Should the Government Bailout Failing Journalists?

I’m still shaking my head in amazement over Lee Bollinger’s Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, which was titled “Journalism Needs Government Help.”

Today Bill King, president and CEO of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, chimed in with a Wall Street Journal letter to the editor supporting Mr. Bollinger. Mr. King writes, “Lee Bollinger makes a compelling case for increased government funding of journalism in America.”

Are these people for real?

Mr. Bollinger is president of Columbia University, and his plea for government to rescue journalism shows just how far off the cliff much of the “mainstream” news media have fallen. His op-ed also is an enlightening contrast between the way the academic and business communities view free markets and competition.

Mr. Bollinger blames the Internet for journalism’s decline and laments that because of its success, Americans may become deprived of the essential information they need. His solution? “More public funding for news gathering is the answer.”

Isn’t more public funding the same argument we’ve heard for decades as the cure-all for our failing educational system and a panoply of well-intentioned but ill-conceived social programs?

But the bigger issue is that we already are routinely deprived of essential information by a host of journalists more intent on advocacy and slanting the news to their liking than simply reporting the facts.

One recent example is the way in which most of the national news media ignored the DOJ’s dismissal of the New Black Panthers’ voter intimidation case, despite compelling video evidence. Another is the widespread misrepresentation of Arizona’s immigration law.

“Enhanced public funding for journalism,” as Mr. Bollinger so charmingly calls it, will in reality do nothing more than enhance the fawning relationship liberal journalists have with the Left and bring us closer to government control of news.

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from abridging freedom of speech or of the press, but no where does it suggest the government should establish, regulate or underwrite the press.

Instead of blaming technology, what Mr. Bollinger and his colleagues ought to be asking themselves is why people are abandoning many print and broadcast media giants in droves, while a handful of national media outlets have found ways to succeed and leave their competition in the dust.

The real problem is that a growing number of people simply don’t trust what they hear and read from most journalists these days. Siphoning off public dollars to reward failure and give us more of the same is not going to change that.

Money can buy a lot of things, but integrity isn’t one of them.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

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