Guest Editorial


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rick manningConsider these headlines over the past couple of years. 

From the John Podesta run Center for American Progress' blog on January 9, 2012, "Network news coverage of climate change collapsed in 2011."

"LA Times bans letters from climate skeptics," on Fox News on October 18, 2013.

"Environmentalists to news networks: cover climate change more, skeptics less" in the April 1, 2013 Daily Caller.

Now, a February 10, 2014 Wall Street Journal opinion commentary by the lone Republican commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is headlined, "The FCC wades into the newsroom: Why is the agency studying 'perceived station bias' and asking about coverage choices?"

The author, Ajit Pai writes, "The purpose … according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about 'the process by which stories are selected' and how often stations cover 'critical information needs,' along with 'perceived station bias' and 'perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.'"

But Pai goes even further in describing the actions of these FCC researchers writing, "the agency selected eight categories of 'critical information' such as the 'environment' and 'economic opportunities,' that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their 'news philosophy' and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information."

To the very naïve, this might seem like nothing more than another government study designed to get useless information, not unlike a recent study to learn more about the breeding habits of the woodchuck.

But this is much more.  The Federal Communications Commission controls the broadcast licenses of every television outlet in the nation, and those licenses come up for regular renewal.  Failure to meet FCC standards can result in a station owner losing the license and millions of dollars. 

Now the FCC is planning on sending federal government snoops into newsrooms to ask questions about why a certain climate change conference was or wasn't covered, why the reporters chose different spokespersons to present divergent points of view, and whether divergent points of view should have been presented at all.  Journalism be damned, the FCC is in the government information dissemination business, and the nation's broadcasters better get on board.

The fact is that every journalist and editor makes choices in stories. 

They can choose to put competing positions early in the report, bury the position of one side by giving one ten word snippet surrounded by contradicting information,  or not include a balancing viewpoint at all.  They can choose to put a story into the beginning of a broadcast or in a less desirable spot.  They can choose to ignore alternative stories simply by failing to cover events that don't represent the editorial position of the outlet.  And they can choose to put up graphics that visually take sides in what otherwise would be an even handed piece. 

The message the FCC is sending to newsrooms across the nation with this latest attempt to coerce coverage is that they'd better make federal government approved editorial decisions or else. 

If the White House is pushing the latest "climate change" scare, you'd better not have anyone on air contradicting the global warming assumptions that underlie the official government position.

If it is stimulus day at the White House, a nice puff piece on the declining unemployment rate would be in order, but stay away from those deniers who point out that the rate has dropped at least partially due to young workers dropping out of, or never entering the workforce.

With former Center for American Progress head John Podesta now leading White House efforts on green issues, can his organization's 2012 complaints about the news media not giving enough air time to climate change issues be ignored by anyone hoping to keep their broadcast license?

Obama appointees on the FCC have turned the corner toward federal media coercion.  Placing Obama apparatchiks into newsrooms to monitor and direct editorial decisions to achieve the Administration's indoctrination ends should frighten every American, and even stir a moribund Congress to action.

But in a nation where more people can name at least two members of "The Simpsons" cartoon family, than can name more than one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment, it is likely that the average person won't even notice the difference. 

Reporters and editors on the other hand will constantly be concerned about whether their stories meet the FCC station assigned political officer's approving eye. 

Even if the federal government never places a single overseer into newsrooms across the country, the message has been sent.  We are watching, and if you don't toe the line, your livelihood is at risk.

Welcome to Pravda Amerika.

Rick Manning is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.