Our Perilous Moment

The Assault on the Media & 21st Century Threats to Democracy

By: Thomas A. Mascaro | Date: June 18, 2024 | Tags: Author Post
Quote from post alongside photo of Thomas Mascaro

This guest author post is written by Thomas A. Mascaro, co-author of the new book Assault on the Media: The Nixon Years, New and expanded edition, Updated with Analysis of 21st Century Threats to Democracy, from the University of Michigan Press. The book is available in paperback and ebook.

As there was a need for William E. Porter’s original Assault on the Media: The Nixon Years, published in 1976, urgency attends the new, expanded edition, Assault on the Media: The Nixon Years, Updated with Analysis of 21st Century Threats to Democracy. The update analyzes the aftermath of the Nixon-era assault on journalism, traces its contours through subsequent presidencies, and develops a thesis at once evident and terrifying:

The media project of the Nixon era, ostensibly anticommunist and decidedly anti-progressive, turned inside out and mutated into the very authoritarian propaganda “monster” conservatives professed to abhor.

In the last half century, attacks on the media have evolved beyond complaints about journalistic “instant analysis,” “fairness,” or “balance” and instead fostered a media ecosystem that defames and threatens proctors of American elections, rejects or otherwise withholds valid election evidence, propagandizes fraud, pillories jurisprudence, and mocks legislative decorum and public discourse.

We have thus reached a perilous moment when threats to democracy, as documented by Porter and updated here, must be dowsed before the embers of despotism and authoritarianism flare anew.

Democracy, by design, is aspirational, malleable, and inherently imperfect, which is why democratic societies revere a free press. On the home front, journalists are sentinels of the democratic contract between citizens and public officials. Abroad, journalists are LRRPs (long-range reconnaissance patrols), a Vietnam-era term of respect for patriotic courage. This rational mechanism appealed to William Porter, so when he sensed threats to the system, he acted. By synthesizing primary sources released during the Watergate hearings with historical accounts of the Nixon administration, Porter created an archetype of journalism-presidential history.

Although Professor Porter observed fickle politics and presidential-press deviltries with bemused tolerance, he sternly defended journalism as essential to democracy. Porter flagged the Nixon-era attacks as a grave threat. And although Porter, who died in 1999, never experienced the twenty-first century, he extrapolated then what might (and eventually did) happen were the assault on journalism to routinize irrational discourse and abuses of power.

We see proof in the inexplicable twenty-first-century support for Donald Trump by hard-working, God-fearing, patriotic, law-abiding Americans, despite Trump’s stated contempt for the rule of law, constitution, courts, evidence, morality, and especially journalists. This populist assault on the media has gained purchase and echoed Porter’s references to the tyranny that imperiled freedom during World War II.

It was these irrational twenty-first-century attacks on journalism that motivated me to appeal to the University of Michigan Press to update Porter’s original text, as interpreted through a half-century of scholarship and primary documents released since Watergate.


Bauder, David, Randall Chase and Geoff Mulvihill. “Fox, Dominion Reach $787M Settlement over Election Claims.” AP, April 18, 2023.

C-Span, August 5, 2022. URL

Peters, Jeremy W. and Katie Robertson. “Fox Stars Privately Expressed Disbelief about Election Fraud Claims. ‘Crazy Stuff.’” New York Times, February 16, updated April 24, 2023.

Rubin, Olivia. “What Fox News Hosts Allegedly Said Privately Versus On-air About False Election Fraud Claims.” ABC News, April 24, 2023. URL

Sarlin, Jon. “Trump’s ‘Unified Reich” Video Appears to Trace Origins of a Turkish Graphic Designer.” CNN, May 24, 2024. URL

Terkel, Amanda, Jane C. Timm, and Dareh Gregorian. “Here’s What Fox News Was Trying to Hide in Its Dominion Lawsuit Redactions.” NBC News, March 29, 2023. URL