An Unholy Alliance:
Newspapers and the Government
by Edwin Faust
August 25, 2011
The obituary for print journalism will have to be published on the Internet, that is, if a significant number of people are to read it. Few, I think, will shed a tear at the demise of this not-so-venerable institution. Newspapers, like universal literacy, are of relatively recent vintage, and the generation for whom the daily reading of broadsheet and tabloid became a habit have already, or will fairly soon, meet their own deadline, so to speak.
But some for whom newspapers represent a career investment do not appear inclined to go quietly into a future that holds no place for that odd assortment of newsroom hacks H. L. Mencken described with the lapidary phrase: “ink-stained wretches”.
Ink may no longer stain the hands of reporters, who are tapping out their stories on computer keyboards, but there remains something wretched about the whole business of gathering and reporting “the news”. There is something demeaning about chasing after politicians in the hope of a “quote” or hovering intrusively about the scenes of personal tragedy — car wrecks, drownings, murders, etc. And the retailing — not to mention accuracy — of this reportage is of questionable value.
Much of what one can read in newspapers might better be passed over, for it represents a distraction from the serious business of life. It seems safe to say that newspapers are inherently opposed to spiritual development, which requires concentration on a set purpose, rather than a frittering away of attention on the assorted superficialities offered daily by the print media. And for those whose appetite for the disjointed collection of dubious “facts” gathered by reporters remains keen, there are ever multiplying cable broadcasts, not to mention the World Wide Web. Now, if you want the news, just place a finger on the appropriate “app” on your smart phone.
But journalists, like all dying creatures, cling to life in every possible way. And they are not without friends in high places. Though diminished, the influence of newspapers is still considerable, and the print media are still valued by the ruling class, for newspapers provide an opportunity to select and edit public information and thereby shape public opinion. Newspapers can be controlled in a way that other media cannot. So there is a self-interested sympathy in the halls of power that may translate into the government rescue of newspapers.
There has been considerable publicity recently over a published collection of essays titled “Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Light”, edited by New York University Professor Vince Packard. The purpose of the book is to present what is called a new model for newspapers — the “public service model”.
The public service model is proposed as a replacement for the commercial product model, which is no longer viable. The rationale for the public service newspaper is that the information provided daily in its columns is somehow essential to the continuation of a free society. Without newspapers, the argument runs, people will not have the reliable facts required to exercise intelligently their democratic rights. Newspapers, in short, are lauded as the means to keep people smart and politicians honest.
The argument ignores the glaring fact that newspapers have been the willing accomplices of liberal politicians and that few people any longer have illusions about the objectivity of the reporting in the New York Times or the Washington Post, which are rightly seen as propaganda vehicles for the left wing of the Democratic Party. Consider: Is there one major metropolitan newspaper in the U.S. or Canada that is pro-life?
So the NYU prof and his colleagues are proposing that the taxpayer be made responsible for the salaries of reporters and the maintenance of the printing presses. They contend that government subsidies will not impair the independence of those who report and edit “the news”. Of course, in every other workplace, the boss has some influence, but somehow it won’t be so in the newsroom, where everyone’s livelihood will depend on the willingness of public officials to continue to fund the payroll.
Along with the absurdity of this contention is the effrontery the whole proposal offers the public. Newspapers are dying because advertisers are withdrawing their patronage. Advertisers are withdrawing their patronage because fewer people read newspapers. So, those who will not support newspapers freely will be compelled to do so by government fiat — for their own good. Rather supercilious and obnoxious. But so inured in their presumed moral superiority are the liberals of the print media, they fail to notice.
Will publicly funded newspapers be distributed “free” of charge? Will every home automatically receive its daily infusion of subsidized “news”? Will newspapers, under such circumstances, regain their audience and recapture their influence? Such appears to be the hope.
If newspapers are rescued by the government, it will certainly bring us closer to the totalitarian state to which we are tending. Bailouts in the private sector always mean government direction of the private sector, for public officials will necessarily control anything that public money subsidizes. A “stimulus” for the dying newspaper industry may be like a bolt of lightning to a patched-together corpse. The Frankenstein Press may be aborning.
The daily press is but another facet of our society that is in a moribund condition. As one strand after another of our social organization unravels, one false solution after another will be tried. And with each “fix”, the problems will grow worse. For what is taking place is not the repositioning or reform of this or that institution, but the wholesale collapse of a godless system.
We are beginning to see the plain face of that diabolical disorientation that Sister Lucy of Fatima spoke of. And the only way to save the world now is by turning in the opposite direction. This will mean listening at long last to Our Lady of Fatima. When this happens, we will have some news worth reporting.
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