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Perhaps nothing Alexis de Tocqueville recognized more keenly from his trip to the United States than the value of press freedom in the development of American prosperity. In particular, de Tocqueville spoke of the press as the great retaining wall against authoritarian delusions or deviations from the democratic system.
Almost two hundred years have passed since the publication of Alexis de Tocqueville’s great work and that freedom is still present, but could it be lost?
“What a stupid son of a bitch,” President Joe Biden told Fox News reporter Peter Doocy following an inflation-related question. The insult certainly marks a milestone in the White House’s treatment of the press. This is a dangerous milestone, needless to say, that speaks to the climate of freedoms in the country.
The decline of press freedom has been going on for several years in Washington. It is not a monopoly of the Democratic administration. Former President Donald Trump strongly marked the hostile tone of his administration towards the press. All media dissent was “fake news” and tensions reached a paroxysm in the days following the November 2020 presidential election.
Fox News, the network that had been accompanying the president, became the target of attacks by Trump supporters after it left him alone in his allegations of electoral fraud in the last presidential election. It is true, however, that the rope was tightened on both sides. We all witnessed the war that Big Tech declared on the president of the United States. In an unusual and very damaging event for the Republic, companies such as Twitter and Facebook dared to suppress Trump’s social media presence.
But nothing has improved under President Biden. And, although he arrived with a conciliatory tone and a supposed willingness to heal the wounds that, according to him, Trump had left, Biden ended up entrenching hostility before the press.
It was undoubtedly a giant show of contempt that, in the moments of greatest tension during the Afghanistan crisis, when all the people were demanding answers, the president refused to offer press conferences and turned his back on journalists, who were mirroring the concerns of Americans.
The mainstream media has conveniently coordinated with Biden to crush critical media and to neutralize the possibility of the emergence of alternatives. For example, the Democratic Party and some leaders have continually sabotaged conservative media in Florida and hindered their emergence. There have been threats and pressures by Democratic Party militants against conservative journalists.
Finally, the heightened tension under the Democratic administration materialized in Biden’s insult to Fox News’ Doocy. It is very serious for the president of the most powerful country in the world and supposed representative of the free world to call a journalist a “stupid son of a bitch” for asking him an uncomfortable question.
The attack remains a precedent and was recorded for the White House record. It’s a dangerous, extremely alarming milestone.
Tocqueville’s appreciation of freedom of the press was disruptive and brilliant, considering the historical context. It was impossible to measure in 1835 what modern totalitarianisms would do. But, a few decades after the French thinker’s journey, we saw how Germany and Russia neutralized the press, subdued it, and then dominated (or murdered) their populations. We saw how the Cuban Revolution prosecuted or expelled journalists; how North Korea subjected all information to the narrative of the supreme leader or how in Venezuela they persecute journalists and ban television channels.
The prelude to these crimes was precisely the tactic of encouraging hatred against dissidents. The journalist, a “son of a bitch,” is the enemy. Fox News is the enemy. And so, little by little, led by a torch-carrying, pitchfork-wielding mob, the persecution of freedom begins. Regardless of editorial differences, all journalists should unite around the same will to defend the full freedom of the press, whether we like it or not, because, as Tocqueville said, “I love it out of consideration for the evils it prevents rather than the goods it accomplishes.”
Orlando Avendaño is the co-editor-in-chief of El American. He is a Venezuelan journalist and has studies in the History of Venezuela. He is the author of the book Days of submission // Orlando Avendaño es el co-editor en Jefe de El American. Es periodista venezolano y cuenta con estudios en Historia de Venezuela. Es autor del libro Días de sumisión.