Just what we needed — another item to add to the ever burgeoning file labeled “Things that can’t possibly be true in America, but are anyway.” Consider this monstrosity:
Our formerly constitutional government, in the form of the Federal Communications Commission, has developed a plan to put observers in the nation’s newsrooms in order to better understand “the process by which stories are selected.”
Of course, they won’t just “understand” the process; they will most assuredly and dangerously alter it, merely by the implied threat of their presence in the formerly sacrosanct newsroom. Just ask anyone who ever worked for a newspaper in Soviet Russia or Hitler’s Germany or even Chavez’s Venezuela.
There is a very good reason why we have a First Amendment to the Constitution. The Founding Fathers had experienced directly the chilling effect of a capricious and imperious government on the free exchange of ideas, so they prohibited Congress from making any law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Through the years, this prohibition has been widened by the courts to protect the press from interference by virtually any unit of government, and so it has stood until now — a bedrock principle that has generally come to be known as “freedom of the press.”
But that has given way to “freedom of the government” to do whatever it wants to do. You heard in this column, and in many other forums, the warning that if the federal bureaucracy could force you to buy health insurance today, then there was no longer any meaningful limit on government power. But even I never imagined how quickly the Constitution would erode, nor how little outcry there would be when the president arrogated to himself the power to write and rewrite laws, nor how quickly forgotten would be the abuse of the taxing power of the federal government through the IRS to punish enemies and shape political debate.
Oh yes, I am aware that a dedicated band of big-government disciples will deny, deflect and disclaim any allegation of a continuous concerted effort to subvert our rights. They will try to paint me as an extremist or a racist or a raving lunatic. It’s OK. I’ve been called worse. And more importantly, calling me names does not make the abuses of power disappear. They are plainly there for anyone to see. Just do a Google search for IRS abuses or Benghazi coverup or Obamacare mandate delays.
Or look up Ajit Pai. He’s the member of the Federal Communications Commission who blew the whistle last week with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the agency’s initiative to get to the bottom of the mystery of why television and radio broadcasters are not telling the story the federal government wants them to tell.
That’s a scary proposition on a lot of levels. Not just because the government is shoving its nose where it doesn’t belong, but because most of us who don’t work for the federal government are asking just the opposite question: Why is the national media so compliant and virtually complicit in pushing big government’s agenda of radical environmentalism, economic justice, and social change?
Well, maybe now we will get the answers! The FCC is about to launch a program they call a “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” which according to Pai will “send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.” They are scheduled to start the shenanigans with a “field test” in Columbia, S.C., but it shouldn’t be long before FCC goons are setting up shop in TV stations and radio studios across the nation. Heck, they are even going to be “interviewing” newspaper editors and reporters, but it’s all voluntary, mind you, so there’s no “real” violation of freedom of the press, is there?
Or maybe I should say there’s no real “freedom of the press,” is there?
Apparently, the underlying purpose of this whole charade is to declare yet another of the new “man-given rights” (like the right to affordable health care) which expand the power of government to interfere in our lives and private decisions. The report that promoted the idea of “critical information needs” came out of USC’s Annenberg School of Communications in 2012. Read the executive summary at http://transition.fcc.gov/ocbo/Executive_Summary.pdf and you will discover the following conclusions:
“(1) There is an identifiable set of basic information needs that individuals need met to navigate everyday life, and that communities need to have met in order to thrive; (2) Low income and some minority and marginalized communities within metropolitan and rural areas and areas that are “lower-information” areas are likely to be systematically disadvantaged in both personal and community opportunities when information needs lag or go unmet; and (3) Information goods are public goods; the failure to provide them is, in part, a market failure.” )
If you don’t recognize the language, this is the beginning of an effort to declare a new “right” to “information goods” that will be provided, if necessary, by government fiat to “systematically disadvantaged” low-income and minority communities in order to make sure that they have access to “forms of information that are necessary for citizens and community members to live safe and healthy lives.”
And why shouldn’t the government think it can force broadcasters and newspapers to carry the kind of information that is deemed “necessary” for a safe and healthy life? Hasn’t the government already taken over health care — an industry that comprises one-sixth of the entire national economy? And didn’t the Supreme Court confirm the appropriateness of this extra-constitutional power grab? So why would government stop declaring new man-given rights that extend the power of the government in all directions in order to protect us from ourselves?
In case, you were wondering, here are the “critical information needs” which the government want to ensure by eliminating the free press: emergencies and risks, health and welfare, education, transportation, economic opportunities, the environment, civic information and political information.
If you don’t recognize the danger of government dictating to the press how to cover these topics, then you have helped me answer an age-old question asked whenever innocence is abused in the name of the people: “Just how could that happen?”
Now we know.