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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Obama's Great Airwave Robbery

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has been making noises again about the inadequacies of American Journalism, and the need for a "public value test" to save it from "its hour of grave peril." This follows the same line taken by self-appointed critics of cable news like Jon Stewart. But if Stewart mocks cable news, Copps is playing with fire by hinting at using government regulation to control the content of what news organizations broadcast.

It is likely that over the next ten years, the network news will cease to exist entirely. CNN is going through the stages of a prolonged death spiral. Local affiliates are cutting back on TV news. Copps' public comments on the BBC indicate that he will pressure television stations to run news programs. According to Copps, the stations use airwaves that belong to the American people and are therefore obligated to serve the public interest.

But the television stations are already serving the interests of the American people by broadcasting the programming that they want to see. The reason that television stations are cutting back on the news, is because it's unprofitable. If the American people really wanted their airwaves to be used for more news, then that wouldn't be the case. In a free country, the public's interest determines what they want to see. But in a nanny state, bureaucrats like Copps determine what is in the public's interest.

And how does he make that determination?

“What we’ve had in recent years is an aberration where we have had no oversight of the media. For years and years we had some public interest guidelines that was part of the quid pro quo between broadcasters and the government for the free use of airwaves that belong to the American people and in return for that free use, and the ability to make a lot of money, they agreed to serve the public interest and that public interest to me right now is crying ‘news and information, news and information, news and information.’“

Here we have the gap between the public's interest and the public interest. The public's interest is determined by its viewing habits. But the public interest is determined by bureaucrats like Copps, (who incidentally takes a lot of money from the American taxpayer to do it), who goes not by what the public wants-- but what he decides it needs. Where the public's interest is democratic, Copps' 'public interest' is a construct that really means his own whim and will. The will of an unelected official who believes there's an urgent need to force local stations to broadcast propaganda to help his party's messaging. And if they refuse to do it, their licenses will be taken away and given to stations that will. But is Copps really serving the public interest, or his own?

That in a nutshell is why we don't have a free country, because in a showdown between democracy and bureaucracy-- bureaucrats like Copps always win.

Throughout his career Copps has positioned himself as the protector of the institution of journalism. But is journalism really a public institution or a career. To cast journalism as a public institution is to argue that if not for it, the public would be hopelessly ignorant, That progressive focus on manufacturing an "enlightened public" demands government subsidized institutions of propaganda. And without such institutions, normal Americans are presumed to be unable to participate in the political process. Not until they've added the right amount of government prescribed news and information to their diet.

While liberals reject any poll tax or tests as discriminatory, their view of the electorate is just as elitist. Their poll tests are invisibly rolled into the media prepping the public on what their rulers think they need to know in order to make the approved decision. The poll taxes are rolled into the part of your tax bill that subsidizes PBS, NPR and every government funded informational campaign. But all that is still not enough, because in a free market they're still losing.

The Campaign to Save Real Journalism has been touched off by the success of FOX News and conservative talk radio. If CNN and MSNBC had the dominant market share, and half the country tuned in every day to NPR's slow paced drivel-- then there would be no journalism crisis. If Obama's approval ratings were high and his policies had widespread support, then there would be no need for a white liberal knight to ride in on his trusty steed of confiscatory taxation to save journalism. The assumption would be that journalism is doing just fine.

Saving "journalism" is an extension of that failure of messaging nonsense that Obama's supporters keep going on about. In their world, Obama's policies haven't failed. The public has just been brainwashed into not liking them. Or him. The solution is more and heftier brainwashing at taxpayer expense. And censorship of opposition media outlets. Because you can't win, if you don't ban the other team from playing first. But why ban them all, unless they believe that the public can be spun around the fingers of men like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. And that attitude betrays a great deal of contempt for the American people.

The readers of the Sunday New York Times who view FOX News as a bogeyman that is undoing all of Obama's good work while keeping a vast population in thrall to its rhetoric, are all too sympathetic to such an inherently elitist notion. But the Campaign to Save Real Journalism runs smack dab into the question of why journalism is endangered at all. And if it's because the public is 'stupid', then will anything short of completely banning opposition media outlets save the day?

Liberals rarely like to ask such market oriented questions, or ponder why NPR is floundering while right wing talk radio continues to prosper. Or why CNN and MSNBC are losing to FOX News. To the extent that they consider the question at all, they conclude that the market rewards the lowest common denominator, while government must hold up a higher standard. And the inherent elitism in that worldview makes it all too clear why they fail. Because they don't care what the public thinks.

The same people who love to make movies about populist underdogs, don't actually like the public very much. Rather than reflecting its values, they try to impose their own on it. And when they entirely control an entire field, and still lose, then they call in the regulators to protect their ideological monopoly.

FOX News is a free enterprise response to a marketplace with only one option. For viewers, the choice is not between FOX News and Objective Journalism, it's between FOX News and a parade of liberal talking points on CNN or MSNBC. FOX News is not immune from broadcasting those same talking points, and does so, but much less so than the mainstream media club. That already makes FOX News more balanced than every other news network and network newscast. FOX News is not popular because people are forced to watch or denied other options. It is the winner in a fair fight in the marketplace against the formerly dominant CNN.

If the future of journalism is defined as a choice between democracy and journalism, then its defenders will have to wage war on the public, in order to defend their ideological paradigm. But if journalism can only be saved by imposing it on the public, then what difference will there be between the practitioners of such journalism, and the broadcasters of other state run media in China, Turkey or Russia? Once you treat news as something that must be imposed, rather than reported, then you have crossed the line between distribution of information and coercion.

It is notable that the "free airwaves" that Copps insist on controlling are on the decline. More Americans are choosing to pay for cable and satellite radio, rather watch the free television and free radio that the FCC oversees. Already declining and overregulated, Copps would like to turn what's left of free television and radio into propaganda outlets for his party's agenda. It's not random chance that he made his comments on the BBC. An American version of the BBC, with its huge budget and 800 pound gorilla presence in news coverage, would be ideal for the Obama Administration's messaging problem. Or so they think.

The Obama Administration collaborated with the media to turn journalism into a farce by essentially outsourcing its campaign to the press, turning an already biased media into nothing more than purveyors of White House talking points. A frustrated public began looking around for alternatives. And they found them. Because even many registered Democrats who voted Obama want another point of view sometimes. Rather than getting the same material reworked by the outlet of your choice. Copps can use the FCC to intimidate stations into airing programming that they don't want and can't afford. But he can't make people watch it. And until the day that he can roll out 1984 style sets that, as Yakov Smirnoff joked about Russia, "watch you", then all he's done is pass on the cost of programming no one wants to already financially overburdened businesses. And Obama's Great Airwave Robbery will hit static.


  1. Oversight of the media!!
    State controlled propaganda is what he means. But, we do have that for the most part today. :D

  2. Anonymous5/12/10

    A stone's throw from McCarthyism.

  3. Anonymous5/12/10

    I'm torn here. Copps' position is a legacy of the Communism of the New Deal, which proclaimed the airwaves belonged to the people. If only the Republicans would abolish that nonsense. Yet... the primary effect of Copps' regulation which be to further diminish the importance of broadcasting, leaving the "airwaves" free to be just another Internet medium. That would be a far superior use of the spectrum.

  4. That was my comment about McCarthyism. I really do see i coming down the road.

    And again, I can envision Obama or an Obamaite installing giant flat screen TVs in factories and public places like the Jumbotran or whatever it is in Times Square to get his message out.

    (Read 1984 and have seen Citizen Kane too many times)

  5. we saw enough of him bullying his way onto the air in the first two years



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