In all the brouhaha over Edward Snowden’s exposure of the National Security Agency’s invasion of our home computers, we seem to have forgotten about a long-dormant threat that is now rearing its ugly little head: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Created in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt to oversee our then nascent television and radio sector – and to ensure that these entities were licensed by the government – the FCC imposed the "Fairness Doctrine" on television and radio stations which required that both sides of a controversial issue be presented in order to ensure that the "public interest" was served. The result was that all controversial subjects were virtually barred from the airwaves because management didn’t want to deal with constant demands for "equal time." The rule wasn’t abolished until 1987, but long before that the new technology enabling cable television bypassed the Washington bureaucrats – and injected some life into what had been characterized previously as a vast wasteland.
But old outdated regulators never die – they simply lay in wait for their next opportunity to strike. This came when the administration of Barack Obama took office and appointed a number of FCC commissioners who want to impose "diversity" on America’s newsrooms. In their view, various "underserved" communities are being shortchanged by the media, which doesn’t pay enough attention to their concerns. The FCC is now seeking to rectify that Historic Injustice by sponsoring a study supposedly proving their point – and laying the groundwork for new regulations that clearly pose a direct threat to the First Amendment.
Last year the FCC began its "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs," a "research" project that will send government bureaucrats into the nation’s newsrooms to discover if the Critical Information Needs (CINs, in bureaucratese) of "underserved communities" are being met. What are these CINs? Well, there’s no less than eight of them, covering everything from information on the environment to "economic opportunities” – and also including “civic” and “political information.” These eight categories are deemed so important that broadcasters – and that includes print and internet media as well as television and radio – have a social obligation to cover them. Government agents will descend on media outlets, interview managers, journalists, and presumably the janitors to determine if these obligations are being met.
Is the "news philosophy" of a given media outlet broadcasting its fair share of CINs? Big Brother wants to know.
These interrogations will consist of questions like: “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?” After this fishing expedition is concluded, managers will then be asked how and why they made particular decisions.
Of course, all of this is "voluntary" – but radio and television stations must go to the FCC to have their licenses approved and/or renewed. So it’s about as "voluntary," in their case, as paying extortion fees to the Mafia. When the FCC comes knocking on the door of some radio station that features Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and the whole panoply of Fox News shock-jocks, questions about "perceived station bias" – as the FCC puts it – are inevitably going to be loaded with all sorts of rather ominous political overtones.
"It is important to identify and talk with people who are willing to provide demographic information about their respective property’s work force," says the FCC. Translation: the racial make-up of the news staff of radio, television, and other media outlets is going to be mapped – and challenged. Because, you see, "underserved communities" are getting short shrift from owners and top level personnel, who are naturally racists and have only gotten where they are today due to the "privilege" conferred on them due to an accident of birth. And to even suggest that there is some kind of barely hidden political agenda behind this survey is in itself racist, classist, sexist, not to mention homophobic and trans-phobic. In the Brave New World we are entering, even raising the question will be considered a hate crime, punishable by being locked in a room with Joan Walsh for twenty-four hours straight.
The FCC is apparently modeling its efforts on the NSA: the former’s goal is to build a gigantic media database geared to give us the metrics in deciding how the government will intervene to provide those oh-so-essentials CINs to long deprived media consumers. As the FCC puts it:
"The final constructed database will contain data for all media outlets at multiple units of analysis. We anticipate that the most granular unit of analysis will be individual news stories, while higher order variables will tap into higher units of analysis. For example, for broadcast television and radio, we also will include station demographics. Likewise, for newspaper content, we will also include newspaper-specific variables. Such data formatting will allow for potential hierarchical analysis of the data, including multi-level modeling (e.g. analysis of news stories that are clustered within particular stations within markets)."
Perhaps the FCC can collaborate with the NSA, in which case the latter can divert the internal correspondence of media providers and journalists to complete the picture.
The rationale for this brazen bullying – aside from the cover story, which employs the fashionable rhetoric of ethnic and "class" victimology – is the alleged disadvantage suffered by "underserved communities" whose members have never had a radio or television station handed to them. These "barriers to entry" are the main obstacles to those "entrepreneurs" who would dearly love to own Fox News but have so far (and through no fault of their own) failed to raise the funds to buy it.
Just to give you a taste of the profoundly authoritarian nature of the FCC’s project, get a load of what they call the "Community Ecology Study":
"The Community Ecology Study seeks to determine the CINs of a broad and demographically diverse population of a metropolitan area, as they are perceived and demanded by individuals nested in neighborhoods within those areas."
The "media ecology" of a given geographical area must reflect the "demographics" of "diversity," or else something is really wrong in Media-Land. And what’s more, those "nested" individuals in "underserved communities" really don’t know what their real "needs" are, you see, because some of these are "latent." So who knows what these "needs" are and ought to be? Why, who else but the designers of this absurd survey, Social
ist Solutions International, of Silver Springs, Maryland?!
SSI is a longtime
government contractor specializing in behavioral psychology and behavior
modification: one study, for example, contracted for by the State Department
and worth $1,400,000, researched "mandatory Therapeutic communities"
in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to advance our knowledge of how to treat
substance abuse. We learned how the SRV "nudges"
slaves citizens out of certain "socially irresponsible"
behaviors – yes, that’s how SSI makes its money, and lots of it.
A la Cass "
Abolish Modify the First Amendment" Sunstein, what the FCC is doing is "nudging" the media into becoming an instrument of government, at least insofar as it is possible to achieve this within the bounds of what is left of the Constitution. To make the media a force for "good" – as defined by the lords of DC – and "nudge" the population into cooperating with government diktats, it is first necessary to ensure properly compliant people are in the right positions.
In short, the FCC is getting ready to turn the American media landscape into something resembling Venezuela’s – a nation that similarly employs the rhetoric of radical egalitarianism to regulate media for the "public good," and provide a "level playing field" for the "underserved communities" – where El Presidente Nicolas Maduro derives his main support. In 2004, the Chavistas imposed the "Law on Social Responsibility of Radio and Television," ostensibly passed in order to:
"[S]trike a democratic balance between duties, rights, and interests, in order to promote social justice and further the development of the citizenry, democracy, peace, human rights, education, culture, public health, and the nation’s social and economic development."
In short, the Venezuelan media is, for the most part, an instrument of government, not an adversarial entity but a complementary one that enhances "social solutions" as conceived by Venezuela’s avowedly socialist government. The law was used to knock Radio Caracas Television, which had been critical of the Chavez regime, off the air. Daytime news reporting is censored for scenes of violence as well as sexually suggestive material – a rule that allows the government to downplay the recent violence in the streets as well as news of the skyrocketing crime rate. The Chavistas have determined the real "needs" of the "community" – and these do not include exposure to dissenting opinions. Their methods, however, are a bit more than "nudges" – a violent shove is more like it. The difference, however, is merely a matter of degree.
The irony is that while the Obama administration is continuing the policies of George W. Bush in doing everything possible to overthrow the Chavistas in Venezuela – funding the opposition and directing much of the action from behind the scenes – they are importing the Venezuelan media model here, minus (for the moment) its less draconian aspects.
FCC commissioner Ajit Pai was the first to draw attention to this ominous development, and Thomas Sowell followed up here, in which he makes the argument – in a somewhat convoluted polemic against Sen. Ted Cruz – that the agenda of the Obama administration has put us on the slippery slope to authoritarian rule. Citing the FCC’s media "study" as a harbinger of a larger trend, he writes:
"In the German elections of 1932, the Nazi party received 37 percent of the vote. They became part of a democratically elected coalition government, in which Hitler became chancellor. Only step by step did the Nazis dismantle democratic freedoms and turn the country into a complete dictatorship.
"The political majority could have united to stop Hitler from becoming a dictator. But they did not unite. They fought each other over their differences. Some figured that they would take over after the Nazis were discredited and defeated.
"Many who plotted this clever strategy died in Nazi concentration camps. Unfortunately, so did millions of others.
"What such clever strategies overlook is that there can be a point of no return. We may be close to that point of no return, not only with ObamaCare, but also with the larger erosion of personal freedom, of which ObamaCare is just the most visible part."
I don’t know what’s visible to Sowell and what he’s blind to, but regardless of what you think of the President’s healthcare plan it’s possible to substitute the Snowden revelations for Obamacare and come up with a credible argument that we have indeed nearly reached a point of no return. Sowell’s polemic against Sen. Cruz, berating him for insisting on ideological purity, could just as well describe those "progressives" who have spent so many column inches arguing against cooperating with libertarians in a united campaign against the Surveillance State.
Sowell used the example of German National Socialism, but he could just as well have cited the Bolsheviks or the Italian fascists – and indeed the Italian corporatist model seems to fit the closest, albeit not quite like a glove. Mussolini presided over a system of economic crony capitalism that limned and co-opted the collectivist program of the Italian Socialist Party, where Mussolini had formerly been a top leader. Sounds like Obama-land to me, especially the crony capitalist part. (Thomas Wheeler, head of the FCC, is a former lobbyist for the cable industry as well as a major "bundler" for Obama’s presidential campaign: as head of Core Capital Partners, he was a major industry player.)
In any case, and by any measure, the realm of freedom is rapidly shrinking in these United States of America. Journalism is being redefined as a criminal act, which is why Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the two journalists who have done the most to report on the crimes of the NSA, cannot return to their own country without fear of being arrested. That’s why James Risen faces a criminal trial, and why Fox News and the Associated Press have both had their communications systems broken into by government snoops.
And while we’re on the subject, that is why Antiwar.com has been subjected to an FBI investigation on the grounds that we might well be "agents of a foreign power."
What in the name of all that’s holy is going on?
We’re almost at the point of no return.
No return to the days when journalism was a profession, and not a crime scene: no return to the days when the Constitution mattered. No return to the America of our forefathers, who fought and died for the Fourth Amendment – and took up arms against the Cass Susteins of their era, who thought they could "nudge" free Americans into allowing British soldiers into their homes. One imagines the FCC interrogating Benjamin Franklin – and his inevitable response – with nostalgia for the America that was, and hope for the America that will yet be.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Well, if the Social
ist Solutions folks come to Antiwar.com, I’ll be sure to tell them we’re serving up hot CINs at such a rate that by the end of the day I’m literally exhausted. Because we’re involved in a little "nudging" of our own, albeit in the complete opposition direction from Cass Sunstein and his fellow statist nudgers. We’re nudging Americans away from the idea that government officials have access to Ultimate Truth and teaching them to distrust whatever comes out of a government spokesman’s mouth, especially when it comes to issues of war, peace, and civil liberties.
Unlike the legion of government contractors who flock to profit from our leaders’ authoritarian impulses, however, we don’t have access to the US Treasury. We depend on our readers and supporters to voluntarily contribute the resources we need to continue. And I don’t mean "voluntary" in the sense that accepting the visit of the FCC’s interrogators is "voluntary" on the part of radio and television outlets: I mean really voluntary. And our success in fundraising depends on the value of our services – exposing the War Party and it’s allies in government and media – to our readers.
We’ve been on the War Party’s case since 1998, which means I guess that we’ve been serving the needs of our readers as they perceive them – not as some fool of a government contractor sees them. And now we are turning to you again, as you may have noticed, in asking for your support – because we’re coming to the crucial part of our fundraising campaign.
A group of "angels" – relatively well-off supporters of Antiwar.com – have gotten together and come up with a contribution of some $28,000, which they are prepared to donate on the condition that we match it in smaller contributions dollar-for-dollar. We get only what we can match, and not one penny more. (Oh those libertarians, you know how they are!)
Now is the time for all good peace activists, left, right and center, and for all defenders of the Constitution against the James Clappers and Barack Obamas, to come to the aid of Antiwar.com. It’s as simple as that. This is make or break for us – so please help us make it. Make your tax-deductible donation today – and not just today, but right now.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.