On Sunday’s edition of Full Measure, host Sharyl Attkisson interviewed conservative commentator Mark Levin, author of the new book Unfreedom of the Press. Throughout the interview, Levin slammed the rise of so-called “community journalism” and concluded that “the modern mass media is destroying freedom of the press.”
Attkisson began her interview with Levin by discussing a portion of his book where he argued that “the American free press has degenerated into a standardless profession; not through government oppression or suppression but through self-censorship, groupthink, bias, omission, and propaganda.” Elaborating on that point, Levin spoke about a “new doctrine that’s being pushed in journalism school” for about 30 years called “public journalism or community journalism, which is social activism.”
Levin explained that a result of the transformation of journalism into social activism, “you have a lot of reporters, Jim Acosta’s a perfect example, who create the drama, then report on their own drama.” Levin proceeded to contrast the “pamphleteers,” the “first printing presses” who “pushed the American Revolution and the ideas we read in the Declaration of Independence” with the modern media.
After noting that the “pamphleteers” wanted to “fundamentally transform government, throw off the monarchy and create a representative government,” Levin argued that “the media today want to do the opposite. They want to fundamentally transform the civil society in defense of an all-powerful centralized government.” When asked by Attkisson if the “pamphleteers” were “themselves biased,” Levin responded in the affirmative: “they were biased for liberty and they were biased for property rights and they were biased for limited government and they admitted it. They didn’t believe in objective news...the press today poses as seeking objective truth when it’s not.”
Eventually, the discussion turned to whether “news should be reporting or interpretation” or “some combination thereof.” Levin said “I make the point in my book that you really should strive, if you’re a newsroom, to separate news from opinion. Stop hiring ideologues in the newsrooms, because it’s harder and harder for ideologues to be objective or as objective as they can be.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of Full Measure is below. Click “expand” to read more.
Full Measure With Sharyl Attkisson
SHARYL ATTKISSON: This week, thirty media and tech companies announced they’re partnering behind a new national campaign, “Protect Press Freedom.” But conservative commentator and author Mark Levin argues the modern mass media does not favor a free press. His new book is called Unfreedom of the Press.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
ATTKISSON: You wrote “the American free press has degenerated into a standardless profession; not through government oppression or suppression but through self-censorship, groupthink, bias, omission, and propaganda.”
LEVIN: There’s a new doctrine that’s being pushed in journalism school, and has been for about 30 years, which is to push what’s called public journalism or community journalism; which is social activism. And so now you have a lot of reporters, Jim Acosta’s a perfect example, who create the drama, then report on their own drama.
JIM ACOSTA: If I may…
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Peter, go ahead.
ACOSTA: …ask one more question, are you worried?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: That’s enough. That’s enough.
ACOSTA: Mr. President.
LEVIN: That becomes news for five days.
ACOSTA: The other folks have had…
TRUMP: That’s enough.
LEVIN: The President calls that fake news, he’s right. Our news is filled with phony events and filled with propaganda.
ATTKISSON: Your book has a lot of history in it and one small portion talks about Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in 1776. He wrote advocating for American Independence and you talk about the so-called pamphleteers of that time.
LEVIN: The pamphleteers were the great heroes, the first printing presses. These were the men that pushed the American Revolution and the ideas we read in the Declaration of Independence. They wanted to fundamentally transform government, throw off the monarchy, and create a representative government. The media today want to do the opposite. They want to fundamentally transform the civil society in defense of an all-powerful centralized government.
ATTKISSON: But weren’t the pamphleteers and the patriotic press themselves biased?
LEVIN: Absolutely. They were biased for liberty and they were biased for property rights and they were biased for limited government and they admitted it. They didn’t believe in objective news. Even though they had some news, they supported a cause. They were revolting against a tyranny. The press today poses as seeking objective truth when it’s not.
ATTKISSON: Would you find it less objectionable if the press today, the ones that you believe are biased, actually said what they were for and reported as they do rather than maintaining a sense of supposed neutrality?
LEVIN: Well, we had a press like that called the party press and it followed the administration. Near the tail end of the administration of George Washington’s second term where they…where the newspapers were lining up between…behind Jefferson and his party and Hamilton and Adams and their…and their party and they were transparent about it. At least they were more honest about it. Although we’re getting to a point now where some media outlets are so brazen about their ideology, they’re being very honest about who they are.
ATTKISSON: We kind of know.
LEVIN: We kind of know who they are, but there’s still this patina of, “We’re the news. Don’t criticize us or you’re attacking the First Amendment.”
ATTKISSON: Do you think news should be reporting or interpretation? Or some combination thereof and how would that be structured?
LEVIN: I make the point in my book that you really should strive, if you’re a newsroom, to separate news from opinion. Stop hiring ideologues in the newsrooms because it’s harder and harder for ideologues to be objective or as objective as they can be. Number two, okay, maybe you’re liberal, maybe you’re conservative. But at least apply some objective standards and process to the gathering of news. We’re not doing either right now.
ATTKISSON: Some blame our, the media’s, declining credibility on President Trump. Isn’t there some truth to that?
LEVIN: There’s really no truth to that. I’ll tell you why. I write in the book and I explain presidents who really endangered the media, even John Adams, people will be shocked with the Sedition Act of 1798. He imprisoned journalists, shut down some newspapers. You had Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War with his authority shutting down newspapers, imprisoning journalists. You had Woodrow Wilson, the great Progressive intellectual, put a new Sedition Act in in 1918, shut down newspapers, imprisoned journalists, imprisoned political opponents.
FDR unleashed the IRS on several publishers including Moe Annenberg, who owned The Philadelphia Inquirer, ‘cause they didn’t back the new deal. Barack Obama and his administration, of course, he didn’t know anything, the FBI went after The New York Times, Fox and AP. Donald Trump may call the press the enemy of the people, or a particular segment of the press the enemy of the people. He hasn’t done anything like that.
ATTKISSON: You wrote, “It is surely not for the government to control the press and yet the press seems incapable of policing itself.” So, what are we left with?
LEVIN: The modern mass media is destroying freedom of the press. So, where do we go? There are new pamphleteers out there: bloggers, websites, all over the world. We should separate the good from the bad. I know there’s bad stuff on the internet, but there’s good stuff on the internet too. Because what is it that matters about freedom of the press? What does it really come down to? Freedom of speech. That is all of us communicating with each other, we the people, to try and figure out how to improve our lives, and improve our neighborhoods, and improve our society.
ATTKISSON: By the way, among the news outlets backing the new “Protect Press Freedom” campaign are some that Levin sees as the most biased.