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Stop Scaremongering. The Press Is Freer Than It's Ever Been

Simmer down.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a group alleging to promote press freedom and the rights of journalists, gave President Donald Trump the Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom Award in its Press Oppressors awards this week. The story was giddily retweeted across the liberal Twitterverse because, one imagines, people actually believe it.

Watching Trump and the media slap fight like a couple of sloshed Real Housewives hasn't done wonders for the country, granted. But setting aside the melodrama, and the Kabuki theater, and the symbiotic relationship between the two, the fact is that self-serving complaints about American press freedoms being in peril are unqualified bunk.

For one thing, the very breadth and intensity of the anti-Trump press illustrates there are few inhibitions or no strictures on their freedom of expression. Trump's attacks on journalists—some of them brought on by their own shoddy and partisan behavior—are often unseemly and unhealthy, but it hasn't stopped anyone from engaging, investigating, writing, saying, protesting or sharing their deep thoughts with the entire group—every day, all the time.

That's not to say average Americans don't have plenty of reasons to be worried about the future of free expression. There are forces gathering that aspire to criminalize dissent and punish Americans for their unpopular opinions. In fact, many of the loudest voices crying out about Trump's fascism fully support these efforts, rationalize them or are complicity silent.

"While previous U.S. presidents have each criticized the press to some degree, they have also made public commitments to uphold its essential role in democracy, at home and abroad," claims the Committee to Protect Journalists. It's true the last president made many public commitments to uphold the press's essential role in democracy while he was secretly scouring the phone records of reporters and an editor of the Associated Press to uncover leakers. Democrats showed their commitment to a free and open press by siccing the Justice Department on a Fox News reporter and calling him a criminal "co-conspirator" for attempting to solicit leaked classified information, as journalists have been doing forever.

If the Trump administration, which has a bigger leak problem than any in history, were to engage in anything resembling this kind of behavior, it would rightly be considered a massive scandal. Every newscast and every front page would lead with it.

But it's not just about the past. While Trump's efforts to stop fabulist Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury from being published are silly and counterproductive and sure to fail, he is merely accessing the legal rights that all Americans enjoy. In the meantime, Democrats currently support new laws that would allow the state to ban political books and documentaries. The years of President Obama made overturning the First Amendment via the overturn of Citizens United a tenant of the Democratic Party platform. Obama, in perfect syntax, engaged in an act of norm breaking by calling out the Supreme Court publicly for upholding First Amendment. That was rhetoric, too. Few defenders of the press seemed bothered by any of it.

Those claiming that the president of the United States (Obama or Trump) is "overall" more detrimental to press freedoms than the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Egypt or China not only denigrates those truly fighting for press freedoms in authoritarian nations but also shows us that they don't really understand how American rights work to begin with. Because not only is the United States far more superior in its embrace of open political discourse than authoritarian states, or developing nations, or (nearly) every state in Middle East; the United States is superior to Western European nations, as well.

There is no country in Europe that boasts as healthy an environment for press freedom or free speech as the United States—and considering the attitude of elites, it's doubtful they want that dynamic to change. In Europe, libel laws are frequently used by the rich and powerful to suppress unfavorable coverage. In England, for example, Trump would likely have been able to quash the Wolff book. In Germany, the state demands that private online outlets govern speech that doesn't comport with their diktats.

In France, the government will decide what is real news. The European Commission Code of Conduct features an array of demands for the government to police speech, which includes online "hate speech"—a perpetually flexible and easily abused phrase—among other things. Increasing numbers of Americans, some no doubt worried about Trump fascism, support the implementation of these kinds of laws here.

The press is probably safer from government interference (we can talk about megacorporations instilling speech codes another time) than it was from 2001 to 2016. The internet is freer for everyone, including journalists, because of the administration's deregulatory efforts. Political discourse is in better hands because of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. And after an eight-year hibernation, the press has rediscovered its purpose as the opposition party.

Enjoy it while you can.

Photo Credit: White House

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  • JoeBlow123||

    I think you should tell this to the rest of the staff here, they seem to like to post articles how Trump is attacking press freedoms, the First Amendment, and such.

  • Eric||

    You'd rather Reason get on board and start marching lockstep with your guy? There are a lot of conservative news outlets that do, maybe you'd be less triggered on one of them.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    They can't goosestep with Antifa and march lockstep with Trump at the same time, duh.

  • shawn_dude||

    Just picking a nit: Nazis "goosestep." Therefore, Trump's followers "goosestep." Antifa, being anti-fascist anarchists, aren't really good at lockstep or goosestep. It's an anarchist thing.

  • Flyby||

    Most Antifa are not anarchists... and they are definitely not anti-fascist.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Not a Trump fan hombre. Just saying.

  • Zeb||

    Well, he kind of is doing that.

    It is good to see it balanced with something saying that he isn't accomplishing much of anything with his attacks, though.

  • shawn_dude||

    Sitting Senators now refuse to answer CNN reporter's questions and respond to them with "you're fake news." This is new since Trump. Conservative politicians used to feel obligated to answer questions, even if in a dissembling way, because it used to look bad to outright tell the news media to fudge off. Trump has changed that. That's not a good thing.

  • ||

    Yeh well CNN made their bed.

  • KerryW||

    Yes, it's not on Trump, it's how CNN has responded to Trump (i.e., full TDS).

  • KerryW||

    Yes, it's not on Trump, it's how CNN has responded to Trump (i.e., full TDS).

  • gimmedatribeye||

    "Congress shall make no law..."

    Until Congress flirts with the idea to pass a law that prohibits freedom of the press, which they won't and if they did would be struck down soon after by the Supreme Court (checks and balances), I don't give a shit.

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    There is no country in Europe that boasts as healthy an environment for press freedom or free speech as the United States
    Europe does not have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, nor freedom to petition government for redress of grievances.

  • Eric||

    Europe is a continent, not a country. And many of the countries in Europe do have these rights.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    You might remind the Eurocrats in Brussels...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The European Union you mean?

    Name one country in the European Union that has any of the rights that I listed above.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Every person in Europe has those right, they're just not fortunate enough to have governments that respect those rights. Countries don't grant rights.

  • gimmedatribeye||

    Ah, yes, they innately have those rights, but no document instructing the government to secure them!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    There is no freedom of speech in pretty much any country in the world except the US. There is an implied freedom of 'expression' in some places in Europe, but subject to vague limits at the whims of the state.

  • shawn_dude||

    And yet, in practice, countries like the UK don't seem to have the issues we're currently having with their government telling the press to shut up and calling responsible news outlets "fake news."

    Just because they don't have it written down in a Bill of Rights doesn't mean they don't have it at all. In practice, there is a lot less censorship in the UK than in the US. As an obvious example: they can show full frontal nudity on television. The US censors that.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Nudity is your measure of censorship? Good argument there Einstein.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    And yet, in practice, countries like the UK don't seem to have the issues we're currently having with their government telling the press to shut up and calling responsible news outlets "fake news."

    The UK is demonstrably quite a bit worse on freedom of the press than the US.

    Just because they don't have it written down in a Bill of Rights doesn't mean they don't have it at all.

    I didn't say they don't have it at all, there's just no 'constitutional' guarantee expressely written in any binding legal documents, and what there is that alludes to it is, again, subject to vague limitations that allow the state to pretty much censor whatever they want for "the public good".

  • ||

    Dude, are you following at all what goes on in Europe with regards to freedom of speech?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As long as you can see boobies, you're free. There is a kind of logic to that, I'll admit.

  • shawn_dude||

    And yet, in practice, countries like the UK don't seem to have the issues we're currently having with their government telling the press to shut up and calling responsible news outlets "fake news."

    Just because they don't have it written down in a Bill of Rights doesn't mean they don't have it at all. In practice, there is a lot less censorship in the UK than in the US. As an obvious example: they can show full frontal nudity on television. The US censors that.

  • ||

    Hooo-kay....moving along....

  • gimmedatribeye||

    He's talking about the EU. If you're not sure, ask...as opposed to jumping on a though that wasn't clear to you to score an intellectual touchdown. Weak.

  • SIV||

    "They do everything better in Europe"

    /prog

  • Jonrichter||

    The editing at Reason continues to be shoddy. It's tenet, not tenant. And "far more superior" is redundant. "Far superior" is the proper phrasing.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    You do not disappoint, as the commenting at Reason continues to be shoddy. There is no "proper phrasing", there are simply different styles. But what's really wrong is that you think Reason has anything to do with David Harsanyi's editing. Yes, your lack of professionalism is a sad reminder of how low Reason's commenting has sunk.

  • Rhywun||

    For the 499th time, you're reading a blog, not a magazine. Blog posts are not "edited" - anywhere.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    +1 Lucy.

  • ||

    I thought it was the 493rd time?

  • Dan S.||

    As I was going to say, if "overturning the First Amendment via the overturn of Citizens United" has become "a tenant of the Democratic Party platform" then they need to evict that tenant pronto.

    But while Trump's actual actions are certainly not "more detrimental to press freedoms than the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Egypt or China", his willingness to overlook and remain silent about the anti-press actions of those leaders is troubling.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    A tenant of a policy is living rent free, right there. Makes sense to me.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I thought we weren't doing phrasing.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Wow. Another well done and thoughtful article that somehow managed to get published here even though it lacks a "Trump 2-minute hate", and doesn't kiss progressive ass.

  • Zeb||

    It's almost as if Reason doesn't enforce an editorial point of view on it's writers.

  • SIV||

    Harsanyi isn't "staff" so he's exempt.

  • ||

    So he gets to raid the fridge?

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    So we're free to talk about woodchippers again?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Preet's not here, man.

  • croaker||

    Preet's not sitting on a street corner selling pencils, either. Which is where he belongs.

  • ||

    Did that judge get canker soars all over her tits and lips yet?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Trump's attacks on journalists—some of them brought on by their own shoddy and partisan behavior—are often unseemly and unhealthy, but it hasn't stopped anyone from ... sharing their deep thoughts

    I assume "deep thoughts" is being used sarcastically here.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I would agree. it's unfortunate that journalism is so concerned with all their freedom, what with their complaints that ANYONE can put out a news story now.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    http://europeanjournalists.org.....h-be-free/

    The media are among those who have a special responsibility to ensure the public is informed on matters of current affairs, and to use their privileged position in the information landscape to challenge discrimination and promote equality. In order to play this role, the press needs to be free and able to operate independently in an environment that favours the development of pluralistic and diverse media landscapes.
  • Sevo||

    "...use their privileged position in the information landscape to challenge discrimination and promote equality."
    IOWs, the media duty is to promote the government policies, which makes this:
    "the press needs to be free and able to operate independently in an environment that favours the development of pluralistic and diverse media landscapes."
    a lie.

  • shawn_dude||

    The issue isn't really "free speech" as much as it is the highest government officials claiming factual news is "Fake News," using that to restrict press access to government, and undermining the public trust in the free press as a whole. If people start to think that CNN and other responsible news outlets are untrustworthy but fact-free zones like Breitbart are more accurate, that's bad for our democracy. It's also bad, in the long run, for the freedom of the press if people mistakenly believe all journalists are equivalently bad.

    When the government starts to outright lie and then respond to factual news accounts as "fake" in order to cover their lies, we're in deep trouble.

    But misdirecting the conversation from a government that lies without shame to "freedom of the press" is like redirecting the NFL protests from being about institutional racism and police brutality to "insulting soldiers." It's a neat, but dishonest, trick.

  • SIV||

    ^FAKE COMMENT^

  • Azathoth!!||

    The issue isn't really "free speech" as much as it is the highest government officials current refusal to accept fake news as factual news and react accordingly

    FTFY.

    CNN has been repeatedly caught spreading fake news in the hope of hurting the right. Trump, and some others on the right have decided that it is better that people question everything than it is to allow the left to decide what truth is. This is true.

  • ||

    It's like shawn_dude lives in an alt-reality.

    You actually think CNN is trustworthy?

  • Flyby||

    And I suppose YOU get to define who the 'responsible news outlets' are? My guess is it is those that support your opinions. Mostly what we're talking about here is Trump having a differing view of 'responsible news', and then being vocal about his opinion, same as you are. I'm not aware of even a single thing this administration has done to diminish the press ability to say whatever they want.

  • ||

    Like "common-sense gun control" they get to set the terms.

  • ||

    Journalists complaining about their alleged loss of freedom reminds me of when that shithead Michael Moore used to claim he as being blackballed by distributors despite his films doing very well at the box office.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    The last two decades or so feel like the first time we've ever had true freedom of the press in this country. Prior to that, the limitations in getting something out to the public kept the news limited to only to what a small number of gatekeepers allowed.

    The giant news organizations haven't changed - they still have their agendas and are all happily pushing them. It's just that there are so many alternatives that provide different viewpoints that have made these the best of times as far as freedom of information goes.

    That Trump calls out the old school news sources that feel they are entitled to be the keepers of the truth is just a delicious addition to the new news environment.

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