According to stories in the Aspen Daily News and the Aspen Times, newspapers of record for the nation’s elite snowboarders, Dan Rather gave a speech at the Aspen Institute on Tuesday, asking that President Obama create a national commission to “save journalism.”
As one of the papers put it, without a skosh of irony, “Rather told an Aspen audience that journalism has declined to such a point that it is time for the government to intervene.”
Attributing the decline of "great American journalism" to “corporatization, politicization, and trivialization of the news,” Rather suggested that the commission “ought to make recommendations on saving journalism jobs and creating new business models to keep news organizations alive.”
"If we do nothing more than stand back and hope that innovation alone will solve this crisis," he said, "then our best-trained journalists will lose their jobs."
It’s not every day that one encounters such a rich vein of stuff. Puts one in mind of the children’s illustrations that ask the question, what’s wrong with this picture? So many upside-down daffodils and trees growing carrots.
First, you know, there’s the problem that some consider the author of this scheme himself to be a disgraced figure in the world of journalism, having lost his job at CBS for the role he played in the airing of a bogus report about President Bush.
Then there’s the (unintentionally) droll picture he conjures up of a presidential commission as a kind of jobs program for the rescue of threadbare journalists, and the linking of the employment status of some of them with the very survival of journalism itself.
But the most grievous error — that aspect of the Jabberwocky that fairly leaps off the page — is the very suggestion that government is the solution to what ails the media today. Make no mistake, there are governmental policies that could, and should, be changed (like, for instance, an end to the newspaper/broadcast cross ownership rules), but there is no need for a presidential commission or “media czar” for the purpose.
One would think that a former network anchorman would understand the peril inherent in any intervention by the government into the affairs of the press. It is this, after all, that is the primary concern of the Speech Clause of the First Amendment. What are the chances, for instance, that any such commission would use its mandate, and the media’s genuine agony, as cover to advance content regulations that parallel the commissioners’ political beliefs?
Speaking of his idea, Rather said that he was “throwing it out there for what it’s worth.” Since the Aspen Institute charged $15 per ticket to this event, we know what they think it was worth, but I think admission should have been free. It wouldn’t have improved the speech but the price would have been right.