The Newspeaking “Free” Press

The woman on the street can have a hard time understanding what some journalists think free speech is these days. Craig Aaron is the president and CEO of an organization known as “Free Press”. Visiting the “about” section on that website turns up this quote describing their mission statement:

“Free Press (501c3) and Free Press Action Fund (501c4) are two separate, autonomous and interrelated organizations. Both organizations are completely independent: We don’t take money from business, government or political parties and rely on the generosity of charitable foundations and individual donors to fuel our work.”

On March 24th, Mr. Aaron had an article published on The Columbia Journalism Review’s website, under the title, “Journalism Needs a Stimulus. Here’s What it Should Look Like”. Like Commodus in Gladiator, the reading public could be a little hazy, the two ideas don’t seem to jibe. Here’s a citation from Aaron’s article: Weekly Pill Organizer ... Buy New $9.99 (as of 09:24 UTC - Details)

Free Press, the independent, nonprofit advocacy organization I lead, champions structural solutions to the news business’s dire financial problems. We’ve long campaigned for more federal and state support for public media, opposed media consolidation, and argued that journalism is too important to democracy to be left to the whims of the market.”

But, if not the “whims of the market,” what whims are we supposed to go by? It is possible not to see a contradiction going on. The specific organization known as Free Press doesn’t take government handouts, we are told, but that doesn’t mean news writers shouldn’t get them. So who, exactly, makes up this “free press,” that has to rely on public largesse to remain free? Aaron, along with a lot of fellow travelers, don’t know why anyone has a question here. Looking around the internet there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of people willing to tell us what they see going on around them in the world. Private online media giants have deplatformed many of them. That, kind of whimsically, deprives these sources of revenue in spite of “the market.” Readers who know their way around this turf probably figured out these are not the deserving mendicants Mssr. Aaron plugs for in the CJR piece, even if he hadn’t said so.

How does Aaron plan to decide who gets government checks? Who will be doing the qualifying?

“Any recovery package should include at least $2 billion over the next two years to fund newsroom jobs at commercial outlets committed to local coverage. These could be daily newspapers, community papers, or alt-weeklies (which are in bad trouble). The immediate priority is keeping outlets in business and workers on the payroll. Direct, emergency subsidies of say $25,000 per newsgathering position could make sure reporters everywhere stay on the local COVID beat. Just $625 million would help retain 25,000 newsroom jobs.

Over the next two years, as coverage of both the health and economic crises continues, Congress could offer deferred or no-interest business loans that could be repaid in the future. Another sensible approach could be through tax credits, in which the government picks up a significant part of the tab for newsroom staff wages through the end of 2021. An Emergency Jobs for Journalism Tax Credit could offer $40,000 per newsroom employee hired during the remainder of calendar year 2020; the tax credit would apply through the end of 2021.”

An age-old complaint about ultra-equality is that it always leaves some people more equal than everybody else. The most important part of free speech, I always thought, was giving everybody the same chance to be heard. If you pay certain people they end up with quite an edge in the game. That’s how we heard of Mencken, Hemingway, Pyle, Bly, Patterson, West, Crane and a lot of other writers. But their publisher’s had to be making money before these legends got checks. Now Supplements, L-Opt... Buy New $6.32 ($0.06 / Count) (as of 07:55 UTC - Details)

The question is whether or not privileged classes are ordained by the first amendment? Anyone who’s delved into the subject lately knows some will answer a definite yes. It’s not hard to guess where they come from. A substantial number of people published in mainstream organs in recent years implicitly take the term “press” from the first amendment, in the phrase “or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” to mean an entitled class.   They openly oppose the idea of a machine, like a laptop, that anyone with access is free to use to widely disseminate ideas. Where does this leave the consumer? Paying people who fail in the marketplace of ideas with funds exacted from the public, while barring people who don’t, is an oddly new conception of freedom.

Neither the Columbia Journalism Review, nor The Free Press, websites have comment sections. Many news media sites don’t but there is a difference in mid-demand to tap taxpayers. It’s just another sign of an intention to talk down to subjects who can’t talk back up.

In the movie Bombshell Nicole Kidman, playing Gretchen Carlson, complains of being bullied on social media, it’s a whine that’s become all too common from people who want to be public figures without consequences. The audience needs to dummy up so that celebrity bliss goes untrammeled. John Lithgrow’s (as Roger Ailes) response is the punchiest line in the film: “That’s not bullying you moron. Bullying is when a more powerful person abuses a less powerful person.  These assholes have cellphones, you’ve got a goddamn TV show.”

The winners of Mr. Aaron’s competition do not necessarily get a TV show. They would get a voice, however low, to reach a broader audience that is not available to others. Who gets heard is a choice safely left in the hands of the listening market. The government already has an enormous army of spokespersons, websites and coercive angles to get their points across. A monologue fueled by entitled scolds on the public dole, to “inform” us all as they please, sounds like the pipe dream of Mephistopheles. It’s only slightly stunning how many sadists in the 4th Estate he’s got dreaming with him.

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