The headline should read: “400,000 of U.S. aren’t reading this.” That’s the true story of the latest newspaper cataclysm as USA Today is about to report a loss of 398,000 readers in just one year.
It’s only the latest bad news headline for an industry that thrives on the bad news of others. The state of journalism is so bad now that it threatens both ordinary taxpayers and even the very concept of a free and independent press.
The left and dozens of prominent journalists are seizing the collapse of newspapers as a chance to destroy the imperfect separation between government and media. In several congressional hearings and in meetings around the country, members of both groups have urged government to “aid” journalism – through regulations, tax breaks or direct funding. One left-wing proposal would have us spend $60 billion for a “bridge” to the future of news. Journalism’s Knight Foundation just issued a report calling for universal broadband connectivity as one way to boost the media. Though they failed to mention it, that would cost somewhere between $20 billion and $350 billion.
Naturally, the Obama administration has given this new government overreach tacit approval. On Sept. 20, President Obama said he’d “be happy to look at” bills aiding the news industry. Right now, both houses of Congress, the FCC and Federal Trade Commission are all considering how to save journalism from itself and the 1st Amendment.
But as we saw this year, once government gets its claws into an industry, it takes over the same way Germany took over Poland. When Obama bailed out Detroit, he forced out GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner. The White House then gave majority ownership in Chrysler (55 percent) to its union buddies in the UAW. Wall Street fell victim to a similar seizure with overnight government regulation, intimidation and even salary controls.
That level of control is far too much given this administration’s cozy relations with some media and outright war with others. Obama has already aided allies at GE, parent company of NBC, CNBC and the uber-lefty/loony network MSNBC. At the same time, his team has taken a war posture with Fox News. White House Communications Director Anita Dunn fired the latest shot at Fox in an interview on competitor CNN. Fox, she said, was almost part of the GOP. “But let’s not pretend that they’re a news network the way CNN is,” she added.
Thankfully, well-meaning lefties and journalists aren’t trying to give Obama that power. They just want to give government that power. One Soros-funded group called, ironically, Free Press, is pushing Congress to come up with a “national journalism plan.” Clearly they read a different Constitution than the rest of us. The idea that “Congress shall make no law” is anathema to them.
Liberals and many in the failing news business are quick to remind everyone that Congress has provided postal subsidies and such to the news industry before, so that makes an expanded media role OK. It must be OK when governments intrude into the news and produce joke propaganda papers like the old Soviet Union’s Izvestia or Pravda. Even Britain’s world-renown BBC was criticized internally for its own liberal biases.
Apart from newspapers, the big government media lobby wants to beef up “existing infrastructure.” You know, those 780 radio stations already controlled by public media. Throw several billion dollars on top of that and you can create what FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps called “PBSS – Public Broadcasting System on Steroids.”
Sure, it wouldn’t be a newspaper. But it would keep journalists employed, and it would be local and liberal journalism funded by your tax dollars and indoctrinating America just like NPR and PBS currently do.
This battle for the future of journalism is going on right now behind open and closed doors in news rooms, board rooms and D.C. hearing rooms. It’s a one-sided – the media are fighting themselves. Few conservatives are even aware enough to ensure the news media doesn’t get co-opted by groups claiming the name and not the intention to protect a free press.
This isn’t a liberal conspiracy. It doesn’t have to be. We are slated to give $420 million in the 2010 budget to public media. Lefties and desperate journalists want a 4,700 percent increase or more. If we followed the BBC tax model, we’d spend $24 billion a year on government media.
They want an institutionalized media unswayed by market forces, conservative criticism or lack of funding. They desperately want a newspaper bailout – so they can control the so-called fourth branch of government. And they want to do it with your tax dollars.
There’s a saying about no news being good news. In this case, no news bailout would be good news.
Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum and he can be seen on Foxnews.com’s “Strategy Room.” He can also be contacted on FaceBook and Twitter as dangainor.