The New Authoritarians

The end of the Cold War seemed to herald a new era of global democracy. Sweeping transitions to democratic rule had already taken place in Latin America and the Asia Pacific region. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall it seemed reasonable to believe that sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East might soon follow.

But something has gone awry. Even in nations that hold elections to choose their leaders, the first decades of this century have witnessed a sharp regression toward authoritarianism. Left-leaning regimes are as vulnerable to this tendency as those of the right. Political leaders can now use sophisticated digital technology to surveil and repress, to create mass disinformation networks to stir grievance and scapegoat racial and ethnic minorities. The United States has not been immune.

Good journalism is the essential weapon in the battle against this new authoritarianism. From China and India to Brazil, Israel, the Philippines, Venezuela, and Hungary, Pulitzer Center grantees are reporting on political leaders consolidating power via the tools of disinformation, nationalistic and populist rhetoric and policies, media manipulation, and the repression or marginalization of vulnerable groups.