Print Media: Next Government Bailout?

For decades, news arrived on America’s doorsteps with a thump. An ad-heavy mountain of newsprint alerted rich and poor to the important events in their world. Technology changed all that – first radio, then TV, then the Internet. The only thump many newspapers make now is in closing their doors forever. Reporters and editors fear for their jobs and even their profession.

The left is trying to turn that fear into opportunity to inject government into journalism in a way never before seen in the United States. A look at Britain’s BBC shows how biased and left-wing state media can become with enough funding. Here at home, the droning bias of PBS or NPR is our taste of government-funded journalism – and that’s with only $420 million in federal backing. Some on the left are calling for at least $30 billion a year to bailout the news media.

It’s hard to ignore such an outlandish plan given the current state of the media. Newspapers have lost more than 40,000 jobs in just a few years and the economic downturn has chased away countless advertisers. Seven different newspaper chains have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy including the Tribune Co., which owns two of the most prominent papers in the country – The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. The news media are entering an uncertain world where some journalists are open to government control.

Len Downie, the former executive editor of The Washington Post and now a vice president with that organization, is one of the leading voices for a bailout. An October report he co-authored about the future of the news industry offered government aid as one of its solutions. “A national Fund for Local News should be created with fees the Federal Communications Commission collects from or could impose on telecom users, broadcast licensees or Internet service providers,” he wrote in an opinion piece that ran in the Post.

Note that Downie was pushing for the FCC to get involved in journalism. He might just be getting his wish. In the past year, both houses of Congress, the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission have all held hearings or workshops about the future of journalism.

Some of the regular faces at these events belong to a group ironically named Free Press. One of the founders of the George Soros-funded organization was Robert McChesney, a strident lefty who wants to “save” journalism. McChesney, who previously edited what his own Web site calls an “independent socialist magazine,” just came out with a new book called “The Death and Life of American Journalism.”

The book, which he co-wrote with John Nichols of the liberal magazine The Nation, is part of McChesney’s push for more government involvement in the media. He and Nichols have been on a tour calling for government aid and claiming it justified by historic government postal subsidies for the press.

But all this media advocacy hides what McChesney and his organization really want – liberal control of the media. He even defended Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez’s attacks on the media in that country. According to McChesney, American journalists are “wrong” about Chavez being a “strongman,” and his attacks on the media are justified. McChesney blamed U.S. news outlets for being “far too willing to carry water for Washington than to ascertain and report the truth of the matter.”

This is the Chavez who commits human rights violations. This is the Chavez who called for government control of the Internet claiming, “the Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done.” This is the Chavez who, wrote The Washington Post, “has done away with judicial independence, intimidated or eliminated opposition media, stripped elected opposition leaders of their powers, and used bogus criminal charges to silence human rights groups.”

Yet wherever the traditional media are planning the future of news, you can expect to find Free Press. At a recent session, McChesney and Nichols shared the stage with Iván Román, the head of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Last year, a journalism planning session at the Aspen Institute was filled with top media and government names like Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post, and Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. They worked hand-in-hand with big name liberals and left wing organizations, including Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NPR, Salon, Google, ProPublica, American Public Media and, of course, Free Press.

The result? Aspen and the Knight Commission came out Oct. 2 with a follow-up report that recommended increased “support for public service media aimed at meeting community information needs” and made the push for “nationwide broadband availability.”

This week, the FCC releases its National Broadband Plan – a chance for government to spend untold billions of dollars intervening in the way people get news and information. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski laid out the plan in the March 14 Washington Post. On March 16, the FCC will try to create yet another new national mandate, claiming “every American should have access to all essential broadband services at home.”

Genachowski doesn’t so much envision a 28th Amendment. No, liberals will try to ram this new guarantee through with regulation. The proposed cost – up to $350 billion – could devastate an already strained budget.

It could also give the government easy access to yet another part of the U.S. economy and a way into every home in the nation. Look at Wall Street, where government bailouts became takeovers, or Detroit, where all of us now own a stake in the auto industry, and where Obama forced out GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner. The White House also gave majority ownership in Chrysler (55 percent) to the UAW. It’s terrifying to imagine any president with that kind of raw power over the media.

Yet, on Sept. 20, President Obama threw his support behind a news bailout, saying: “I’ll be happy to look at” bills aiding the industry. That fits the Obama mindset, who said in a Sept. 22 interview that big government wasn’t the problem with Wall Street. “We had too little government, too little regulation,” he explained.

We certainly don’t have “too little government” thanks to Obama. In just over a year, we’ve seen dramatic growth in the size and power of government. Next up, the 1st Amendment and whether we want the real free press to become more like the Soviet Union’s old propaganda papers – Izvestia and Pravda.