Why Did the FCC’s Plan to Invade Newsrooms Only Inspire ‘Conservative Outcry’?

Rothman: Why Did the FCC's Plan to Invade Newsrooms Only Inspire 'Conservative Outcry'? 

“Proposed FCC study of news organizations sparks conservative outcry,” The Washington Post declared on Friday. The story revealed details of the backlash against a Federal Communications Commission plan to investigate the news-gathering and information dissemination practices of a variety of print and broadcast media outlets.

The Post quickly amended that headline, as someone decided the study should have sparked a general “outcry,” even though it apparently did not –- at least, not in The Post’s newsroom. Still, some bright fellow at The Post noted that this latest encroachment by the federal government should be met with at least a perfunctory protest from the members of the press.

But what a stunning admission The Post’s original headline contained. There, in that one little word, decades of ideological baggage tainting that industry was carelessly unpacked.

The spectacular imbecility in which the FCC, the regulatory commission which wields over news outlets the ability to renew or revoke their license to broadcast, approached this voluntary study inspired more chortles than shudders from journalists -– that is, those journalists who fancy themselves neutral political arbiters.

RELATED: FCC Commissioner Speaks Out: ‘Government Doesn’t Have a Place in the Newsroom’

The proposed study, conducted by an outside contractor with no experience studying communications, and which has virtually imploded on the launch pad due entirely to the incompetence of its design and roll-out, was supposedly devised to shed light on the news-gathering process. The FCC explained that they wanted “to ascertain the process by which stories are selected, station priorities (for content production quality, and populations served), perceived station bias, perceived percent of news dedicated to each of the eight [Critical Information Needs] and perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

Where are the “dog whistle” decoders when you need them? Show of hands as to how many in the audience think “underserved populations” refers to disaffected conservative news consumers? Does anyone believe that “perceived station bias” is the province of the federal government to identify and/or correct? And in what universe is it the domain of communications regulatory agency to identify “critical information needs” that extend beyond alerting the public to civic emergencies?

The lack of outrage from the establishment press over this infringement on the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment was powerfully captured in the lack of “outcry” this story inspired Wednesday on Fox’s On the Record. A visibly incensed Greta Van Susteren seemed truly confounded by The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard and WaPo‘s Karen Tumulty, both of whom could only muster a head shake and an eye-roll in response to this infringement on the autonomy of journalists. Watch here [post continues below that]:

I have argued that the foolish way in which the FCC went about imposing themselves on newsrooms (including print newsrooms, which are beyond the purview of the FCC to regulate) would likely result in this study being scuttled or scaled down. Americans should be far more concerned with the FCC’s quiet plan to make a third attempt at imposing the tenets of net neutrality on the internet and to regulate yet another field of communications which courts have previously ruled is beyond the reach of this body. The FCC’s determination to expand its influence beyond the realm of television and radio is self-evident.

But there is room in American thought for two simultaneous outrages, particularly when the infractions are as egregious as these.

Perhaps the political class has simply become accustomed to regulatory agency overreach. There is no shortage of examples of this form of sprawl; from the FCC, or the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or the Federal Trade Commission, or the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the Internal Revenue Service, or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive, etc., etc.

But the journalistic community, of all communities, should be acutely aware of the threat posed by these ever-expanding bureaucracies. It would seem, however, that episodes like the most recent infraction by the FCC have become so commonplace that the establishment media is unmoved by them to the point of indifference.

If there’s one “critical information need” that the media should be providing the public, it is to keep government’s endless ambition in check. But most of the supposedly non-ideological media could only muster a chuckle. To the extent that it was covered, as exemplified by The Post, the FCC’s plan to invade newsrooms was covered as a political story – one of relevance only to conservatives.

That is toxic. That is terrifying.

[Photo via FCC]

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An experienced broadcaster and columnist, Noah Rothman has been providing political opinion and analysis to a variety of media outlets since 2010. His work has appeared in a number of political opinion journals, and he has shared his insights with television and radio personalities across the country.