Unfreedom of the Press review: Mark Levin's Trumpist take on the first amendment

Lloyd Green

Americans’ distrust of the media is only exceeded by its disdain for Congress. Mark Levin’s latest book won’t do much to rehabilitate journalism but it should cement his standing among Trump’s go-to guys.

Related: The Mueller Report by the Washington Post review – the truth is out there… somewhere

A radio talkshow host and a recipient of conservative largesse, Levin served in the justice department under Ronald Reagan. In the 2016 Republican primary, he backed Ted Cruz and was a never-Trumper until he wasn’t. He has since embraced the 45th president with the passion of a penitent and the conviction of a convert.

Trump recently appeared on Levin’s program, where the president explained his reaction to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville in August 2017 in which a counter-protester was killed: “I actually said it every way you can say it. But I said you had bad people in both groups and I said you had good people in both groups.” If Heather Heyer were still alive she would surely beg to differ. But Trump’s memory of David Duke was always kinda hazy.

Unfreedom of the Press is a non-stop attack on the mainstream media and a running indictment of a century of progressive politics. In Levin’s words, his book is about “how those entrusted with news reporting in the modern media are destroying freedom of the press from within: not government oppression or suppression, not Donald Trump’s finger-pointing …”

Levin has jettisoned any journalistic skepticism surrounding Bill Barr’s non-summary of Robert Mueller’s report

Who cares if Trump calls the press the “enemy of the people”? A majority of Republicans embrace this proposition, though almost two-thirds of their fellow Americans disagree. Unfreedom of the Press attempts to bestow a patina of respectability on these darker impulses.

As to be expected, Levin ignores Trump’s oft-repeated attack on existing libel laws, exacerbated by Bob Woodward’s Fear; the president’s empty threat to enjoin the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury; and his praise of using the media as a literal tackling dummy. Levin neglects to mention that Montana’s Greg Gianforte body-slammed the former Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, and was congratulated by Trump for doing so.

“Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my guy,” said the president.

Unfreedom of the Press is not exactly fan fiction but it can get ahead of itself when discussing the special counsel’s conclusions, ending up sounding like the “fake news” the author and Trump both purport to abhor. Among other things, Levin has jettisoned any journalistic skepticism surrounding the attorney general Bill Barr’s non-summary of Robert Mueller’s report, instead choosing to equate Barr’s truncated take with holy writ.

To quote: “In addition to special counsel Robert Mueller’s declaration of no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia …” Uh, what “declaration”?

Fast forward to the text of the actual report. On page two, the special counsel explains: “Collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.”

Levin has launched his own jihad against Mueller, a decorated and wounded Vietnam veteran. On Fox News in late March, Levin labeled the special counsel a “coward”. In the words of the Daily Beast, Levin also delivered a “breathless, spittle-flecked soliloquy” in which he declared that the media was hellbent on ruining Barr “because they destroy anybody who stands up to the mob”.

Unfreedom of the Press also claims the media and the Democrats are pushing for impeachment, another statement a tad over its skis. Nancy Pelosi has her caucus in hand and for the moment impeachment hearings are not in the offing. It was George Conway, the husband of a noted West Wing Trumpista, who wrote: “Trump is a cancer on the presidency. Congress should remove him.”

Levin writes of Hamilton undercutting Washington and acting in tandem with England. Has he forgotten 'I love WikiLeaks'?

For good measure, Levin also takes potshots at Alexander Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit about the founding father. Levin writes of Hamilton undercutting George Washington and acting in tandem with England. Has he forgotten “I love WikiLeaks”?

Still, Levin’s critiques of the press and the Obama administration should not be ignored. The mainstream media brings its own biases to the table and can appear more than mildly disconnected from America’s heartland. Most folks hate being viewed as lab rats.

A 2014 study, the American Journalist in the Digital Age, reported that only 7% of reporters identified as Republicans, down from a little more than one in four in 1971. As for reporters who identified as Democrats, their ranks thinned by only seven points, down to 28%. Self-selection is afoot when it comes to who enters journalism, a profession in the US that has a problem with bending the knee. Just think Pentagon Papers and Peter Zenger. It is an American tradition.

Mark Levin speaks in 2015.

Mark Levin speaks in 2015. Photograph: Brian Cahn/REX/Shutterstock

Levin is also on firmer ground when he discusses Barack Obama’s record on prosecuting reporters and leakers. In the words of James Risen, formerly of the New York Times and now at the Intercept, that administration “prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined”.

Related: William Barr: attorney general plays Republican spear-catcher again

Risen almost went to jail for refusing to comply with a subpoena. Similarly, Fox News’s James Rosen was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in connection with the prosecution of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former state department contractor.

In April, NBC News reported that under Trump there have been more leaks and more investigations: 120 in 2017 and 88 in 2018, “up from 37 in 2016 and 18 in 2015”. No reporter has been criminally charged.

A recent Quinnipiac poll announced that nearly two-thirds of Americans view the president as dishonest. In contrast, 35% viewed CNN as untrustworthy and three in 10 held the same opinion of the Times. Unfreedom of the Press offers no convincing explanation for this disparity. Meanwhile, Trump trails Joe Biden nationally and in Pennsylvania by double digits. Perhaps this has something to do with Trump himself?