FCC Goes Left to Analyze Future of Journalism

The Obama administration is joining with some prominent members of the press to get government involved in the future of journalism. The latest effort has the FCC picking a prominent left-wing religion blogger to oversee the FCC’s investigation.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski picked Beliefnet.com president and co-founder Steven Waldman “to lead an agency-wide initiative to assess the state of media in these challenging economic times and make recommendations designed to ensure a vibrant media landscape.”

Waldman’s easy to remember. He’s the one who accused Sen. John McCain of trying to make Barack Obama appear like the Antichrist. Waldman responded to one of the McCain ads, saying, “It reenforces things that they've been hearing around the Internet, that maybe Barack Obama is, in fact, the Antichrist.”

To hear Genachowski call it, Waldman is a “a highly respected Internet entrepreneur and journalist.” He’s a bit more than that – a reliably liberal voice who will now be crafting “recommendations to meet the traditional goals of serving the public interest and making sure that all Americans receive the information, educational content, and news they seek.”

Waldman’s work has appeared in numerous lefty publications including: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, The New Republic.com and Slate. He did also do some writing for National Review Online.

He wrote 20 pieces for Huffington Post this year and several were predictably liberal – lamenting that President Bush never gave an “Excellent Speech in Cairo” to Muslims, and in another he made a “modest proposal” on gay marriage to have “religious conservatives back gay marriage while gay marriage advocates push efforts to reduce the divorce rate.” Another article criticized both the left and right on abortion, but came down squarely in the pro-choice camp. “Policies should be geared toward shifting abortions earlier in the cycle,” he wrote.

The FCC move comes at a time right after multiple new journalism reports have urged some government involvement in the media. Former Washington Post editor Len Downie, now a vice president with the paper, called for direct government funding for journalism in one such report. One of Downie’s recommendations was: “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.”

That wording is hinted at in the press release naming Waldman Senior Advisor to the Office of Strategic Planning. “[B]oth the Knight report and a recent study from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism called for a full reassessment of the media marketplace both inside and outside of government, including at the FCC.”

Waldman already admitted he sees a role for government and presumably the FCC on this issue, saying “most solutions will come from the private and nonprofit sectors. But government rules already affect the media landscape in profound ways so it’s imperative that we both vigorously protect the First Amendment and determine which media policies make sense, which don’t.”   

Variety pointed out some potential problems with FCC involvement with journalism in its Oct. 28 piece on the Waldman announcement. “The process is sure to raise some eyebrows about a government agency making recommendations on the practices of private businesses. Genachowski cited the extraordinary circumstances at a time when the growth of digital media is threatening the financial underpinnings of traditional newsgathering orgs.”


 Like this article? Sign up for “The Balance Sheet,” BMI’s weekly e-mail newsletter.