Book Review: ‘Unfreedom of the Press’ 

How the press got to where it is today
July 18, 2019 Updated: July 23, 2019

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? It is an old, philosophical question. An update to this riddle is the question of whether, if news is ignored or distorted, the information will still be relevant.

Mark Levin attempts to answer this question in his new book, “Unfreedom of the Press.” Levin, a sought-after conservative commentator who worked for the Reagan administration and currently hosts the syndicated radio program “The Mark Levin Show,” as well as “Life, Liberty & Levin” on Fox News, has published several books.

This book demonstrates Levin’s belief that the media is no longer worthy of the great republic, the United States. But what I found intriguing and what makes Levin’s book superior to others on the topic is the way he goes about proving his theory: He relies on our history.

unfreedom-of-the-press
Mark Levin’s new book. (SIMON & SCHUSTER) 

The Changing Purpose of Newspapers

Early printing in America, which began in the colonies in 1639, related mostly to debates about religion and later promoted the gospel. Then, in the years before the Revolution, patriot newspapers and pamphlets rallied Americans to revolt against England.

As the years passed, competing factions emerged within George Washington’s administration and Congress, and by the mid-1790s, each faction had established partisan newspapers championing its point of view. These publications were subsidized through patronage, and though they had a limited circulation, the materials they published were widely reprinted and discussed.

These publications differed from today’s media because they were honest enough to identify themselves as partisan, and the readers knew where each newspaper stood.

Things changed throughout the 20th century as some newspapers began to merge and others closed. This meant that each city had fewer papers, and the surviving papers had to appeal to a broader swath of the public. Objectivity in journalism became the goal. Good journalists would present the facts whether or not they liked those facts. It was felt that, in this way, the truth would reveal itself naturally.

The New York Times’s Appalling Record

As Levin continues his discourse about history, he focuses on The New York Times beginning in the early 1930s and launches an attack. He calls the paper’s actions “wanton inhumanity in the face of genocide.”

For 14 years, from 1922 through 1936, following the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War (1918–1921), Walter Duranty served as the Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times. Duranty covered up the mass extermination during the great Ukrainian famine of the early 1930s, which Stalin engineered to crush millions of peasants who resisted his policies. Duranty did so by saying that, although there was death from malnutrition, no genocide or grain confiscation had taken place.

The result was that most Americans were oblivious to what was taking place. Later, Duranty even won a Pulitzer Prize. When true facts emerged, there were calls for Duranty’s Pulitzer to be withdrawn, but it never happened.

The New York Times’s record is no better on the Holocaust. Levin writes that The New York Times, with its reputation as the foremost newspaper in the country, could have raised public awareness of the Holocaust.

Though the newspaper was Jewish-owned, it chose not to do so. Levin, citing author Laurel Leff, writes that the paper’s Jewish owner, Arthur Sulzberger, felt Judaism was only a religion and neither a race nor a people.

Moreover, Sulzberger felt no connection to European Jews and didn’t want his newspaper to be known as a Jewish paper. The result was that this policy, combined with the Roosevelt administration’s whitewashing of the Nazi eradication of the Jews, led to sparse American coverage of these crimes against humanity.

Today, Levin writes, The New York Times continues to demonize Israel. He uses as an example the paper’s constant effort to cover for anti-Israel terror committed by Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Leftist Bias

In the 1960s, the core value of objectivity began to shift. Levin writes about a new, radical approach to reporting in which the media started to become an essential instrument for the Progressive Movement.

The majority of newsroom reporters were liberal, and they began to think that they were no longer above the battle, but were to be relied on to join it to improve society.

As a consequence, the media has played favorites in the past with Democratic presidents, and continues to do so now. Stories unfavorable to Franklin D. Roosevelt were downplayed, John F. Kennedy’s affairs were overlooked, and Lyndon B. Johnson’s actions ignored. “Lyndon Johnson was so concerned with what his vice president would say about the Vietnam War (because Humphrey was a dove) that he had Humphrey’s phone tapped,” Levin writes.

With regard to President Donald Trump, Levin writes that the media’s reports on Trump are totally dishonest. While mainstream media says that Trump colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential race, Levin says it was actually his opponent Hillary Clinton who committed this wrongdoing. The media says Trump is damaging the rule of law and separation of powers, as well as checks and balances that safeguard democracy, but Levin points out that Trump has broken no laws.

Trump hasn’t enriched his pocket with public funds (as a matter of fact, he donates what he earns to the government), and Trump’s policies are from mainstream conservative to center-left. Levin adds that, while being accused of lacking character, Trump has shown more moral integrity while in office than many previous presidents.

The Media in Its Last Throes

Print media is declining. In fact, it’s now called fake news. Print also faces competition from social media, online services, and 24/7 news coverage.

Meanwhile, reporters try to enforce uniformity of thought.

Levin thinks these factors and others make it highly unlikely that the mainstream press will change. He concludes by writing, “The media will not only marginalize themselves but they will continue to be the greatest threat to freedom of the press today—not President Trump or his administration, but the current practitioners of what used to be journalism.”

Levin hopes his book will jumpstart a long overdue and hopefully productive dialogue among U.S citizens on how best to deal with the media’s collapsing role.

I agree with Levin about change being urgently needed. For the sake of U.S. democracy, I hope his goal is realized. I highly recommend this book as a step in the right direction.

‘Unfreedom of the Press’
Mark R. Levin
Threshold Editions
272 pages; hardcover $28

Linda Wiegenfeld is a retired teacher with 45 years’ experience teaching children. She can be reached for comments or suggestions at LWiegenfeld@aol.com

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