Most of my professional career has been devoted to getting beyond official spin to report and analyze the "rest of the story" about politicians and bureaucrats, Republicans and Democrats. It's what we journalists do, what makes us get up in the morning.
So my stomach turned when I read Lee Bollinger's paean in The Wall Street Journal to government-funded journalism. Behind the Columbia University president's patchwork of logical distortions and historical half-truths are the grinning visages of Hugo Chavez and Professor Robert McChesney, his chief American apologist.
Bollinger wrote as a booster of the Obama administration's FTC initiative to “save” journalism from its allegedly imminent demise. The demise is being caused by the Internet’s destruction of the advertising model undergirding the now-thinning ranks of print and broadcast news organizations that so prospered during the last half of the previous century.
I've written previously about the FTC initiative (here, here and here). And Adam Thierer, writing at Andrew Breitbart's fine Big Government blog, offers the most comprehensive assessment of the Left's extraordinarily mis-leading "save journalism" campaign that I've seen anywhere.
As always with progressives, Bollinger's solution - and likely Obama's, too - is massive government funding of selected media organizations. Those selected will be judged, like "too big to fail" banks and car companies, as too important to fail; otherwise, Americans won't be able to obtain "the essential information they need as citizens."
Bollinger thus makes common cause with the intentionally misnamed Free Press coalition led by the neo-Marxist McChesney, an Illinois university professor of communications who, presumably with a straight face, claims "aggressive, unqualified political dissent is alive and well" in the thug state formerly known as Venezuela.
Several of the Free Press coalition's flawed assumptions are prominent in Bollinger's argument, including the notion that America never had a pure free market in news. And we certainly can't do that now because "trusting the market alone to provide all the news coverage we need would mean venturing into the unknown – a risky proposition with a vital public institution hanging in the balance."
Never mind that the Internet with no federal subsidies to preferred media outlets today provides more independent news gatherers and analyzers - they're called "bloggers" - than ever worked in all the newsrooms combined in the old media's glory days.
Or that the Internet is driving news delivery technology in new directions at warp speed, thus promising more independent checks on politicians and bureaucrats than Publius could ever have dreamed.
In place of this present and future reality, Bollinger wants to preserve and extend the "hybrid system of private enterprise and public support" he claims has always existed in America. So subsidized postal delivery of publications in Ben Franklin's day is no different from federal bureaucrats collecting billions of tax dollars to hand out to favored media organizations, as advocated now by Free Press?
Not to worry, though, because we have the comforting example of heavily subsidized colleges and universities where, according to Bollinger, "those of us in public and private research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as journalists care about a free press."
Somehow I doubt Bollinger would understand that those of us fighting to preserve freedom of the press are anything but comforted by his example, publicly assisted schools being among the least free-thinking institutions in America, owing to their pervasive speech codes and other forms of censorship.
See, for example, this New York Sun story in 2007 on how Columbia, just one week after proclaiming itself a bastion of free speech for hosting a speech by Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, insisted on exercising pre-publication censorship reviews of documentary filming shot on its grounds.
But then maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Columbia University's president sees no difference between a government-subsidized university system that perpetuates a suffocating academic orthodoxy and government-subsidized news media like that praised by an apologist for Hugo Chavez's suppression of the Venezuelan media.
After all, his final argument is a warning that other countries are doing it, countries like still-communist China, with its state-run Xinhua News and Central China Television. Clearly, independent journalism is doomed if it must depend for its defense upon "friends" like Bollinger.
UPDATE: PJTV's Claudia Rosett takes Bollinger apart, too
Rosett hits all the bases in a devastating analysis. Here's just a small slice:
"Bollinger writes: 'Trusting the market alone to provide all the news coverage we need would mean venturing into the unknown — a risky proposition with a vital public institution hanging in the balance.'
"Yikes! Venturing into the unknown! Perhaps it is a truth undiscovered in the ivied turrets of Morningside Heights, but it is precisely in venturing into the unknown that private enterprise tends to excel.
"Markets give people the latitude to invent, take risks, pay for their own mistakes, and strive to make profits by producing things people will value. That’s why capitalist America has led the modern world in invention."
As Glenn Reynolds would say, just keep on scrolling, here.
Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott's Copy Desk blog on Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott's Copy Desk blog on washingtonexaminer.com.