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The Authoritarian Playbook: a media guide

How reporters can cover and distinguish threats from politics-as-usual

Authoritarian takeovers rarely happen overnight these days.

Today’s authoritarian playbook is a process that happens piecemeal and is hard to distinguish from normal political jockeying.

Our report, The Authoritarian Playbook: How reporters can contextualize and cover authoritarian threats as distinct from politics-as-usual outlines the seven fundamental tactics used by aspiring authoritarians, describes examples from in and outside the United States, and offers a framework journalists can use to differentiate between politics-as-usual and something more dangerous to democracy. 

For the best reading experience, hover over the flipbook above and use the full screen control at the bottom right. For a PDF version of this pamphlet, click here.

 

The vigilance required to identify and respond to democracy’s incremental decline means the press has never been more essential in ensuring the health of our polity. Simultaneously, the press’s foundational role as stewards of public information and accountability has never been more difficult to perform.  

The media has an essential role to play that is unbiased, but not neutral in applying a consistent standard about threats to democracy. In other words, when specific actions threaten democracy, they should be covered as major news stories in themselves, not as part of a political or ideological debate.

As an organization founded expressly to reverse the increasing authoritarian threat in the U.S, Protect Democracy created the Playbook as a toolkit for media professionals to identify and contextualize these threats for the benefit of the American public. 

The ability to both understand and recognize authoritarian tactics can help journalists not only decide what to cover as threats to democracy, but can also help enrich and provide context for coverage about how the individual components of the Playbook fit together. By identifying and connecting individual threats to democracy to the global whole, reporting can help inform voters about more than just what is happening—it can tell them what the news means.

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