Writers are hyperventalating over the latest Reporters Without Borders rankings on world press freedom, in which the U.S. slips from 32nd to 46th. The report documents “a profound erosion of press freedom in the United States in 2013,” according to a Huffington Post op-ed. The operative word in headlines and ledes seems to be that the U.S. “plunges” in the rankings.
Nonesense. For one thing, the Reporters Without Borders report describes Bradley Manning, who divulged wholesale hundreds of thousands of classified war logs and diplomatic cables, as a “whistleblower,” whose prosecution contributed to the lower ranking. For another thing, the U.S. ranking has always bounced back and forth a bit, reaching a high of 17 in 2002 and a low of 53 in 2006. Max Fisher at the Washington Post does the yeoman’s work of sifting through the numbers:
It’s just not good data, even if it does make for good copy. I should know: In 2012, the last time that the U.S. ranking “plummeted,” to 47th place, I wrote up the same alarming-looking results as everyone else. Imagine my surprise when, two years later, I saw that the U.S. ranking had made the same plummet to almost the exact same score. I only wish I’d looked into the data sooner.