CLASH

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With digital access to more than 90 newspapers, magazines, news websites, broadcast outlets, and social media feeds, along with archival and print sources, Marshall offers ample evidence of presidents’ efforts “to attack, restrict, manipulate, and demonize the press in order to strengthen their own power.” John Adams, abetted by his Federalist supporters, tried mightily to silence journalists, jailing dozens of writers, printers, and editors. Nevertheless, Marshall reports, Adams “ultimately failed to control the press.” Lincoln wooed journalists, looking to abolitionist editors to help him garner popular support for emancipation. Still, fearing citizens’ outcry over the war, his administration “shut down newspapers, confiscated printing presses, prevented some newspapers from being mailed, took control of telegraph wires to censor information, and allowed the military to arrest some reporters and prevent others from covering battles.” Woodrow Wilson, likewise, clamped down on freedom of the press as he led America into World War I, muzzling opposition to sending troops overseas. Franklin Roosevelt sidestepped journalists by addressing the nation on “the newfangled medium of radio.” Nixon distrusted the press so vehemently that he “made assaulting the media and casting journalists as enemies of the American people a central strategy of his administration.” Prominent among manipulators of the press was George W. Bush, who hired actors to play reporters on video news releases. Online media, cable news, and talk radio thrive on sensationalism, fueling the rise of Donald Trump, whose assault on the media is near constant. Marshall has a few suggestions for promoting responsible media, such as the Local Journalism Sustainability Act to support more news outlets and increased government funding for public broadcasting. Tensions with the press are inevitable, though: Presidents try to communicate without interference, while “reporters are constantly probing for more information, asking questions presidents don’t always want to answer.”

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