The Press is a Failed Institution
by Chris Bowers, Fri Jun 11, 2004 at 11:52:12 AM EDT
For years, if not decades, wingers have complained about "the liberal news media bias." In fact, as I demonstrated in a previous post, complaints about the media are actually the most frequent topic of discussion on the biggest conservative blogs. While I disagree with the notion that "the media" slants left, it is obvious that conservatives, moderates and liberals alike are, by and large, disgusted with mainstream news reporting and journalism in this country. If you need proof, look no further than the recent Pew study on this topic.
The problem conservatives have when making complaints about the media is that they are unable to identify the source of the problem the same way Howard Dean can. Almost all Americans value the ideal of objective, responsible, "fair and balanced" journalism, even if we have different ideas about what that sort of news reporting would look like. In a very real way, the vast majority of the country views the news as a public trust that should seek truth and objectivity over ratings and partisanship. However, as Dean points out, the news media in this country is not a public trust. Instead, it is a privately owned, for-profit, plutocratic enterprise that excludes the public from any significant role in its production.
We want the news media to be a public trust, but because the news media operates in the private sector, it cannot be a public trust. It is impossible for conservatives to make this complaint about the media, because of the degree to which they value arch-capitalistic, unregulated markets. For them, the private sector can do no wrong, and so instead conservatives are forced to blame their disgust with the news media on a conspiratorial, all-encompassing, liberal elite.
I find this contradiction reminiscent of the fundamental flaw of the Christian right. On the one hand, they seek a morally upstanding, uniform and, above all, restrained society. On the other hand, they promote a form of radically deregulated capitalism that not only has no interest to encourage people to act in a restrained fashion, but actively promotes that people do not do so. Further, capitalists will market products to any variant lifestyle that has money to burn. Why is pornography an eleven-digit industry? There are a few reasons, but the most obvious one is that because people want to buy it and, in an unregulated environment, many other people will be perfectly free and eager to sell it to them. If Christian conservatives really wanted to make a dent in the pornography industry, they will need to heavily regulate and tax it, actions fundamentally at odds with their economic outlook.
The same goes for the news media. Conservatives can complain about it all they want, but if they really want to fix the problem they will need to at least somewhat take it out of the private sector (or, at the very least, increase regulation in part of the private sector). If the news media is going to regain the public trust, then it must, to at least some degree, be a place where the public can participate in its production. If private news media is going to regain trust, then it must be forced to compete with a well-funded, independent, public-sector, not-for profit branch of the news media solely interesting in "objectivity," such as the BBC in Britain. If the private news media is going to be a vibrant and diverse institution that represents all the varying viewpoints of "objective" news reporting, than the huge media giants must be broken into smaller pieces and not allowed to re-merge into conglomerates. In other words, it will be necessary for conservatives to take much reviled "liberal" economic measures in order to fix the "liberal media bias" about which they complain so vociferously. This is because, as Howard Dean put it, "the press in general is a failed institution in this country," and you cannot fix something that it broken by using the same free-market techniques that ruined it.
Of course, conservatives will not recognize this, because surely a conspiratorial clique from Central Park West is at the source of their problems, rather than broad, underlying economic structures.