Eroding Press Freedom Isn’t An Iraq Withdrawal Plan

by on April 7, 2008 · 8 comments

I’m a big critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, so I was excited to see this plan, endorsed by 42 House candidates, to end the war. However, I was annoyed to find that this was part of the plan:

The lack of impartiality and skepticism on the part of the news media allowed administration claims to go unchallenged, and denied the American public a full examination of the arguments for and against going to war.

The consolidation of ownership of news organizations means that it doesn’t take long for a beltway- centric “conventional wisdom” to take shape. Due to the limited number of media outlet owners, this conventional wisdom is repeated over and over, through a variety of outlets…

This legislation would require the FCC to include greater public participation when changing regulations related to broadcast ownership, to do studies on the impact of such rule changes, and to establish an independent panel on increasing the representation of women and minorities in broadcast media ownership.

On one level, this is just empty grandstanding. Requiring “greater public participation” and writing more studies just isn’t going to have a significant effect on whether Fox News’s commentators are biased in favor of wars. As James and Adam have pointed out ad nauseum on this blog, the FCC’s decision-making process on media ownership has been glacial, and the media have been de-consolidating as well as consolidating.

But I think this proposal would actually be more worrying if it did have teeth. When you boil it down, what this plank of their plan is saying is that the bulk of the media reached a conclusion that these candidates didn’t agree with, and so they want to enact legislation that will shift the media conversation in a direction they would find more congenial. Liberals have been justifiably upset that Pres. Bush appears to be stacking the CPB with right-wingers in order to exert right-ward pressure on NPR and PBS. The same principle works the other way: if liberals don’t like the way the media have been covering the War in Iraq, the answer is not to get the federal government involved. The fact that 42 candidates for Congress frame the issue this way should concern everyone who takes freedom of the press seriously.

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