Will Obama Bail Out Gray Ladies of the Press?

I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.

Those were President Obama’s words in an interview with editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Toledo Blade. The President was explaining his openness to a federal bailout of struggling big-city daily newspapers. For that reason, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) have introduced S. 673, their so-called “Newspaper Revitalization Act.”

These two very liberal senators should have acted even sooner. They should have sponsored the Manual Typewriter Preservation Act. You see, the computer revolution put great pressure on Royal, Underwood, and Olivetti. Those companies represented thousands of jobs. We can’t just let the free market run rampant. Save typewriter ribbons! Save white-out! Save carbon paper! There’s no telling how much damage these new-fangled computers might do.

The President is concerned that the Internet will not provide the kind of fact-checking and balance that was once provided for us by, say, the New York Times. Remember Jason Blair? In firing the 27-year old reporter, the Gray Lady had to confess: “[He] committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

Or what about the care taken by Dan Rather of CBS News? Shall we recall Rather’s careful fact-checking in 2004 of the letters purportedly written by 1/Lt. George W. Bush’s commanding officer in 1972 and 1973? Those letters, it was quickly revealed, were typed in a Microsoft Word computer typeface. This was most interesting, since Word hadn’t even been invented in 1973.

It was the blogosphere that provided the fact-checking that exposed Dan Rather’s trafficking in clearly demonstrated forgeries. It was intrepid bloggers who put a stop to Dan Rather’s long-running career in gonzo journalism.

Dan Rather was typical of the liberal journalists who reigned unchallenged on the airwaves for decades until Ronald Reagan’s FCC appointees in 1987 abolished the so-called Fairness Doctrine. I’d prefer to call it the Furnace Doctrine, since that’s where it consigned our First Amendment guarantees of free speech and free press. After that, radio talkers rose up to challenge the liberal media’s monopoly. The Internet quickly followed. Then, along came FOX.

Obviously, President Obama would prefer town hall meetings where 9-year olds read scripted questions. Real town hall meetings do sometimes get rowdy. So do tea parties.

And so does a truly free press.

If someone today alleges that some of the 53 government bureaucracies to be established by ObamaCare are “death panels,” there are many voices prepared to debate that, voices left and right. Isn’t this vigorous debate preferable for a free people to federal government bailouts? These newspapers are declining because their readers have either fled their decaying cities or have opted instead for Internet sites and talk radio.

Presidents have historically been unhappy with negative coverage in the press. President George Washington was enraged by “that rascal Freneau,” a caustic anti-Washington propagandist who was secretly on the payroll of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. John Adams actually had opposition editors imprisoned under the Alien & Sedition Acts. Lincoln closed down a number of newspapers he charged were inciting rebellion. In modern times, JFK famously threw across the Oval Office a crumpled up editorial page of the Herald Tribune.

But none of these Presidents past actually tried to bail out failing newspapers. They had too much respect for a free press, free markets and the free exchange of ideas, and for the American people, whose resources should not be employed by the federal government to prop-up industries that, due to innovation and creativity of our fellow citizens, are less and less needed as means of communication.

We don’t need another industry bailout. If we bail out failing newspapers, what’s next, a government bailout of MSNBC? This bailout would result inevitably in a government-controlled press. We don’t need President Obama to issue us our “mutual understandings.”

You may have noticed: I wrote this without capital letters and without exclamation points. See? No shouting at all.

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