If Government Is So Good, Let It Fix Journalism

     No matter how much conservatives might resist, some issues seem to call for federal intervention.

     Imagine something so important that threats to a particular industry are endangering our children’s future. One scary multibillion-dollar cabal of companies has huge influence in Washington, and its ads tell you what products to use every day. The firms involved typically report double-digit profits, a favorite complaint of anti-business types.

     I’m talking about health care, right?

     Wrong. I’m talking about the media. After all, if the journalistic prescription for nationalized health insurance is such a good idea, then why not apply the same remedy to the many ills of the news business?

     The founding fathers considered journalism important enough to protect freedom of the press in the First Amendment. It’s the linchpin of democracy and enables children and adults to learn what’s going on in the world. So it would seem logical that journalists who so openly support nationalized health care would support nationalized news.

     The parallels are obvious. “Private Medicare Advantage offers as many as 50 different plans, causing untold confusion over coverage, premiums, copays, provider networks,” warned CBS investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian back in July.

     The media landscape is far more cluttered than just 50 plans. We can get news from thousands of daily and weekly newspapers around the nation; three broadcast networks, three major cable outlets, tons of smaller news shows, the Internet, newsletters, talk radio and more. Many people download news to their iPods or, sadly, try to glean information from “The Daily Show.” Imagine how confusing that must be.

     The media attitude about government shows up particularly when Hillary Clinton talks health care. The September 17 issue of Newsweek previewed the latest version of Hillarycare by telling readers socialized medicine isn’t all that bad.

     “Her health-care plan, which will be announced in the coming weeks, is expected to be bold, but hardly radical,” declared Jonathan Darman. Government control isn’t radical to Newsweek.

     This week, the Society of Professional Journalists meets in Washington, the land of ever-bigger government. The annual conference comes at a time when news veterans publicly fear for the economic future of their industry – described as “undeniably bleak” by the September/October Columbia Journalism Review.

     Things are so bad that CJR convened a recent “panel of top editors and a media investor” to look at the future of newspapers. Unsurprisingly, some on the panel actually talked about government intervention in the media. “To survive, journalism and journalists need to let go of their aversion to Uncle Sam,” wrote Bree Nordenson in a CJR story dubbed “The Uncle Sam solution.”

     Nordenson further claimed that the whole essence of journalism conflicts with making money “because commercially funded media cannot pursue economic self-interest without harming their public-service roles.” That leaves it up to government to fill the void.

     Given that attitude, it’s no wonder that CBS’s Russ Mitchell described a $35-billion health insurance increase by saying “Congress is working to put a dent in the health care crisis.” That was Mitchell’s description of the battle over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – a fight between Bush’s proposed $5-billion increase and a liberal increase seven times higher.

     The news media depict Bush and his supporters as anti-child. The October 1 Christian Science Monitor said Republicans don’t want to have to explain “a vote against health care for poor children.” The Monitor seems to forget that the left-wing expansion of the program would give welfare to families earning up to $83,000 a year.

     Journalists act like government solutions are the cure to every industry disease. That is until you look closer at how they view government intervention in their own industry.

     Nordenson seemed surprised that Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, dismissed her solution to the typical media business model. “I'm not a big fan of government support” for the media, he said. When Nordenson pressed and wanted to put the idea “on the table,” he responded more strongly. “Well, I'd take it off the table.”

     I agree completely. The last thing a free press needs is government intervention through funding, control or the return of the mislabeled “Fairness Doctrine.” But if government is a bad idea for something so important to the health of the United States, how can journalists rationalize that we need government to provide health insurance for every one of its residents?

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and director of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.