A socialist-oriented “media reform” group with ties to the Obama Administration is calling for new federal programs and the spending of tens of billions of dollars to keep journalists employed at liberal media outlets and to put them to work in new “public media.”
The group, which calls itself Free Press, is urging “an alternative media infrastructure, one that is insulated from the commercial pressures that brought us to our current crisis.”
However, Free Press didn’t say one word about the well-documented liberal bias that has contributed to the decline in readers and viewers for traditional media outlets and has enabled the rise of the Fox News Channel, conservative talk radio, and the Internet. Instead, Josh Silver of the Free Press attacked the “bellowing ideologues” on the air and declared that “The entire dial is empty of local news in many communities.”
This was a tip-off that, in order to take conservative radio hosts off the air, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be flooded with complaints that “local news” has been shortchanged by stations airing conservative personalities with national programs such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Michael Savage.
Free Press, whose June 2008 “media reform” conference in Minneapolis turned into a virtual Obama for President campaign rally, is in a position to provide those complaints to the FCC. It claims nearly half-a-million supporters and a staff of 30, mostly in Washington, D.C.
As part of the proposed new “media infrastructure,” Free Press is calling for a $50 billion “Public Media Trust Fund” to underwrite the creation of new jobs for journalists and the use of the existing federal AmeriCorps program “to include journalistic activities as part of its mission” in the form of “journalism positions” and “journalism projects.” AmeriCorps is a federally-funded national and community service agency.
The group is also urging a direct federal bailout of liberal media institutions, declaring that “The Department of Labor could design a program aimed at keeping reporters employed at existing news organizations or at new outlets.” Free Press explains, “If the government were to subsidize 5,000 reporters at $50,000 per year, the cost would be $250 million annually, a relatively modest sum given the billions coming out of Washington.”
In addition to the $50-billion “Public Media Trust Fund,” another one of the proposals from the Free Press group is a $50-million “government-seeded innovation fund for journalism,” described by Craig Aaron of Free Press as “a taxpayer-supported venture capital firm that invests in new journalism models.”
None Dare Call it Socialism
The socialist nature of the proposals should not be surprising. Aaron is one of two Free Press staffers who have been employed by the socialist magazine In These Times and previously worked at Ralph Nader’s Congress Watch. The group’s policy director, Ben Scott, has been an aide to Senator Bernie Sanders, an openly declared socialist who has criticized the media for covering both sides of the global warming debate. Another Free Press staffer was an activist with Planned Parenthood.
All of the controversial recommendations, which are certain to find a sympathetic ear in the Obama Administration, are included in the new 185-page book, Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age, officially released in Washington on Thursday, May 14, at the Free Press summit held at the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the journalism profession. Several hundred people showed up in a cramped conference room that one speaker laughingly described as “cozy.”
Although Free Press didn’t want to examine the problem of liberal bias contributing to the decline of traditional media, the Newseum’s fifth floor, the News History Gallery, includes a film about liberal media bias.
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which is already subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which itself gets $400 million a year in federal payments), wasn’t good enough for acting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Michael Copps, who delivered a keynote speech.
He declared that we need a PBSS-“a Public Broadcasting System on Steroids” -based on the extraction of more dollars from hard-pressed American taxpayers. “That can’t be done on the cheap, and we’ll hear laments that there’s not a lot of extra cash floating around these days,” Copps said. “But other nations find ways to support such things.”
He added that “…if things go well, we may be launched on an era of reform to match what the Progressives and New Dealers of the last century gave us. What a shining, beckoning opportunity we have.”
Targeting Talk Radio
Copps ruled out the FCC bringing back the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which enabled bureaucrats during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations to mute or silence on-air conservative personalities. “The Fairness Doctrine is long gone and it’s not coming back-as much as some conspiracy theorists see it lurking behind every corner,” he said. However, he did say that the FCC would force broadcasters to sell media properties to approved women and minority groups. He called this “equal opportunity” and “diversity.”
At the same time, Copps said that the FCC, which will become an “agent of change,” will have “to get serious about defining broadcasters’ public interest obligations and reinvigorating our license renewal process.” He said broadcasters need to be held to “clear standards that can be fairly but vigorously enforced” and should have to renew their licenses every three years, instead of every eight.
Under such a scheme, local liberal and “progressive” groups could thwart a license renewal by claiming that a local radio station was airing too much conservative programming.
Kerry Tries to Save Boston Globe
In this context of “saving journalism,” as Free Press described it, the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet held a May 6 “Future of Journalism” congressional hearing featuring testimony from Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, who has introduced a “Newspaper Revitalization Act” to rescue failing liberal papers by letting them operate as non-profits.
The hearing was said to be the brainchild of Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the subcommittee.
One of those failing papers, the Boston Globe, is owned by the New York Times and regularly endorses Kerry’s campaigns and ideas. Ironically, however, another factor in the liberal media decline, and in the Globe’s demise in particular, has been the unreasonable demands of liberal labor unions which normally endorse and finance the campaigns of Democrats for office.
Left unsaid at the Free Press summit was the fact that direct federal payments to these papers might enable these unions to avoid taking pay or benefit cuts. Indeed, officials of Free Press said they didn’t think the Cardin bill goes far enough and they want tens of billions of dollars in direct subsidies and payments from the federal government to the liberal media.
Big Liberal Foundations
Free Press has some impressive financial support of its own, having been lavishly funded in the past to the tune of millions of dollars from foundations associated with George Soros and Bill Moyers. This summit, however, was financially sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, an entity with $2.3 billion in assets.
Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the board of ProPublica, one of the new media ventures of the type that seemed to be in favor at the Free Press summit.
However, ProPublica, which claims to be “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest,” has been embarrassed by revelations that one of its major funders is a foundation associated with billionaire Democratic Party liberals Herb and Marion Sandler, who have been accused of having a hand in the financial crisis. The official mission of the Sandler Foundation includes being “a catalyst to strengthen the progressive infrastructure” in support of Democratic Party causes.
The Capital Research Center has published a major analysis of ProPublica, which has collaborated with news organizations such as the Washington Post, noting that it churns out “left-wing hit pieces,” such as an attack on Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin during the campaign.
While making demands for more federal money, another topic at the Free Press summit was how to divvy up the $7.2 billion that was authorized in the federal economic “stimulus” legislation to expand access to the Internet. The legislation makes the funds available to private and left-wing non-profit entities. There is no way of knowing at this point how much of this could be funneled into the coffers of “progressive” groups, including the Free Press itself.
Big Government is Back
Demonstrating its close ties to the Obama Administration, one of the featured speakers was Susan Crawford of President Obama’s National Economic Council. She was introduced by Timothy Wu, chairman of the Free Press board and an advocate of more federal regulation of the media. A Columbia Law School Professor and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Wu claims the U.S. Constitution is flawed because the founders did not anticipate the problem of “the abuse of private power.” He coined the term “net neutrality,” an attempt to justify federal control of the Internet in the name of guaranteeing equal access to it.
While several speakers paid lip service to the First Amendment, there was no serious discussion as to how freedom of the press could be maintained in the face of mounting federal involvement in the journalism profession. One has to conclude, therefore, that the natural result of having new federal money and sponsorship would be that journalists would toe the “progressive” line, as they already do at public radio and TV, despite legal obligations of fairness and balance.
Another speaker, Vivian Schiller, the new President of National Public Radio (NPR), was already comfortable with federal funding and could use more. NPR, which claims an audience of 27 million Americans through 860 public radio stations, continues to get federal money through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. However, she said NPR is also facing a financial crisis because of a reduction in corporate underwriting and investment income.
Schiller recently came to NPR from the New York Times Company, another failing liberal media enterprise, where she served as senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com.