The Digressor

Politics, Culture, Life, and Unusual Takes

Freedom of the press is one of our celebrated freedoms in the United States.  The freedom to say what you want and do what you want, as long as it is not overly obscene, is one of the founding principles of this most successful of nations.

I still believe this is true.  However, freedom speech and the press are perhaps different from the media.  The media, I would say, is something different.  While speech and press include the ability to write what  you want and say what you want without punishment, the media is a group, an organization.

This distinction is important.  The “Media” is a group of companies, not really individuals, who publish information.  The “Media” is something more than just speech and publishing.  The “Media” is made up of, usually, large conglomerates who control the flow of information.

One of the reasons we have a freedom of the press is because the government can abuse the flow of information by restricting that which is negative to its foundations.  This would mean that the government could abuse, jail, or ruin people who said bad things about it.  The freedom to say what you want was not recognized and it restricted free thought. Another is that the government can manipulate messages to its favor, especially without a contrary message being conveyed.

This is a good thing to not allow a government to control the messaging, precisely because of the abuses it can create both in its own messaging and in restricting other messages.  Interestingly, if the government could be impartial and allow contrary thought, there would be no concern.

However, we don’t trust a government to be impartial.  We expect the government will act in its own best interest.  We trust ourselves more than we trust the government.

But there’s just one problem: we tend to look out for our own best interest, too, and so do companies.  This is not to say we shouldn’t trust ourselves more than the government, only that we should be wary of what we can do, too.

So, what can happen?  And is it actually happening?  Well, what I see happening is an erosion of the mores that kept the “Media” impartial.  I see the “Media” acting to protect its own identities and aims.  It is not, therefore, really concerned with the truth.  Rather, it has become exactly what it fears from a government: self serving.

What makes the “Media” worse than a government acting in this way is that the “Media” can say it is independent and not biased, even when that is precisely what the “Media” has become.

To answer my question, such a media is not a net positive.  Such a media abuses its power and seek to shut down opposition just as a government can do.  It serves no one but its own good.  It can influence policy aims and get the public to agree with it if no one is there to oppose it.  And that is what it wants.

This system is dangerous, and it must be stopped.  This does not mean we must shut down the freedom of speech or the press; it means we need to rethink how our media system works and is run.  Massive corporations cannot be trusted to disseminate information any more fairly than would a government.  I suggest at least a breaking down of these companies so that they cannot control the message to the extent they do.  Get more voices in the market and take away the scale that allows a paper like the NYT to dominate.

Is this anti free market?  I don’t think so.  I think it is free market at a high level.  Give people choices to make and give them more than one story.  Also, the conveyance of news information is not like buying a car.  This is how people are educated and become aware of the world around them.

Our current system is indeed dangerous, and action should be considered to alter how news and information is conveyed to a public who knows no different than what they are told.

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11 thoughts on “Is the “Media” a Net Positive?

  1. BrianR says:

    I have no idea where the myth originated that the Press used to be some “objective” and “unbiased” organism that’s devolved into the partisan flackdom we see today, but that’s exactly what it is: a myth.

    In the Revolutionary era the Press – as referenced in, and protected by, the First Amendment – consisted primarily of “broadsides”, available for sale and for posting in the public square. These broadsides were published by all kinds of special interest and political groups, and were primarily used as a means of advocacy, blatantly pushing an ideological, political, or other point of view, and coupled with news of local events of interest, often of a sensational nature, such as executions or government actions.

    Every city would have several different “newspapers” available, espousing a wide range of ideologies, all dependant on which groups or organizations were publishing them. People would generally buy or read the ones with which they agreed editorially.

    So what we have now really isn’t very much different from the state of the Press at the time of our Revolution.

    In the late 19th Century Pulitzer and Hearst were the two leading newspaper publishers, and always in heated competition. Both published papers that we’d label as “yellow journalism”. Upon his death Pulitzer bequeathed the money to found the Columbia School of Journalism, and they were the organization that developed optimistic journalistic “standards” that included “objectivity” and “editorial neutrality” (pretty laughingly ignored today, of course).

    So, as we can see, the whole idea of a “neutral” press is pretty much a recent development, and one that’s been pretty much ignored or forgotten in practice; and our modern Press is actually quite in line with the historical nature of the beast.

    That having been said, it’s simply incumbent upon the reader to determine which point of view he wants to absorb, no different from the way it’s always been going all the way back to colonial times.

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    1. MJP7200 says:

      I disagree. Here’s why: all those papers and broadsides were independent. There was not the mogul industry of media that exists today or that grew in the early 20th century. A neutral press, I suppose, needs to be defined. Of course they take a position or show bias, and I agree, always have to some extent. But the plethora of choices and independence of them made the bias less dangerous.

      What it all has morphed into is a few companies owning many, many, newspapers. And separate companies now own prominent newspapers. These papers are sold everywhere. Many smaller papers just cannot last, while the WaPa and NYT hold a huge share of readership.

      And here’s another difference: TV, internet and movie media. These are also increasingly growing in influence, and there are fewer players there, too. ATT bought out DirecTV not too long ago and now just bought Time Warner. Disney owns ABC and several other media companies.

      This just was not the case in the 1760’s, let alone the 1860s. Heck, even in 1960, the local paper was still a thing.

      The media, in a broader sense, is killing our country. Its desire for more avenues to control the message, and to hit more and more people, is dangerous, especially, as you say, the objective standards are ignored. And this is compounded when people do not have options, or even know about the options. And many are not smart enough to see the bias in what they consume anyway.

      I also recognize the plethora of sources on the internet. Even this blog and yours can be considered sources of information, and how many are there? Trouble is, people have to know to come find them… A place like RealClearPolitics is I think great, as it offers sources from a variety of points of view and geographic areas. But not many know about it.

      I do not dispute that 200 years ago we saw bias in the press. However, the situation then is not the same as it is now. More people can watch or read their news than ever before. Yet, the influence of the big players is bigger than ever. Whether people are too tuned in to what they want to hear or too stupid to know they are getting propaganda, I can’t say for sure.

      I do think having many smaller media companies is preferable to fewer larger companies. The reason is that a single person cannot dictate the policy aims and leanings that trickle down to the rest of the company and therefore control such a large dissemination of information, even ruining smaller sources in the process.

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      1. MJP7200 says:

        Thanks, though, again, for your input. Always helpful.

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  2. BrianR says:

    You’re entirely missing the point. The point is that the idea of a “neutral and unbiased” press is entirely a fantasy; a fiction created at the turn of the 19th-20th Centuries. It never existed before, and was never expected to. People knew and accepted that the Press was biased, and chose their news source accordingly… just as we do now.

    It’s why socialists hate and mock “Faux (Fox) News” and we mock CNN, the Communist News Network. Anyone who truly believes the press is unbiased, or has some duty to be so, may as well start looking around for unicorns.

    In fact, I’ve never even minded it. My big squawk is that they sanctimoniously hold out their sainthood while being blatant hypocrites.

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    1. MJP7200 says:

      I am not sure you understand my point. The media is much more than papers and TV these days. When Amazon’s owner own the Washington Post and is influenced by the SPLC, these companies control far more than just a smidgen of influence. Its not just about bias. Its about size and sphere of influence. As I said in the original post, considering breaking these up may be worth the time.

      Bias is one thing, control of most avenues of the dissemination of information is something different.

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      1. BrianR says:

        “Breaking them up”? You mean by government force? In what way does that conform to constitutional restraints?

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      2. MJP7200 says:

        I argue, as it pertains to monopolies, the US and its people have had littor tolerance for them. Starting before the Sherman anti trust act and the break up of Standard Oil, we have championed free trade.

        As it pertains to dissemination of the news, I am not sure we are not nearing a place where some media companies are not getting too big.

        The precedent is well established that monopolies are no good amd that government can act to break them up.

        I am suggesting we start looking at whether the media companies constitute a monopoly. As they grow in size and uniformity of message, and this message is also tied with the policy aims of a single political party and persuasion, there grows a problem with messaging to the masses.

        Fox News? OK. How many entertainment shows do they produce? And is political messaging limited to news? No!

        The one show that dared to suggest Trump was OK (even though still very liberal) was canned (Rosanne). How is it possible that the media can control messaging to that extent if there is not a problem that needs a closer look?

        There may not be anything to do, but given that the present set up favors, to a huge degree, those who support such leftist causes it makes it near impossible to have a viable competitor develop.

        That gets is into monopoly discussions.

        Worth some analysis, imho.

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  3. BrianR says:

    “I am not sure we are not nearing a place where some media companies are not getting too big.”

    “Too big” according to whom? Who gets to make that decision? There’s certainly no monopoly; nothing even close. There are a plethora of news organizations, from small local papers to the national rags. You’re confusing a confluence of opinion with monopolization of the market, but that doesn’t make a monopoly.

    Just because the NY Times and the Washington Post, for example, agree politically and editorially doesn’t mean they have anything to do with each other as businesses. And if they’re not businesses that share ownership — and they’re not — there’s no case to be made that they’re part of a “monopoly”. In fact, those two papers consider themselves to be intense rivals and competitors!

    You’re trying to advance the same argument that the left did 10 or 15 years ago when they were pushing the so-called Fairness Doctrine because they hated talk radio. It’s no more applicable now that it was then.

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    1. MJP7200 says:

      That’s a good question, according to who. But I suppose we can ask that about many monopolies. And that’s my point: look into it.

      If it were only WAPO and the NYT, that would be one thing. But its not. Also, as I have mentioned before, look at how big these media companies are and their owners. Disney owns ABC, ESPN, and countless other media groups. Amazon owner Bezos also owns WAPO. NBC? Etc and down the line we go.

      And there is a singular dominant political leaning that dominates all of these outfits. Whether they compete for readers/viewers/consumers or ideas are different questions. It seems that while they compete for consumers they don’t compete for ideas. They try to get scoops before the other side, but do not challenge ideology.

      I don’t know the answer, but the transmission of ideas and who controls those ideas is an important thing to understand. A free society relies on access to a diverse set of ideas, something these media companies don’t seem truly interested in preserving, preferring instead to push their perceived ideas on policy aims.

      Again, I don’t know the answer, and don’t like government intervention, but think it worthwhile to look at options. Our society will die not from a major action or revolution, but rather through one thousand cuts, so to speak, the slow erosion of ideas that hold our society high.

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  4. BrianR says:

    But again, you’re overlooking the fatal flaw in your proposal: there’s no monopoly.

    A monopoly is a very specific thing by legal definition. Here’s the legal definition:

    “An economic advantage held by one or more persons or companies deriving from the exclusive power to carry on a particular business or trade or to manufacture and sell a particular item, thereby suppressing competition and allowing such persons or companies to raise the price of a product or service substantially above the price that would be established by a free market.”

    Nowhere do you have that in the “media”. For one thing, “monopoly” is based on an economic issue: price to the consumer. You’re upset about an ideological issue. In essence, you REALLY want to use anti-trust laws to enforce a form of censorship, a huge First Amendment no-no.

    But more importantly, there are no “persons or companies” acting in any form of collusion to do anything. All I have to do to defend against such a charge, if I were a defending attorney, is to point to examples of successful competitors of such a “monopoly”, and that means the existence of Fox and talk radio alone blow the idea out of the water.

    Further, there’s absolutely no evidence that any of those entities actually “conspire” to do anything. Again, they may share the same editorial ideology, but if they’re not ACTING TOGETHER to take action to economically control the market there aren’t any legal proscriptions being violated. None. There’s no “monopoly” in any form at all.

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    1. MJP7200 says:

      Dang it. I just a lost a lengthy response. Here’s a Cliff notes answer at this time:

      a) I am not seriously proposing pursuing this idea. It is a mental exercise designed to try to quantify the problem through another lens, that of the absence of a market place of ideas that does have a negative cost to us.
      b) This proposal, creative and not likely to succeed, though, could apply to the definition you posted of a monopoly. Economic advantage? Yup. One or more persons? Yup. Deriving exclusive power to carry on a particular business? Well, they are big enough and powerful enough to get conservative off their own platforms and affect advertisers for the conservative outlets, sometimes even able to get the likes of O’Reilly or Beck off the air. This is certainly powerful and extensive. And it does suppress competition by allowing the spread their own message. And why must a price be purely economic? Holmes did describe a marketplace of ideas, but if the sellers of the product do not allow competition, there is no market, hence the prohibition against monopolies.
      c) The media does sell a product, even if that product is not a TV or oil.
      d) I am not advocating prohibiting anyone’s right to say what they want. I am advocating that the forums that are growing to spread messages are the ones limiting speech.
      f) Collusion or cooperation? Ever notice how the talking heads at CNN sound so much like Nancy or Chuck? The Dem party sends the talking points, which are eaten up by the media. Are the leaders all sitting in a smoking room? I doubt it, but you cannot honestly tell me that they are not looking to spread a message. In fact, I remember a few years ago where it came out that reporters do in fact talk before a presser to try to get certain narratives out.
      g) All of this points to more than minor attempts to control the product of information sold.

      Finally, again, this is not a serious attempt to put together support to shut down the media through the use of anti-trust laws, but rather it is an attempt to try to figure out what is going on. Its a mental exercise to try to quantify the issue in a new, creative way. We all agree that the media is liberal, but as long as they can claim independence, we end up exactly where you end up: you can’t do a darn thing about it.

      I would love to find a solution, and this is me playing with ideas to try to look at the issue anew. Is it nutty? Maybe, but I don’t care with my aim in mind to simply brainstorm an issue. Until we can come up with something more tangible than “the media is liberal” we are whining. Maybe that’s all we have, but I don’t think so. There is more to everyone being liberal in the media than that, and the cost is indeed huge.

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