Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

This blog is devoted to a variety of topics including politics, current events, legal issues, and we even take the time to have some occasional fun. After all, blogging is about having a little fun, right?

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Obama to help out news outlets in financial trouble?

Geraghty the Indispensable tips us off to this from Media Bistro:

From a FishbowlDC reader and reporter:

A source of mine called to say that Obama's reached out to some newspaper publishers about giving papers a tax break in the stimulus package. Broadcasters are ticked that they're being left out.

This naturally has us a tad concerned. It raises a First Amendment issue for us in ways some may not really pick up on. The First Amendment guarantees that the freedom of the press can't be jeopardized by the government, but what happens when government gets involved with the media? Is it any longer a "free press?" Will we see a Blagojevic-esque criticism and strong-arm tactics against the press when they print something critical of Obama?

Recall if you will that Blagojevic contacted the Chicago Tribune and demanded that they fire their editors because they were calling for his impeachment. In his demands he engaged in extortion against them because they didn't want to go along with his call to fire the editors.

The Founding Fathers insisted that the press be free from government intrusion so it could be a fair and unbiased reporter of facts, and the media served as another check against the strong, central government. Justice Joseph Story in his "Commentaries on the Constitution" wrote extensively about the freedom of the press (just one of several essays written on the Constitution) and in them he explained what the role of the press was in the Founders' eyes.

Some will say that the press deserves to die a slow, painful death because it is no longer the unbiased gatekeepers they were when the nation was founded. We tend to agree that many outlets do deserve to go under, but we don't want to see the whole industry go under. And honestly, it won't. Too big to fail? The industry won't. Is the New York Times or LA Times too big to fail? No, they're not. Another outlet will come along and gobble them up. It's a free market principle.

It should also be noted that what is being proposed isn't a bailout. It's a tax cut. He's considering including in the stimulus plan a tax cut for media outlets; namely newspapers. As the source says, broadcast outlets are ticked they're not being included. But seriously, why would they need the tax cut? Their money comes through advertisers because they're not charging for news coverage. (Network outlets such as ABC, CBS, and NBC are free, aside you paying for the electricity to run your TV.) Newspapers rely on two things: Subscriptions and advertisers. But we live in a new age of the Internet. 99% of newspapers that have embraced the online world we live in are free. Yes, they charge for advertising, but they don't charge subscription rates. (Remember the NY Times a couple years ago where you had to pay for some stories and columnists? They discontinued that because it wasn't bringing in a ton of money for the. The practice was ceased last year, I believe.)

At the very least, if this is given to the newspapers, then we may just have a First Amendment test. It really does depend on how the government actually treats this "favor" to the press. If they begin dictating what can and can't be printed, then we have a breach of the First Amendment. If they don't, which we don't think they would, then nothing changes, and the media doesn't learn it's lesson. What's the lesson?

A) This is an online world. They need to adapt.
B) Biased reporting has cost the papers readers. Ditch the bias.
C) The product stinks. Improve the product.

If the press were to adhere to those three things, they'd see a turnaround in their sagging business. If they don't, then they don't deserve to survive. We don't reward bad management (or we shouldn't have; thank you DC for doing the bank bailout). We don't prop up failing companies. This is a free-market economy, so let it work.

Publius II


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