A Not So Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Dictatorship
By Cultural Limits on February 21, 2014 • ( 1 )
New American hero whether he wants to be or not
It’s amazing what someone with a conscience can do.
On February 10, Ajit Pai, a sitting member of the Federal Communications Commission wrote an op ed - not even pitched a news piece, this was opinion – that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on an Obama initiative to study how news organizations determine what stories are covered.
Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”
How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their “news philosophy” and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.
This started LAST MAY?????
Now it is true that the Foggy Bottom Theater of Scandal had the nation’s media-type watchdogs captivated last spring and summer, but nobody noticed at the time?
The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?” Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.
Not even the people in the newsrooms have a good grasp always on what goes into editorial control. It is one of those mysteries of the universe that only the owner of the outlet and his accountant really understands.
Participation in the Critical Information Needs study is voluntary—in theory. Unlike the opinion surveys that Americans see on a daily basis and either answer or not, as they wish, the FCC’s queries may be hard for the broadcasters to ignore. They would be out of business without an FCC license, which must be renewed every eight years.
Voluntary, huh. Yeah, Judge Napolitano had something to say about that on Fox & Friends.
This is not the first time the agency has meddled in news coverage. Before Critical Information Needs, there was the FCC’s now-defunct Fairness Doctrine, which began in 1949 and required equal time for contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues. Though the Fairness Doctrine ostensibly aimed to increase the diversity of thought on the airwaves, many stations simply chose to ignore controversial topics altogether, rather than air unwanted content that might cause listeners to change the channel.
The Fairness Doctrine was controversial and led to lawsuits throughout the 1960s and ’70s that argued it infringed upon the freedom of the press. The FCC finally stopped enforcing the policy in 1987, acknowledging that it did not serve the public interest. In 2011 the agency officially took it off the books. But the demise of the Fairness Doctrine has not deterred proponents of newsroom policing, and the CIN study is a first step down the same dangerous path.
Hence all the bench law regarding the first amendment and the concept of “chilling effects” that the judge explains and those of us with journalism degrees had to wade through in communications law class.
But here’s the REALLY interesting part of this story via the Washington Examiner:
The initiative, known around the agency as “the CIN Study” (pronounced “sin”), is a bit of a mystery even to insiders. “This has never been put to an FCC vote, it was just announced,” says Ajit Pai, one of the FCC’s five commissioners (and one of its two Republicans). “I’ve never had any input into the process,” adds Pai, who brought the story to the public’s attention in a Wall Street Journal column last week.
But it gets better:
Advocates promote the project with Obama-esque rhetoric. “This study begins the charting of a course to a more effective delivery of necessary information to all citizens,” said FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn in 2012. Clyburn, daughter of powerful House Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, was appointed to the FCC by President Obama and served as acting chair for part of last year. The FCC, Clyburn said, “must emphatically insist that we leave no American behind when it comes to meeting the needs of those in varied and vibrant communities of our nation — be they native born, immigrant, disabled, non-English speaking, low-income, or other.” (The FCC decided to test the program with a trial run in Ms. Clyburn’s home state, South Carolina.)
And Weaselzippers finds another good one.
To top it off, the panel on Fox’s Special Report with Brett Baier last night ripped the effort apart. Charles Krauthammer had his usual choice words to say which echoed the judge’s earlier in the day. Nina Easton of Forbes said it would be funny if it wasn’t so scary. Charles Lane of The Washington Post went with funny because the study is actually so poorly put together it is laughable from a journalistic standpoint.
Chuck, it’s not funny, but that is an interesting tidbit.
To put it mildly, this White House is paranoid, which is a hallmark of incompetence for anyone in a position of leadership. However, in this case, controlling messaging to the masses is about grasping more power. Anyone with an ounce of sense can see that. And with all luck, the members of not just the mainstream press, but the alternative media will tell the FCC – or any other government official – to take a hike if they show up asking invasive questions about editorial policy.
But more terrifying – the reason we know this is going on is because one Federal Communications Commissioner saw what was happening and took the story to the people. If he had not, one day soon, out of the blue, FCC officials could well show up in newsrooms across America and try to interfere in the watchdog status of the American media, whether or not they are doing their job. And that, as anyone who has taken eighth grade civics should know, is illegal.
Good for him.
Thank you, Mr. Pai. The United States of America thanks you for this. Your courage in speaking out is greatly appreciated.
Further details on how the White House, oops, the FCC seeks to meddle in the segment of American life which is meant to keep people in power honest (yeah, I know, they’re not doing their job in that, but go with me here) can be found in the Examiner piece.http://constitutionclub.org/2014/02/21/a-not-so-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-dictatorship/