37 percent of Americans think a free press is overrated

  • By Christopher Ingraham The Washington Post
  • Friday, September 19, 2014 3:39pm
  • OpinionCommentary

WASHINGTON — Thirty-seven percent of Americans think the news media should be required to get government approval before reporting on national security issues. Let’s let that sink in for a minute.

That finding is from an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll that found Americans generally know little about the structure and functions of government. Only one-third, for instance, could name all three branches of government. Another third couldn’t name any.

This lack of knowledge partly explains why nearly four in 10 Americans think Congress should pass a law in direct contradiction of the First Amendment, which reads in part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

Other contributing factors include the reporting of the Edward Snowden leaks, which 44 percent of Americans said “harmed public interest.” We also live in a time of declining public confidence in the news media, particularly among conservative Americans.

Of course, one of the few institutions Americans trust less than the media is Congress, so there’s some cognitive dissonance in the desire to give that body authority to decide what does and does not get printed in the paper on a given day.

For an illustration of why it is generally a terrible idea to give a government veto power over the press, just look to Russia, where state media reported that Russian troops fighting in Ukraine were simply there on vacation, and that Malaysian Air Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine as part of a failed assassination attempt on President Vladimir Putin.

More to the point, “national security” is a highly malleable term in the hands of politicians. It could be construed to mean anything from the Snowden leaks to the Watergate scandal to civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. In other words, it’s a blank check that 37 percent of the public wants to write to Congress.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Patricia Gambis, right, talks with her 4-year-old twin children, Emma, left, and Etienne in their home, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Maplewood, N.J. Gambis' husband, an FBI agent, has been working without pay during the partial United States government shutdown, which has forced the couple to take financial decisions including laying off their babysitter. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Editorial: Shutdown hits kids, families at difficult moment

The shutdown risks food aid for low-income families as child poverty doubled last year and child care aid ends.

Editorial cartoons for Thursday, Sept. 28

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Randall Tharp’s month recovery coins after battling a fentanyl addiction.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Fentanyl crisis should force rethinking of approach

A continuum of care, that includes treatment in jails, is imperative, says a journalist and author.

Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, left, and Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, right, embrace after a special session to figure out how much to punish drug possession on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Olympia, Wash. Without action, Washington's drug possession law will expire July 1, leaving no penalty in state law and leaving cities free to adopt a hodgepodge of local ordinances.  (Karen Ducey/The Seattle Times via AP)
Editorial: Robinson smart choice to head Senate budget panel

A 10-year legislative veteran, the Everett senator displays a mastery of legislation and negotiation.

Covid response skeptics mastered critical thinking

A recent Herald editorial reflects what is off with our mainstream mindset… Continue reading

Arlington Mayor Tolbert knows value of city’s youths

As a recent Arlington High School graduate (Class of 2020) and a… Continue reading

Comment: End of pandemic child-care aid will expose huge problem

Putting even more of the costs of child care on parents will mean many employees will opt out of jobs.

Comment: No act of God, disasters a collision of human failures

The climate changes caused by greenhouse gases are compounded by poor decisions and inaction.

Migrants trying to reach the United States, set up a camp in Lajas Blancas, Darien province, Panama, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
Fact check: No, migrants aren’t getting $2,200 a month from U.S.

A viral tweet by Rep. Lauren Boebert is a zombie claim that started in 2006 in Canada.

Most Read