For years, I’ve written about the danger of government funding of media, regardless of how independent the journalists at the outlets claim to be. I’m pleased to discover that I’ve made at least one convert, even if it’s someone who clearly fails to apply her stated principles to herself. Here is your Someone Left The Irony On Department winner of the day (via RCP):
On Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week,” National Public Radio’s legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg spelled out the consequences of the government becoming “intertwined” with the press in response to the scandal Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World publication is embroiled in England.
“Well, tabloids will never go away,” Totenberg said. “They are part of the history of at least a western democracy. But, it does show you when politicians and the news media are completely intertwined, not just get in bed together because they’ve always been in bed together a little bit, but their ownership is intertwined with the power of the press, it can get to be a very dangerous proposition, reading how frightened the leaders were to even challenge Murdoch.”
Totenberg works for NPR — a news agency funded in significant part by public subsidies.
Totenberg’s point doesn’t even hold up to scrutiny in this case, though. Is she saying that it was a bad situation to have the government afraid of the media? Isn’t that the kind of check on power to which Totenberg and the rest of the American media aspire? To the extent that politicians and ownership were intertwined, wouldn’t the real problem have been if the media had covered up for the politicians, and not that the politicians were arguably slow to investigate the media? Or does Totenberg like the idea of government investigations into news outlets? The actual problem with Murdoch’s News of the World didn’t come from government intertwining with News Corp, but rather an editorial staff being run with few scruples which allowed criminal behavior to occur. Unless Totenberg wants to argue that government needs to start inspecting newsrooms and clearing stories for publication, then she doesn’t have a point at all.
In any case, the last person who should complain about the intertwining of government and news media for any reason is a journalist whose paycheck relies on taxpayer subsidies.