In moments of crisis, our wisest leaders have always recognized the indispensible role of journalism in democracy. We are in such a crisis now. It is the character of the crisis, and the urgency of the moment, that should make Americans impatient with blanket condemnations of subsidies. State support is vital to higher education; on rare occasions professors have been harassed by governors or legislators over the content of their research or lectures. But only an extreme libertarian or a nihilist would argue to end all public support of higher education to eliminate the threat of this kind of government abuse. Likewise, the government does not tax church property or income, which is in effect a massive subsidy of organized religion. Yet the government has not favored particular religions or required people to hold religious views.And now, for the other side, an oldie but goodie by Slate's Jack Shafer, who took on the McChesney-Nichols argument almost a year ago. (As an aside, look what happened to government-subsidize entities such as NEA and PBS):
Big love for newspapers has also been flowing in from academy/activist circles, a very unlikely source. Many in this orbit blame the press for not spotting our current financial predicament early enough and also believe that every reporter outside of the old Knight Ridder Washington bureau was complicit in the criminal conspiracy that made George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq possible. Bill Moyers encapsulated their view two years ago when he argued against the notion "that the dominant institutions of the press are guardians of democracy. They actually work to keep reality from us, whether it's the truth of money in politics, the social costs of 'free trade,' growing inequality, the resegregation of our public schools, or the devastating onward march of environmental deregulation."Shafer ends his piece with this: "All this lovey-dovey about how essential newspapers are to civic life and the political process makes me nostalgic for the days, not all that long ago, when everybody hated them." For the record, McChesney was one of them. bk
Yet now, as newspapers attrite and collapse, some scholars are telling us that newspapers are a necessary component of democracy. Princeton University scholars Samuel Schulhofer-Wohl and Miguel Garrido recently linked the Dec. 31, 2007, closure of the Cincinnati Post (circulation 27,000) to a local decline in vote turnout and office seekers, even though the Cincinnati Enquirer (circulation 200,000) survives. Media consolidation critics Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, who asked "Who'll Unplug the Big Media?" in The Nation a year ago, are back this week lamenting the demise of big newspaper journalism. They're calling for "tax policies, credit policies and explicit subsidies to convert the remains of old media into independent, stable institutions." I can't wait to hear the duo's pitch for a government subsidy to keep Rupert Murdoch's New York Post alive.