Last Tuesday, disgraced ex-CBS anchor Dan Rather discussed the future of the media at the Aspen Institute, in a speech titled "The Importance of Fiercely Independent Journalism and the Future of the Media." Rather's recommended approach to preserve fierce press independence? As reported in the Aspen Daily News:
The free press, as established by the First Amendment to the Constitution, ought to operate as a public trust, not solely as a money-making endeavor, Rather argued, and it’s time the government make an effort to ensure the survival of the free press.Because government-funded media has a great track record of fostering fair debate! Given the recent New York Times turn-around about its new 17 percent owner, imagine how journalists might shy from reporting about a government also providing their paychecks.
Besides, Dan Rather himself is partly responsible for killing the credibility of America's mainstream media. As Little Green Football's Charles Johnson notes:
The irony is glacier-thick; this is the guy who was caught red-handed pushing obviously phony documents on his 60 Minutes show, in an outrageous attempt to affect a presidential election in the final days before the vote.Rather's plea merely updates the punchline about killing your parents, then pleading for mercy because you're an orphan. Put differently, Dan's demanding a grant for slant.
Don't be swayed by Rather's sheer idiocy and self interest. As John Hawkins of Right Wing News observes:
[N]ot every news organization is going down the tubes. Some of them seem to have found ways to survive and thrive. Just to name two: Fox News and the Huffington Post. Now I'm sure an old school news guy like Dan Rather would tut-tut that they're "dumbing down and sleazing up of what we see on the news."Simply put, speech freedom depends on ensuring folks such as Dan fail.
However, that merely brings us to problem number three. One of the big reasons that so many "news organizations" are fading is that they believe that their customers should have to adapt to them, not vice-versa. At the end of the day, like it or not, the news business is a business and it has customers to please. A lot of the people in the news business absolutely hate that idea and want to roll back time a couple of decades before talk radio took off, before the net, and before Fox News to when it was just the Big 3 networks and the same tired old papers giving a slightly different version of the same news. It's a very different world today and the media organizations out there have to change or go the way of the dinosaurs.
Speaking of which, the real point of appealing to the government is to have them change the rules of the game. What people like Rather really want is special privileges -- tax breaks, tax dollars, or changes in the law that give them a big advantage over their competitors. However, that directly undercuts the idea that we're going to have a "free and independent press." What the government giveth, it can taketh away -- and it would ultimately use that power to influence the press.
Last but not least, let me add that if the big 3 network news shows and every newspaper in America disappeared tomorrow, the "free and independent press" would still be alive and kicking. Today, there are a lot of bloggers, talk radio hosts, and other assorted and sundry websites and TV shows that rely heavily on stories done by the Big 3 or newspapers, but that's simply because there's no reason for them to do otherwise. For independent operators, there's very little money in trying to compete with well funded, well staffed newspapers around the country to cover stories. If the field were to clear out, you'd start to see a lot more real journalism emerging from blogs, talk radio, and from hybrids that would spring up to fill the gap.
In other words, the more the old media dinosaurs give their last gasp and sink to the bottom of the tar pits, the more the smaller, faster new media mammals will take over their old stomping grounds -- and we'll probably all be better off for it.
Even Dan realized he was crazy--he retreated in an August 9th WaPo op-ed:
I am not calling for any sort of government bailout for media companies. Nor am I encouraging any form of government control over them. I want the president to convene a nonpartisan, blue-ribbon commission to assess the state of the news as an institution and an industry and to make recommendations for improving and stabilizing both.(via Instapundit)