Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Left's comfort level with censorship

The leaked excerpts from JournoList have been entertaining to conservatives as they seemed to confirm what many of us have believed - that leftists engage in hateful rants against conservatives and were willing to manipulate the media to get their guy elected. As John Podhoretz writes today, it's clear that the JournoList goal of stifling any further coverage of Obama's radical associations worked when they jumped all over Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopolous for having dared ask a couple of questions in a Democratic debate. None of these revelations are all that surprising and so far most of those quoted are opinion journalists who are allowed much more leeway in their expression of their views. The fact that some are college journalism professors - well, does that surprise anyone?

What really struck me was today's batch of leaked conversations that the Daily Caller has published in which several of the participants rant about Fox News. That's fine. We know that Fox News sends leftists around the bend. A few seem to support the Obama administration to take government action to shut down Fox.
The very existence of Fox News, meanwhile, sends Journolisters into paroxysms of rage. When Howell Raines charged that the network had a conservative bias, the members of Journolist discussed whether the federal government should shut the channel down.

“I am genuinely scared” of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it “shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tough legal framework.” Davies, a Brit, frequently argued the United States needed stricter libel laws.

“I agree,” said Michael Scherer of Time Magazine. Roger “Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organization. You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”

Jonathan Zasloff, a law professor at UCLA, suggested that the federal government simply yank Fox off the air. “I hate to open this can of worms,” he wrote, “but is there any reason why the FCC couldn’t simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?”

And so a debate ensued. Time’s Scherer, who had seemed to express support for increased regulation of Fox, suddenly appeared to have qualms: “Do you really want the political parties/white house picking which media operations are news operations and which are a less respectable hybrid of news and political advocacy?”

But Zasloff stuck to his position. “I think that they are doing that anyway; they leak to whom they want to for political purposes,” he wrote. “If this means that some White House reporters don’t get a press pass for the press secretary’s daily briefing and that this means that they actually have to, you know, do some reporting and analysis instead of repeating press releases, then I’ll take that risk.”

Scherer seemed alarmed. “So we would have press briefings in which only media organizations that are deemed by the briefer to be acceptable are invited to attend?”

John Judis, a senior editor at the New Republic, came down on Zasloff’s side, the side of censorship. “Pre-Fox,” he wrote, “I’d say Scherer’s questions made sense as a question of principle. Now it is only tactical.”
I appreciate Michael Scherer expressing his qualms about the White House determining which media outlets are legitimate or aren't. But there seems to be a comfort level with a proposal that amounts to government censorship when a law professor advocates the government pulling Fox's FCC license because they don't like its content. Don't they have any sense of what a slippery slope that is? But then these are the same sorts of people who feel that campaign finance limitations on speech are perfectly fine. I have no idea how many other participants on the JournoList read this thread and just didn't comment. But I would like to think that most journalists would recoil from anything that resembled government determination of what acceptable speech should be. We're a long way from Voltaire's disapproving of a statement but being ready to defend to the death the right to say it. The new position seems to be - I don't like what you have to say and can't the Obama administration do something to stop you from saying it. They have betrayed a comfort level with government censorship that is both revealing and disturbing.