Another Step toward Totalitarianism?
Among its other virtues, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press. A series of Supreme Court decisions, probably beginning with Near v. Minnesota 283 U.S. 697 (1931), which was the precedent for the famous “Pentagon Papers” case (New York Times Co. v. United States [403 U.S. 713 (1971)]), upheld freedom of the press by striking down any government attempt to impose prior restraint and/or censorship. Other SCOTUS decisions during the 20th century consistently buttressed the notion of a free press, which is essential for a free polity.
Once-upon-a-time, it was assumed that the press’ “ink-stained wretches,” along with those toiling for electronic media outlets, would rise up in righteous indignation to oppose any attempt by government and/or non-governmental entities to restrict press freedoms.
Things seem to be changing. Shortly after Reporters Without Borders released its 2014 report showing that the U.S. ranks 46th among the world’s nations in freedom of the press, down 13 spots from 2012, there are new revelations that the Federal Communications Commission had authorized a study that bodes ill for press freedom.
If implemented, that study would mean the U.S. had taken another long step toward totalitarianism. (Totalitarian regimes always seek to control the mass media.)
Moreover, the silence coming from most mainstream media (MSM) outlets about the FCC’s plans is very disturbing.
If implemented, the FCC -- which has the power to issue licenses that radio and television outlets need to remain in business -- would install “researchers” -- Greta van Susteren called them “spies” -- in print and electronic news outlets’ newsrooms, and empower them to ask questions about the outlet’s news philosophy and other facets of its approach to covering the news.
Even without statutory authority, the FCC sought to extend its investigatory powers into newspapers’ pressrooms.
Apparently, the FCC project, which was to be a multi-market study of “Critical Information Needs,” dates back to May, 2013. The project was to begin with a pilot study conducted in South Carolina this spring.
It appears that the FCC’s study was designed at two journalism schools, the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Communication and Democracy, both of which receive sizable donations from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
(Although Soros and his minions are not directly implicated in this serious assault on freedom of the press, one may legitimately wonder how much the atmosphere created by Soros’ money at those J-schools carries over into their faculty’s endeavors.)
Some may wonder what purpose an essay such as this serves. After all, the FCC has cancelled the study following protests by Republican FCC Commissioners, GOP legislators in Washington and in the states, and right-leaning media groups. Right?
Wrong. Read carefully the announcement by FCC spokesperson Shannon Gilson and Chairman Tom Wheeler, who acknowledged only that the study is “on hold.” Gilson and Wheeler stated that the FCC acted because critics alleged that “some of the study’s proposed questions for reporters and news directors ‘overstepped the bounds of what is required.’” The announcement indicated that the pilot study in South Carolina “will now be shelved, at least until a ‘new study design’ is finalized” (my italics).
Borrowing from a line uttered by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first “Terminator” movie, the FCC’s study “will be back.”
Absent specific admission by the FCC of the study’s intent, one is left asking “What’s going on here? What did the FCC, and by extension the Obama Administration, want to achieve?”
A moment’s reflection suggests at least two possibilities, neither reassuring. (Readers may think of others.)
First, along with other aims, the study was intended to identify segments of society who are currently “under-served” by prevailing media ownership patterns and news philosophies. I don’t know which “under-served” societal elements the FCC (and Obama Administration) had in mind, but, based on what I know about the latter in particular, I assume the aim was to grant increased access to, and ownership of, the print and electronic news media by racial and ethnic minorities. (Given the MSM’s pattern of pro-LGBT biases, and the “chattering classes’” bigotry on behalf of non-heterosexual orientations, one is hard-pressed to think the FCC’s news bias study was aimed in that direction.)
The biggest hindrance to ownership of media outlets is lack of money. (It doesn’t always take huge sums even to do that. Remember when Newsweek could have been purchased for one dollar? [There were strings attached, of course, but let that ride.]) Assuming that going media outlets, when on sale, require large sums of cash, or at least credit, if the goal were to “diversify” ownership by bringing in racial and/or ethnic minorities, why not get Left-wing foundations like those Soros endows to spring for the boodle?
A second possible reason why the FCC sought to limit a free press is an effort to slip “the Fairness Doctrine” -- possibly one of the most misnamed practices of the 20th century -- in through the back door. Enacted by Congress in 1949, repealed under Ronald Reagan in 1987, and stricken from the books in 2011, the “Fairness Doctrine” required electronic media outlets -- in those days, the FCC did not try to regulate print media -- to air opposing views on all controversial issues. In practice, at least according to conservatives, the “Fairness Doctrine” retarded the expression of right-leaning perspectives.
Observers have viewed the FCC’s proposed study as an attempt to revive the “Fairness Doctrine,” the ultimate goal being to “cleanse” the airwaves of conservative and libertarian ideas and spokespersons. Given Democrats’ abortive attempt to revive the “Fairness Doctrine” in 2009, the notion that the FCC’s latest ploy was aimed at doing just that is not that far-fetched.
I can’t say with certainty what the goal was (and may still be). Barack Obama’s increasing totalitarianism, along with other actions by Left-wing Democrats, such as Harry Reid’s move to curtail the filibuster in the Senate, suggest the conclusion that, whatever the goal was, the FCC’s media bias study would have been one more long step toward totalitarianism in America.
Even so, the most alarming aspect of this imbroglio is the silence coming from most MSM outlets. One can’t help but wonder why print and electronic journalists toiling for the MSM have not loudly and visibly protested this clear threat to their independence.
Do MSM denizens, who are over-whelmingly Leftists, think the FCC had targeted only conservative or libertarian media? Don’t they know Pastor Niemӧller’s story? (He kept quiet about Nazi atrocities until it was too late.) Don’t they know that history shows, again and again, that totalitarians -- call them Fascists, Nazis, Communists, whatever -- invariably eliminate press freedoms?
American conservatives and libertarians have to wage a two-front war. They must oppose government tyranny. They will also have to combat the MSM’s Left-wing bias.
They’re doing both, of course, but unless conservatives and libertarians emerge victorious on both fronts, America’s future will be bleak.