I’ve been reading a book, Free Press, Free People: The Best Cause by John Hohenberg. The author explains the role of the press, its shortcomings, highlights, and most importantly, its impact on society and the many attempts to suppress and oppress it.
In 1862, Prussian premier Otto von Bismarck’s goal wasn’t to destroy the already weak press so much as to bend it to his will. He bribed, threatened and saturated Prussian newspapers with false and misleading news articles favorable to him and his government. The press bowed to his demands so willingly that he referred to them as the “reptile press” crawling on its belly.
The most powerful man in Europe at the time even admitted that “Decent people don’t write for me.”
What was he afraid of?
A half century earlier, Napoleon—another powerful yet insecure leader bragged, “They [the press] say only what I wish.” He was stating a fact because those that didn’t wound up in prison.
What was he afraid of?
In 1914, a young socialist editor, Bonito Mussolini, used his position to call for peace at the onset of hostilities between Germany, Austria and the rest of Europe. Ten years later, he was the leader of Italy’s Fascist Party, which controlled the government after a disputed election. His own deputy accused the party of fraud and called for another election before mysteriously vanishing. A few months later, his body turned up. The press blamed Mussolini and called for an investigation.
Mussolini blamed the press for his bad publicity and responded with a decree that all journalist register as Fascist and all newspapers submit to government censorship.
What was he afraid of?
Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, went the same route in the early 1930s, requiring all journalist to register as Nazis and making editors officials of state subject to government censorship.
He famously declared, “News policy is a weapon of war. Its purpose is to wage war, not give out information.”
What was he and Hitler afraid of?
Socialism has always relied on newspapers and media to spread and strengthen its cause back to the earliest days of journalist Karl Marx. However, once established, Communist leaders like the dictators before them sought to control the press through censorship, intimidation and, when all that failed, imprisonment.
What are Communist leaders afraid of?
Our own government has had its own troubled relationship at times with the media. Attacks against President Adams and the Federalist Congress by the pro-French, anti-Federalist press resulted in the Alien and Seditions Acts of 1798, which aimed to stifle all criticism. This heavy-handed attempt at censorship had just the opposite effect—the death of the Federalist Party and Adam’s defeat for re-election.
At the end of World War I, President Wilson was in Europe trying to get the allies to agree to his Fourteen Points as they wrote the Versailles Treaty. He foolishly thought controlling the press and the information they were afforded would protect his plan from criticism. In the end, Congress rejected his peace plan, and the ground for the Second World War were put in place.
The Republican Party has railed against the elite media, the biased media, and the corrupt media. Yet they have used this media to attack President Obama and Democratic nominee Clinton for the past eight years. They have accused Obama of being a dictator for doing what every president before him has done—take presidential action. Bismarck, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler and a host of other insecure, egotistic leaders have provided ample proof of what real dictator’s look and act like, yet they chose to casually throw the term around to satisfy their own selfish needs.
What did it get them?
President Trump has picked up the Republican torch in its fight against the press. He has called them nasty, dishonest and scum. He has attacked them individually and as a group. Like some of the dictators mentioned, he is now attempting to control the dissemination of news coming out of his office. No more Spanish language on the White House web site. Retribution for unfavorable reporting. Alternative facts to counteract the facts. The question remains: Is Trump merely an insecure bully as he has appeared to be for most of his public life or is he a tyrant?
And of course, there is the other question.
What is Trump afraid of?
Throughout history, sometimes the media has been helpful, sometimes it has been troublesome. Sometimes it has been right and sometimes it has been wrong. What we do know from history is that the press has always mattered.