According to Tocqueville, political parties attempt to gain influence through newspapers and through public associations. The liberty of the press is one of the most significant aspects of American culture, and while Tocqueville isn’t an unqualified fan of the freedom of the press, he approves of it because of the evils it prevents. Besides, there is no intermediary position between liberty and censorship: any attempt to establish one either leads either to complete servitude or complete independence.
Throughout his book, Tocqueville will continue to link civil and political associations to newspapers, even if it seems like these are separate categories. But his point is that both associations and the liberty of the press contribute to mitigating some of the dangers of equality of condition that Tocqueville explores in America.
Tocqueville notes that each newspaper exacts a small influence, in large part because Americans have so long been accustomed to liberty of the press. While the French prize newspapers as a space of debate, most of the space in American journals is devoted to advertisements. In addition, while the French press is highly centralized, making its influence potentially unlimited, American newspapers are many and local. Nearly anyone can start a paper, and almost every small town has one, each attacking or defending the government in a thousand different ways, which diffuses their oppositional force. While the position of journalist is a noble one in France, there are so many such positions in the US that the bar is much lower.
In distinguishing between American and French newspapers, Tocqueville exhibits a certain prejudice against the former. Even as he wants to praise (in a moderate way) the liberty of the press, he looks with some condescension at the advertisements in American newspapers and at what he considers to be the anti-intellectual thrust of journalism as a profession. While it’s easy to consider his views as those of a snob, Tocqueville’s intention is to nuance such characterizations.
Still, Tocqueville notes that the influence of the press as a whole is huge in America. It allows political life to disseminate throughout the whole country, it brings people together who would otherwise never speak, and in the few cases when many journals adopt the same opinion, their influence is immense.
Tocqueville distinguishes between the small influence of each individual newspaper and the large influence of the press in general—something he will argue is the case for citizens in a democracy as well.