Bernie Says He Has A Plan To 'Save Journalism', Watch Your Wallets And Free Speech!

P. Gardner Goldsmith | August 27, 2019
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On Monday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) put a different spin on his collectivism.

This time, writing in the dusty “Columbia Journalism Review”, he added a hearty dose of fascist ideology to his socialism – all to “save” journalism.

Hey, nothing says “free speech” like government control of social media and government favoritism showered on certain kinds of “journalism”!

Bernie’s worried that journalism is dying. The trouble is, he doesn’t explicate his definition of “journalism”, and the impression one gets is that he lives in a Baby Boomer Bubble, desperately clinging to the idea that the old “Three Networks and PBS” TV paradigm created by federal FCC diktat, and the archaic “print newspaper” club system of covering stories, are still relevant.

Matt Drudge destroyed that concept in 1998, when he had the courage to run with the Monica Lewinski scandal on, and only political court jesters are unable to see it.

First, Bernie offers a potentially frightening factoid about local newspapers many of us already know:

Over the past 15 years, more than 1,400 communities across the country have lost newspapers, which are the outlets local television, radio, and digital news sites rely on for reporting.

Then, Bernie implies a causal link between this culling of the local newspaper herd and a similar phenomenon in broadcast media:

Since 2008, we have seen newsrooms lose 28,000 employees—and in the past year alone, 3,200 people in the media industry have been laid off.

Then the Colonel Sanders of Collectivism implies, without any evidence, that either these news employees went to work for public relations firms, or the rise in PR firm jobs is somehow occurring at the expense of journalists’ jobs.

Today, for every working journalist, there are six people now working in public relations, often pushing a corporate line. 

Would that be the corporate line of Lockheed-Martin, the weapons-maker that the supposedly “peace-loving” Sanders helped bring to his home state as a “job creator”? God forbid anyone get cozy with corporations.

Sanders’ crocodile tear performance comes under the guise that he’s somehow opposed to “corporatism”, which, as noted above, is belied by his own actions. But it’s worth looking at this more closely:

At the same time, corporate conglomerates and hedge fund vultures have bought and consolidated beleaguered local newspapers and slashed their newsrooms—all while giving executives big payouts.

Did the local newspaper owners get enslaved by the “corporate conglomerates”, or did they willingly sell, and make good money doing so? Sanders himself admits, they sold, and made good money doing so.

Additionally, Sanders’ observation that “1,400 communities… have lost local newspapers”, appears to be his attempt to bolster his thesis that big businesses are killing those local papers. Specifically, he cites the rise of Facebook and dominance of Google as, one gets the impression, the reason for widespread newspaper collapse.

For example, two Silicon Valley corporations—Facebook and Google—control 60 percent of the entire digital advertising market. They have used monopolistic control to siphon off advertising revenues from news organizations. A recent study by the News Media Alliance, a trade organization, found that in 2018, as newspaper revenues declined, Google made $4.7 billion off reporting that Google did not pay for. 

But local papers started dying long before the rise of Facebook and the dominance of Google. In fact, one of the reasons Google made so much money off “reporting Google did not pay for” is that, as a popular search engine, it attracted local papers to connect with its ad-revenue sharing system, actually helping keep online versions of local papers alive.

This is no defense of Google/YouTube, Facebook, or even Twitter. I'm sadly aware of their seeming “deboosting”, “shadow-bans”, and apparent political gags on conservative and libertarian news providers. I know that many of the hours I work to research history, economics, philosophy, and current events – and the principles those hours of work defend -- could be undercut by people at corporations intent on suppressing the viewership and readership I hope to attract. But I’m not so sanguine as to fall prey to Sanders’ rhetoric.

In fact, Sanders never mentions that many of those local papers lost online advertising revenue due to the rise of Craigslist, which garnered regional viewership by offering a “platform” for local products and services in new ways. In 2013, Reason published a piece noting that since the start of the millennium, local papers had lost $6 billion in ad revenue, much of it shifting to Craigslist.

Will Bernie subsidize local papers, despite consumers showing they prefer to go elsewhere? Would he have subsidized the buggy-whip makers as they lost revenue with the rise of the automobile, keeping people paying for whips via their tax cash when they already opted not to buy the whips as horse-drawn buggies went the way of dinosaur?

As those dinosaur “journalists” have disappeared and their offices have been replaced by new businesses, the world has seen the monumental rise of independent journalists, people using their phones and small cams to cover local stories, and travel the world to investigate big news.

Conservative Youtube creator Mark Dice often notes that he, as guy using his cam in his kitchen, can get close to the same number of viewers as CNN and MSNBC get for their evening political polemics – on which they often praise Bernie Sanders and his collectivist ideology. Luke Rudkowski travels the world covering news, with nothing more than a cam and donations from people who support him.

Yet Bernie would like people to think the sky is falling:

Today, after decades of consolidation and deregulation, just a small handful of companies control almost everything you watch, read, and download… Given that reality, we should not want even more of the free press to be put under the control of a handful of corporations and ‘benevolent’ billionaires who can use their media empires to punish their critics and shield themselves from scrutiny.

No. Sanders will put it under the control of the federal government, and people like him.

Under his “plan” he and the bureaucrats will:

…start requiring major media corporations to disclose whether or not their corporate transactions and merger proposals will involve significant journalism layoffs… We will also require that, before any future mergers can take place, employees must be given the opportunity to purchase media outlets through employee stock-ownership plans—an innovative business model that was first pioneered in the newspaper industry… And we will prevent media-related merger and deregulation decisions at federal agencies that adversely affect people of color and women.

Which, in addition to being insultingly unconstitutional, is actually reminiscent to the also-unconstitutional “Portman-Murphy Countering Foreign Propaganda Act”, passed in 2016 and signed by the excited Barack Obama. That one actually shelled out tax cash to dying dinosaur media favored by the government, and opened an office in the Pentagon to oversee journalists who might be frowned upon by the regime in power. Thankfully, Donald Trump ended it early this year.

Instead, what free-speech advocates, and even Bernie, could do is to discuss the possibility of the federal government no longer giving big social media and search companies so-called “platform” status under Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. That section of the law allows them to avoid libel and slander suits by claiming they are merely “platforms” for other peoples’ posts. 

If they edit, or “curate”, those posts (such as they seem to do for political content), they really should no longer be claiming the “platform” status.

It’s an interesting idea, and doesn’t need to have the government seize more power through use of antitrust.

But Bernie doesn't seem interested in discussing that. He needs to expand government, and his proposal reflects his desire.

It’s strange to think about how US fought fascism in World War Two, only to keep seeing politicians embrace it.

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