Appeals to “press freedom” can be heard from across the political spectrum. But what those appeals mean varies dramatically. Sam Lebovic
, in his excellent new book, Free Speech and Unfree News: The Paradox of Press Freedom in America
(Harvard University Press, 2016), traces the fraught history of that contested concept throughout the twentieth century. Beginning his analysis in the 1920s, Lebovic shows how conservative politicians, lawyers, and publishers began to define press freedom as freedom from
state censorship, wrapped it in the first amendment, and fought New Deal attempts at regulation. Meanwhile, liberal politicians and journalists feared corporate control of the press as a threat to the democratic need for information, and advocated a freer and more trustworthy press. Not interested solely in the debates over press freedom, Lebovic also focuses on, what he calls, “the everyday politics of information.” He reveals how state classification practices and the political economy of the news fundamentally shaped how information flowed. It is an ambitious book that succeeds in telling a crucial story and it should inform contemporary approaches to press monopolization and the ever-growing “classified universe
.” The book will interest intellectual historians, communications scholars, legal historians, political historians, and historians of U.S. foreign relations.
Dexter Fergie is a first-year PhD student of US and global history at Northwestern University. He is currently researching the 20th century geopolitical history of information and communications networks. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DexterFergie.