Will Rogers (1879-1935), comedian, actor, and social commentator, was famous for saying, “All I know is what I read in the papers” as a preface to making fun of news items.
From 1972 to 1974, the Nixon administration took several measures in an attempt to control media reports about the Watergate Scandal. In late 1972, Clay Whitehead, director of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy, drafted a bill that would allow the revocation of licenses for media that engaged in “ideological plugola, consistent bias, and elite gossip.” This policy became known as the Whitehead Bill and was never enacted.
Furthermore, on April 9, 1973, the New York Times published an article by Edmund Muskie that outlined measures the administration would like to take to prevent leaks of information to the press. The bill was called “The Official Secrets Act” and included punishment for disclosing “almost any kind of defense and foreign policy information, whether or not its disclosure would endanger national security.” The law would enforce administrative secrecy no matter how pernicious the actions. It, too, never passed.
Conrad responds to these perceived threats to the freedom of the press by suggesting that if the news media is censored, the public will know nothing because nothing will be reported.