Thirty-seven percent of Americans think the news media should be required to get government approval before reporting on national security issues. Let's let that sink in for a minute.

That finding is from an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll that found Americans generally know little about the structure and functions of government. Only one-third, for instance, could name all three branches of government. Another third couldn't name any.

This lack of knowledge partly explains why nearly four in 10 Americans think Congress should pass a law in direct contradiction of the First Amendment, which reads in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." (emphasis added).

Other contributing factors include the reporting of the Edward Snowden leaks, which 44 percent of Americans said "harmed public interest." We also live in a time of declining public confidence in the news media, particularly among conservative Americans.

Of course, one of the few institutions Americans trust less than the media is Congress, so there's some cognitive dissonance in the desire to give that body authority to decide what does and does not get printed in the paper on a given day.

For an illustration of why it is generally a terrible idea to give a government veto power over the press, just look to Russia, where state media reported that Russian troops fighting in Ukraine were simply there on vacation, and that Malaysian Air Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine as part of a failed assassination attempt on President Vladimir Putin.

More to the point, "national security" is a highly malleable term in the hands of politicians. It could be construed to mean anything from the Snowden leaks to the Watergate scandal to civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. In other words, it's a blank check that 37 percent of the public wants to write to Congress.

What do you think, Wonkblog readers?

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