More Bad Ideas: Public Funding For News-Gathering

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary Contentions links an op-ed in the WSJ by Columbia University Professor Lee Bollinger.  According to Mr. Bollinger,  “[t]he proliferation of communications outlets has fractured the base of advertising and readers,” the “financial viability of the U.S. press has been shaken to its core,” and as a result newsrooms “have shrunk dramatically and foreign bureaus have been decimated.”  Therefore, we need more public funding for news-gathering.  Basically, Mr. Bollinger envisions a government-funded super-NPR/PBS called the American World Service that will rush about gathering the news for us without the bother of turning a profit.

First, not all news outlets have been decimated.  News Corp.’s Earning’s Release for the quarter ending March 31, 2010 announced that its total revenue increased $1.4 billion, or 19%, over the prior year’s third quarter, and third quarter net income of $839 million.  News Corp. owns FoxNews, the WSJ, and the New York Post, among other news holdings.  Perhaps, therefore, it is mismanagement and the alienation of entire segments of the news-consuming public that has caused such former greats as the NYT to hemorrhage readership and red ink.

Second, this paragraph makes clear that Mr. Bollinger is happily living out his days in a bubble:

There are examples of other institutions in the U.S. where state support does not translate into official control. The most compelling are our public universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of dollars annually for research. Those of us in public and private research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as journalists care about a free press.

I assume that Mr. Bollinger may not agree with the notion of pervasive liberal press bias, but he cannot possibly deny that the public and private research universities are overwhelmingly dominated by not just the left, but a fairly hard-core variety of leftist.  There seems to be little doubt of this, as academics self-identify as liberal to an overwhelming degree.  See hereI agree that those “in public and private research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as journalists care about a free press.”  The problem is that this freedom is exercised from an overwhelmingly liberal perspective.  Conservatives need not apply, and will not get published or be given tenure.

Moreover, conservatives are annoyed enough that such bastions of liberal bias as NPR (I am generally a fan) and PBS (I am only a fan of The New Yankee Workshop and This Old House) receive public funding.  Extending public funding to a super-NPR/PBS would be grounds for revolution, especially when it inevitably hires Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann to do its election night coverage.

And then there is this with respect to universities:

Yet—through a carefully designed system with peer review of grant-making, a strong culture of independence, and the protections afforded by the First Amendment—there have been strikingly few instances of government abuse. Indeed, the most problematic funding issues in academic research come from alliances with the corporate sector.

(Emphasis added).  Really?  Well, you might not have learned much about it from the NYT or other formerly esteemed publications that are now in a spot of financial difficulty, but there was this little government/academic scandal regarding climate change that got a bit of press in the more profitable sectors of the industry.  Indeed, climategate neatly illustrates the problem of government funding.  When the government funds an effort, those who can convince politicians and bureaucrats  of the worthiness of their cause get the funding regardless of its ultimate merit. 

With the market, on the other hand, consumers vote with their own dollars, not someone else’s dollars.  That is precisely what they are doing when fleeing in droves from newspapers and broadcasters that tell only half of the story. 

A recent example of telling half the story is the virtual news blackout that Byron York reported regarding the NASA Administrator’s declaration that NASA’s “foremost” objective under Obama is to “engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”  Maybe the guy mis-spoke, as the Administration now claims.  But that’s not the point.  If a member of a Republican administration had said something this stupid — imagine George W. Bush’s Secretary of Agriculture declaring that his mission included “reaching out to Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to horticulture” — is there any doubt that the boycotting news organizations would have found a way to run a series of front page articles on it?

In short, Mr. Bollinger’s idea appears to be nothing more than an attempt to bail out the liberal media from a problem caused by its inability or unwillingness to give us the news straight.  Maybe if the media started treating conservatives as news consumers instead of a wierd and threatening cult to be studied as an anthropological matter — remember David Weigel? —  they might not need to go on the dole.

UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Clive Crook on ClimateGate.  “The climate-science establishment . . . seems entirely incapable of understanding, let alone repairing, the harm it has done to its own cause.”

UPDATE II: Stephen Spruiell has some interesting thoughts on the topic, including this one:  “My concern is that journalists on the public payroll will become even more fervently dedicated to the idea of higher taxes and more spending. If you thought the press had a big-government bias before, wait until it is officially run by quasi-government employees.”

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Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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