Friday, February 26, 2016

Lebovic's "Free Speech and Unfree News"

Sam Lebovic, Assistant Professor of History at George Mason University, has just published Free Speech and Unfree News: The Paradox of Press Freedom in America, with the Harvard University Press.  (The American Society for Legal History supported Professor Lebovic’s work on the book with a Paul Murphy Prize.)
Does America have a free press? Many who answer yes appeal to First Amendment protections that shield the press from government censorship. But in this comprehensive history of American press freedom as it has existed in theory, law, and practice, Sam Lebovic shows that, on its own, the right of free speech has been insufficient to guarantee a free press.

Lebovic recovers a vision of press freedom, prevalent in the mid-twentieth century, based on the idea of unfettered public access to accurate information. This “right to the news” responded to persistent worries about the quality and diversity of the information circulating in the nation’s news. Yet as the meaning of press freedom was contested in various arenas—Supreme Court cases on government censorship, efforts to regulate the corporate newspaper industry, the drafting of state secrecy and freedom of information laws, the unionization of journalists, and the rise of the New Journalism—Americans chose to define freedom of the press as nothing more than the right to publish without government censorship. The idea of a public right to all the news and information was abandoned, and is today largely forgotten.

Free Speech and Unfree News compels us to reexamine assumptions about what freedom of the press means in a democratic society—and helps us make better sense of the crises that beset the press in an age of aggressive corporate consolidation in media industries, an increasingly secretive national security state, and the daily newspaper’s continued decline.
Here are some endorsements:

“How could a nation proud of its commitment to free expression also be a place where journalists must scour through leaked documents to learn basic facts about government policies? Sam Lebovic’s spectacular and important book shows how the idea of a ‘right to know’ dropped out of twentieth-century understandings of the First Amendment. Essential for understanding what has become of an American free press.”—Mary L. Dudziak, author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

“Provocative and stimulating. Lebovic shows that, although the American press has grown unusually free from government interference, it is constrained by the vast expansion of government secrecy and the intensification of the profit motive in the shifting news marketplace.”—Michael Schudson, author of The Rise of the Right to Know

TOC after the jump
Prologue: The Problem of Press Freedom
1. The Inadequacy of Speech Rights
2. Interwar Threats to Press Freedom
3. A New Deal for the Corporate Press?
4. Dependent Journalists, Independent Journalism?
5. The Weapon of Information in the Good War
6. The Cold War Dilemma of a Free Press
7. The Rise of State Secrecy
8. Leaks, Mergers, and Nixon’s Assault on the News
9. Sprawling Secrecy and Dying Newsrooms