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A Free Press Without Democracy

Erin C. Carroll

Vol. 56

November 2022

Page 289

For several decades, the American press has been fighting for its economic survival. But while it has been consumed with this effort, the political threat to a free press has grown perhaps greater than the economic one. Democracy is eroding globally, including in the United States. Given the importance of a free press to democracy, the press needs to more urgently consider how it maintains its freedom as erosion persists.

This Article sets out a framework for American press priorities in this pivotal moment. It suggests that to resist and weather a turn to autocracy, the press must endeavor to overcome three defining pathologies: American press exceptionalism (a hubris about American press freedom); Darwinian in-group competition (a need for one’s news organization to always be first and fastest); and an addiction to audience desire (the proclivity to prioritize audiences’ reflexive wants).

The Article also describes corresponding practices of press freedom designed to remedy these pathologies. These practices are not plucked from a nostalgic vision of America’s press heyday. Rather, they are rooted in an examination of autocracy and journalistic experience under it. They are intended to be concrete and doable. And they are aimed at building the resilience of the American press so that it might be a stronger bulwark against an autocratic regime.  

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