public consensus in support of an agreement that arguably placed national security itself at grave risk.
The most recent and notorious example of all is the “Russia collusion” story — “the biggest pseudo-event and news scam perpetuated against the American people by the Democratic party-press in modern times,” Levin writes.
Not only do the media create false stories, but they also suppress real ones. Levin spends an entire chapter exploring the history of the effort by the New York Times and its publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., to suppress the news of the Holocaust in Europe during the Second World War — and, before that the famines of the Soviet Union. He lists other, more recent examples of the Times attempting to hide the truth from its readers, such as the constant effort to cover for anti-Israel terror committed by Palestinian Hamas and Iran-backed Hezbollah (another timely observation, given the events of this past weekend).
Ultimately, Levin concludes that “objectivity, while seemingly alluring, has proved impossible for most newsrooms and journalists. The reason is that most partisans are unable or unwilling to put aside their personal ideological and political perspectives or, even worse, they consider them essential to moving and improving society through activism.”
As a result, the media have lost the public trust — a fact for which they blame President Trump’s criticism, rather than their own dereliction of duty.
What we are left with is a media landscape in which journalists, under the banner of “press freedom,” have attempted to undermine a democratic election — and to restrict the freedom of the few dissenting media sources.
For Andrew Breitbart, the solution to media bias was the creation of alternative news media, and the encouragement of “citizen journalism.” But now the major tech companies that once allowed such journalism to proliferate are enlisting themselves in the cause of censorship — while the mainstream media cheers them on.
That is why, Levin says, the country urgently needs a dialogue about how to rescue the media from itself — before “a bulwark of liberty, the civil society, and republicanism” disappears.
Unfreedom of the Press is available for pre-order and will be released on May 21, 2019.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.