A Free Press: Run By The Government

by | Jul 21, 2010 | POLITICS

Our only hope for saving America from accelerating tyranny is freedom of speech. In the light of that, it was frightening to read an opinion piece in the July 14th edition of the Wall St. Journal. Its author is Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University, home of the prestigious Columbia School of Journalism. The […]

Our only hope for saving America from accelerating tyranny is freedom of speech. In the light of that, it was frightening to read an opinion piece in the July 14th edition of the Wall St. Journal. Its author is Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University, home of the prestigious Columbia School of Journalism. The article called for virtual ownership of the media, under guise of subsidies for newspapers, television stations, etc. His premise? Society’s need.

“Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens.”

Deprive us of information? How? By not taxing us to give it to us. This is the same way that sick people are “deprived” of medical care they can’t afford (or don’t wish to insure themselves for), the way that Ford “deprives” poor people of Fords, and Rearden “deprived” people of the use of Rearden Metal. It’s small potatoes, but someone should point out that the woes of the mainstream media are due to competition from non-mainstream media. People find non-mainstream media “deprives” them less of “the essential information they need as citizens.” What Bollinger really means is: “We have to give tax money to CBS to help fight Rush Limbaugh and FoxNews.”

Believe it or not, Bollinger’s models of what government subsidies to (i.e., partial ownership of) the media can bring us are Al Jazeera and China’s state-controlled media:

“other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera.”

For epistemological smoke and mirrors, consider this paragraph:

“American journalism is not just the product of the free market, but of a hybrid system of private enterprise and public support. By the middle of the last century, daily newspapers were becoming natural monopolies in cities and communities across the country.”

1. A free press is not a right because . . . well, because we’ve violated that right already. The free market did not produce American journalism because . . . well, because we’ve violated the free market for the last generation or two.

2. “Natural monopolies”–here a false economic doctrine is used as the entering wedge against the right of free speech.

Bad economists use the term “natural monopoly” to obliterate the crucial distinction between a market in which a single-seller has arisen through the free choices of everyone involved and a market in which a single- seller is protected from competition by initiated governmental coercion. How convenient for Mr. Bollinger that this package-deal has already been put across. That enables him to say: Worries about government monopolization of the media are unfounded–we’ve long had media monopolies of one form or another.

 One shocking side issue is the ease with which he lays out the proper alternative:

“it would have been entirely possible to limit government involvement simply to auctioning off the airwaves and letting the market dictate the news.”

Apparently, the unthinkable is thinkable, if it is to be rejected. Here the grounds of the rejection are an Appeal to Authority: a 1969 Supreme Court decision. He adds to that an Appeal to Ignorance:

“Trusting the market alone to provide all the news coverage we need would mean venturing into the unknown–a risky proposition with a vital public institution hanging in the balance.”

In other words, we can’t risk leaving people free. We have to rule them. After all, TV is a “vital public institution.” Unlike what? Medicine? Transportation? The food industry? Perhaps “society” could take the risk of recognizing inalienable rights if it’s the right to make and sell hula-hoops. But if it’s anything important, the government must control it.

To show us how swell things would be under state control of the media, he offers this:

“There are examples of other institutions in the U.S. where state support does not translate into official control. The most compelling are our public universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of dollars annually for research.”

One word: Climategate.

Sealing the deal is the Appeal to Pragmatism:

“We should think about American journalism as a mixed system, where the mission is to get the balance right.”

Don’t talk to him about rights, about the constitution, about principles; the issue is getting the balance right. Balance of what with what? Blank out. “Right”–by what standard? Blank out.

It’s grimly appropriate that the Appeal to Pragmatism should come from the president of the University that was home to John Dewey.

The Wall St. Journal, a private, for-profit enterprise, published this call for the government take-over of newspapers and broadcasters. Does anyone think that state-controlled media would publish a call for their privatization?

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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