Want an honest media? Make them compete


On Saturday, The New York Times reported the libertarian-leaning Koch brothers are considering buying the eight newspapers part of the Tribune empire – including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant. Big government activists and proponents are none too happy, of course:

Last month, shortly after L.A. Weekly first reported on Koch Industries’ interest in the Tribune papers, the liberal Web site Daily Kos and Courage Campaign, a Los Angeles-based liberal advocacy group, collected thousands of signatures protesting such a deal. Conservatives, meanwhile, welcomed the idea of a handful of prominent papers spreading the ideas of economic “freedom” from taxes and regulation that the Kochs have championed.

In and among the reactions, The American Interest has a critically important perspective on the Kochs’ interest (emphasis added):

According to the Times, two groups are jostling for the Tribune company’s newspapers: the Koch brothers, conservative billionaires and longtime supporters of libertarian causes; and a varied group of wealthy, mostly liberal Los Angeles residents. From our point of view it’s an excellent thing that two groups of differing political persuasions are eying major newspaper acquisitions. We need diversity in journalism; the left and the right see society from different positions and both sides can offer useful and helpful insights.

From where we sit, the biggest danger to journalism today is the gentry liberal groupthink one can call the “Acela cocoon.” It’s particularly problematic for journalism right now because it mutes press criticism of the current Administration….But on so many big issues of the day the Administration and much of the press are so closely allied that the press genuinely has a hard time criticizing power.

That would change under a GOP president, of course; the press would turn from lapdogs to pit bulls almost overnight. From the standpoint of the public interest, we need a strong right wing press corps to go after Democratic and liberal presidents and a strong liberal press corps to keep Republican and conservative politicians on their toes. That way, no matter who controls Washington the public’s interest in press oversight will be served, and we can also count on the left and right wingers in the press to check each other’s work. All this would be significantly better than the overrepresentation of the Acela consensus in the contemporary press; competition and rivalry is what the press needs.

Free market competition, holding politicians accountable, spreading information among the masses – this is indeed what American needs. It would be ideal if all reporters, editors, and journalists were voluntarily as equally hard-nosed to all politicians as CNN’s Jake Tapper, but in the presence of bias, competition to keep all sides honest is the only solution. If you want government-funded media, that’s an option, but you should ask Soviet press for a history lesson before advocating that.

This is especially important in light of last year’s elections, where dishonest media bias was undoubtedly a major factor in November’s results. The more recent reactionary accusations from some in the media that “right-wing” Americans were responsible for the Boston bombings highlight the clear need for accountability and competition in media organizations across the nation.