Thursday, January 01, 2009
A Connecticut lawmaker has proposed a government bailout of two failing newspapers there, admitting in the process that he is completely unqualified to serve as a government official in a free country:
[Frank] Nicastro and fellow legislators want the papers to survive, and petitioned the state government to do something about it. "The media is a vitally important part of America," he said, particularly local papers that cover news ignored by big papers and television and radio stations. [bold added]Nicastro is right that news media are vitally important to America, but if he thinks financial support from the government, or government "incentives" to promote private investment in them will "save" them, he is being naive or dishonest.
Why do I say this? Because the government differs from all other social institutions in being the only one to legally wield force. In a proper political system, its sole purpose would be to protect individual rights by exercising this force -- the delegated, retaliatory force of self-defense of its citizens. Any time the government strays from this purpose, it is guilty of initiating force against someone, violating his inalienable rights in the process. That is, the government is functioning like any other foreign or domestic enemy in every such case.
Where will the bailout money in question come from? Taxes? The government must violate the property rights of citizens, by confiscating money from them, just like a criminal gang. Tax "incentives" for investors? That's simply a euphemism for stealing less from an arbitrary part of the populace. This is being done in the name of the so-called public good, but the government, unlike private individuals, operates by force. This means that officials like Nicastro are the ones defining for us what the "public good" is, and they can make us pay for what they think it is whether they are correct or not, and whether we agree or not.
Certainly, if Nicastro thinks the papers should start making changes to how they report the news, he has them where he wants them: by the purse-strings. Nicastro is, perhaps (and at best) well-intentioned, but suffering from the "dictator fantasy", and needs help imagining just how much worse his idea is than doing nothing, and allowing the papers to fail.
Along those lines, I would first suggest that Nicastro imagine a hated political opponent succeeding him and leaning on the papers to make sure he looks good. Second, I would remind him that we already have examples of government "encouragement" of media tempting officials with having a say. For an example of this, note that Phil Berger, a counterpart of his from North Carolina, recently proposed to have the government review movie scripts before "incentivized" cameras could roll in his state.
As I said then:
[I]n any "partnership" where one side wields force, it is the side with the guns that will win any argument that comes up, as we see here. When the operating premise behind North Carolina's film "incentive" is that the tax money confiscated in the first place from the film producers is the government's to keep or give back, then it is only a matter of time before the government will decide that strings might need to be attached.In this case, matters are even worse, because, by its very nature, Nicastro's proposal encourages biased, pro-government reporting, especially by journalists whose jobs are on the line. The importance of our news media lies in its ability to convey factual information for rational consideration by its audience. The very nature of this function makes it impossible to "save" the newspapers by the government controlling them even very indirectly.
Reporter Robert MacMillan opens this story by noting that some "think [Nicastro] and his colleagues are setting a worrisome precedent for government involvement in the U.S. press". This is true, but the fact is that no government should be involved in running the press.
Worse, MacMillan says little about why this idea sets a "worrisome precedent," and reports on the proposal in such a way as to make government "incentives" sound unlike actual or de facto ownership. He also quotes a journalist whom he says "would not let gratitude get in the way of reporting on local political peccadilloes." How reassuring!
Is MacMillan merely inept, or is he planting the idea of a federal role in "saving" the media in the minds of readers across the country? Your guess is as good as mine. Thanks a heap, Mr. Nicastro.