Our nation’s governing classes aren’t happy with the news media. At first glance, it’s hard to believe they aren’t satisfied with the coverage they receive. The major media with few exceptions (Wall Street Journal, Fox News) are populated with leftists who reveal their bias in their news reporting choices as well as in their opinion pieces. The recent discovery of the “journo-list” e-mails exposed a national press corps not only sycophantically supporting candidate Obama for the presidency but actually strategizing among themselves how to influence the election.
But those accustomed to favorable coverage have had their setbacks recently. Dogged reporters exposed the voting fraud and other illegal activities of ACORN, Barack Obama’s former association. The multiple ethical lapses of Charlie Rangel couldn’t be swept under the rug due to tenacious media coverage. Worse, the blatant lies used to sell Obamacare (we can all keep our coverage, it won’t add “one dime” to the deficit, yadda, yadda) were laid bare by a watchdog press doing its job.
One response by government officials has been to threaten legal attacks on their critics. The Orwellian named Fairness Doctrine has been approvingly trotted out again by several highly placed congressional leaders. This is the former Federal Communications Commission rule requiring broadcast outlets to furnish free air time for opposing views whenever political opinions are aired. The effect, of course, would be to kneecap Rush, Sean and the other commentators on the right who seemingly are the only ones able to attract listeners to talk radio. The Obama administration seems more interested in influencing content by manipulating, according to “diversity” criteria, the ownership of broadcast licenses.
Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, recently took another tack in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. He proposed substantial federal subsidies for cash-strapped mainline news organizations. His argument is that healthy news media are critical to the functioning of a democratic society. The organizations that performed that function for so long are breaking down now and many daily newspapers are disappearing altogether. We would only be protecting our interests in supporting these necessary institutions. Furthermore, China’s Xinhua news and Qatar’s Al-Jazeera demonstrate, in his estimation, that government support can produce strong news organizations.
Well, why not, since banks, car companies, mortgage holders, states and pension funds have all been grateful recipients of federal bailouts? But Bollinger’s ideas fail on at least two counts.
First, Americans aren’t suffering from a lack of news about current events. On the contrary, the Internet Age has provided each of us with previously unimaginable access to information and analysis from a wide variety of perspectives. No longer can a few Walter Cronkites define the news and assure us “that’s the way it is.” The most humble blogger or independent investigator can break stories the mainstream media choose to ignore. There’s nothing here for government to fix, just another industry struggling with technological change.
More importantly, there is a zero percent chance that government funding of news media would not eventually lead to government influencing the news. Somebody in government would have to decide who got the money. If that somebody was a human being, no matter how pure the intentions might be, that person would favor news outlets that treat government more favorably. Like members of the mainstream media today, they would sincerely believe that they were just promoting the more “enlightened” and “reasonable” elements in the industry. But there’s a reason that PBS and NPR, with all their quality, are editorial poodles for their sponsors and, conversely, why think tanks committed to their own independence decline government funding.
Worldwide trends are working against freedom of speech. Even progressive nations like Canada and the Netherlands have speech codes that Americans would find oppressive. Our shared understanding is that airing the widest possible range of ideas is the surest path to finding the best way.
Thomas Jefferson once again said it best, “It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”
East Valley resident Tom Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired physician and former state senator.