FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The US’s Long and Sordid HIstory of Persecuting Journalists

by THOMAS L. KNAPP

Did anyone really not expect this? Reporters Without Borders docks the United States 14 places versus last year — from 32nd to 46th worldwide — in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

Citing the Obama administration’s abuse of the Espionage Act to harass journalists and sources, the imprisonment of US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, threats of arrest and even assassination of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, harassment of journalists assisting him in informing the public and a threatened 105 years in prison for journalist Barrett Brown for posting a link on a web site, RWB designates the US one of two “New World giant setting a bad example” (the other is Brazil).

These criticisms are reasonable and just, but RWB is mistaken in asserting that the US “for a long time was the embodiment of an established democracy where civil liberties reign supreme.” In fact, the US government has a long and sordid record of persecuting journalists, dating back nearly to its founding.

From criminal prosecutions of writers for “libeling” the second and third presidents of the United States to wartime censorship (not solely of important military information, even were that a reasonable excuse, but explicitly to ensure adherence to the regime’s policy lines) to morals “Comstockery” to hounding and criminal prosecution of anyone revealing embarrassing truths at inopportune moments, the American state has always treated “civil liberties” as mere conveniences to be suppressed any time they become inconveniences.

The real question raised by the continuing US slide in RWB’s rankings is: Why, in recent years, has the US found press freedom less congenial to its goals than usual and increasingly acted to suppress it?

Or, to put it in context: Why, among the world’s emerging authoritarian managerial states in the first half of the 20th century, was the US willing to accommodate more press freedom as a matter of course than Mussolini, Hitler, Franco or Stalin … and what’s changed lately to reduce its willingness to tolerate journalists and their sources?

The answer is that while those other four rulers came to power via open political violence and considered themselves (for good reason) beset from the beginnings of their reigns, the US national security state evolved more slowly and with less dissent. Its institutions weren’t overthrown; they adapted. The illusions of consensus and consent, carefully tended for most of the state’s history, were preserved relatively intact, passed down from largely apocryphal “old republic” to “New Deal” to “Great Society” to “Morning in America” to post-9/11 banana republic.

Why not let the birds squawk? They’re caged, the door is secure and when, as happens now and again, the noise becomes irritating, the state can just drop a dark cloth over the cage for a few hours of peace and quiet.

But  Julian Assange pulled the cloth off the cage, Chelsea Manning pried the door open and Edward Snowden flew the coop. Barrett Browning’s wings are clipped and they’ve put a muzzle on his beak, but it’s too little, too late. Barack Obama, Keith Alexander and Mike Rogers can’t call a press conference lately without Glenn Greenwald swooping in to drop a load of something messy on their heads in public.

“Press freedom” is falling by the wayside because it now threatens the American state. Those illusions of consensus and consent served American politicians long and well, but now they’re dissolving and exposing American government as an instrument of naked force like all others.

We can have freedom — freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of any and every kind — or we can have political government. We can’t have both.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail