Future of the News

It's a frightening thought: government takeover of the media. But having tightened their grip on health care, financial services, and energy, it's only logical that the Democrats should turn their attention to the media.

Discussions underway at the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission point toward a dangerous new effort to regulate what Americans read and hear. The takeover under discussion would apply across the board to print media, radio and television, and the internet. The result of proposed regulations would be nothing less than an end to free speech in America.

Under the proposed changes, government would have the right to impose taxes on selected media (including internet service providers and internet sites) and redistribute funds to traditional liberal news media. Government could impose a fairness doctrine on the internet as well as on radio -- thus forcing conservative media to "balance" their programming by including liberal commentary. Government would also be granted a wide range of options for subsidizing liberal media, including perpetual grants of taxpayer money to left-leaning publications like the New York Times and to increase funding for "progressive" media such as National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. No wonder the Nation magazine has lavished praise on the FTC and FCC proposals: Based on its longstanding liberal bias, the Nation might qualify for a generous handout.

In its recently published "staff discussion," the FTC maintains that big-city newspapers and other traditional media (such as old-line network television) have seen their revenues declining and that, as a result, there have been "significant losses of news coverage." Since news coverage serves a "public good," it is up to the government to perpetuate these traditional media.

Nowhere in its extensive discussion does the FTC consider the possibility that old-line media are failing because they are simply out of touch with the American people. The mainstream television news outlets are clinging to a liberal ideology that is as irrelevant as Lyndon Baines Johnson, but they refuse to change. Who wants to hear Brian Williams's endless reports on "Making a Difference" when those reports routinely bash capitalism in favor of community organizing? Who wants to listen to more of the media's underhanded propaganda pieces carefully timed to support "progressive" legislation like Obamacare and cap and trade? Who wants to watch their biased exposés taking on religious leaders, big business, and the American military?

The FTC seems to believe that serious news reporting cannot exist without government subsidies. Why is it that Fox News and the Wall Street Journal have flourished while traditional networks and the New York Times have fallen off a cliff? Fox News and the Journal are doing just fine -- as are thousands of conservative websites and radio stations -- without government intervention. Government's contention that news reporting is in decline is simply preposterous: Americans are more engaged and better-informed than ever before. Perhaps that is what worries Obama's regulators.

Now Obama is out to force the public to listen to outfits like MSNBC, whether they want to or not. The FTC and FCC proposals are convoluted and numerous, but the net effect is to subsidize liberal news while taxing and restricting conservative media. This dangerous censorship is disguised as a well-intentioned program to "save the news." In fact, it is little different from the sort of limitation of free speech that is practiced in every totalitarian dictatorship.

Those who fear a government takeover of the media need only recall the name of Joseph Paul Goebbels. As Joachim C. Fest's 1973 biography of Adolf Hitler attests, it was Goebbels's manipulation of media that brought Hitler to power and secured his control over Germany right up to the end of the regime. It was Goebbels who organized the candlelight processions, mass meetings, national radio broadcasts (over the objection of independent station owners), and eventual seizure of all print and electronic media.

Like the proposals coming out of staff discussions at the FTC and FCC, Hitler's seizure of the media was carried out on the assumption that the news is a "public good." At the center of the Nazi appeal, Fest points out, was a "perverted moral energy" (Fest 391), and at every step, Hitler presented himself as a moral leader. Hitler did not impose his rule on Germany; rather, a majority of the German people willingly embraced fascism because it promised national revitalization. Following Germany's humiliating defeat in WWI and its punishment under the Versailles Treaty, Hitler portrayed national socialism as a moral imperative demanding the allegiance of every right-thinking citizen. Those who opposed his plans for "fixing" Germany were attacked as obstructionists.  

A crucial aspect of Hitler's rise to power was control of the media. During the run-up to the March 5, 1933 elections -- the last truly legitimate elections to be held until after the war -- Goebbels employed every means of propaganda to ensure Hitler's success. Mass meetings, prominently reported in the print media and dramatically broadcast on radio, were planned for maximum impact. As Fest writes: "The country was inundated with appeals, slogans, parades, displays of banners" (Fest 409). Goebbels also employed his own party newspaper -- Der Angriff ["The Attack"] -- to full effect.

I am not suggesting that Barack Obama is Adolf Hitler. I am suggesting that like Hitler -- and like Castro, Chávez, and many other radicals with grandiose ambitions -- Obama intends to exert control over the media to secure his own political power. Obama is out of touch with the public, yet determined to impose his brand of socialism on the country. To succeed in this evil and undemocratic program, he must silence his opponents. And to silence his opponents, he must control the media. Thus the process now underway at the FTC and FCC.

Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan. He has published many books and articles on American culture and politics.
It's a frightening thought: government takeover of the media. But having tightened their grip on health care, financial services, and energy, it's only logical that the Democrats should turn their attention to the media.

Discussions underway at the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission point toward a dangerous new effort to regulate what Americans read and hear. The takeover under discussion would apply across the board to print media, radio and television, and the internet. The result of proposed regulations would be nothing less than an end to free speech in America.

Under the proposed changes, government would have the right to impose taxes on selected media (including internet service providers and internet sites) and redistribute funds to traditional liberal news media. Government could impose a fairness doctrine on the internet as well as on radio -- thus forcing conservative media to "balance" their programming by including liberal commentary. Government would also be granted a wide range of options for subsidizing liberal media, including perpetual grants of taxpayer money to left-leaning publications like the New York Times and to increase funding for "progressive" media such as National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. No wonder the Nation magazine has lavished praise on the FTC and FCC proposals: Based on its longstanding liberal bias, the Nation might qualify for a generous handout.

In its recently published "staff discussion," the FTC maintains that big-city newspapers and other traditional media (such as old-line network television) have seen their revenues declining and that, as a result, there have been "significant losses of news coverage." Since news coverage serves a "public good," it is up to the government to perpetuate these traditional media.

Nowhere in its extensive discussion does the FTC consider the possibility that old-line media are failing because they are simply out of touch with the American people. The mainstream television news outlets are clinging to a liberal ideology that is as irrelevant as Lyndon Baines Johnson, but they refuse to change. Who wants to hear Brian Williams's endless reports on "Making a Difference" when those reports routinely bash capitalism in favor of community organizing? Who wants to listen to more of the media's underhanded propaganda pieces carefully timed to support "progressive" legislation like Obamacare and cap and trade? Who wants to watch their biased exposés taking on religious leaders, big business, and the American military?

The FTC seems to believe that serious news reporting cannot exist without government subsidies. Why is it that Fox News and the Wall Street Journal have flourished while traditional networks and the New York Times have fallen off a cliff? Fox News and the Journal are doing just fine -- as are thousands of conservative websites and radio stations -- without government intervention. Government's contention that news reporting is in decline is simply preposterous: Americans are more engaged and better-informed than ever before. Perhaps that is what worries Obama's regulators.

Now Obama is out to force the public to listen to outfits like MSNBC, whether they want to or not. The FTC and FCC proposals are convoluted and numerous, but the net effect is to subsidize liberal news while taxing and restricting conservative media. This dangerous censorship is disguised as a well-intentioned program to "save the news." In fact, it is little different from the sort of limitation of free speech that is practiced in every totalitarian dictatorship.

Those who fear a government takeover of the media need only recall the name of Joseph Paul Goebbels. As Joachim C. Fest's 1973 biography of Adolf Hitler attests, it was Goebbels's manipulation of media that brought Hitler to power and secured his control over Germany right up to the end of the regime. It was Goebbels who organized the candlelight processions, mass meetings, national radio broadcasts (over the objection of independent station owners), and eventual seizure of all print and electronic media.

Like the proposals coming out of staff discussions at the FTC and FCC, Hitler's seizure of the media was carried out on the assumption that the news is a "public good." At the center of the Nazi appeal, Fest points out, was a "perverted moral energy" (Fest 391), and at every step, Hitler presented himself as a moral leader. Hitler did not impose his rule on Germany; rather, a majority of the German people willingly embraced fascism because it promised national revitalization. Following Germany's humiliating defeat in WWI and its punishment under the Versailles Treaty, Hitler portrayed national socialism as a moral imperative demanding the allegiance of every right-thinking citizen. Those who opposed his plans for "fixing" Germany were attacked as obstructionists.  

A crucial aspect of Hitler's rise to power was control of the media. During the run-up to the March 5, 1933 elections -- the last truly legitimate elections to be held until after the war -- Goebbels employed every means of propaganda to ensure Hitler's success. Mass meetings, prominently reported in the print media and dramatically broadcast on radio, were planned for maximum impact. As Fest writes: "The country was inundated with appeals, slogans, parades, displays of banners" (Fest 409). Goebbels also employed his own party newspaper -- Der Angriff ["The Attack"] -- to full effect.

I am not suggesting that Barack Obama is Adolf Hitler. I am suggesting that like Hitler -- and like Castro, Chávez, and many other radicals with grandiose ambitions -- Obama intends to exert control over the media to secure his own political power. Obama is out of touch with the public, yet determined to impose his brand of socialism on the country. To succeed in this evil and undemocratic program, he must silence his opponents. And to silence his opponents, he must control the media. Thus the process now underway at the FTC and FCC.

Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan. He has published many books and articles on American culture and politics.

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