The MSM: In a Horse Race to Irrelevancy?

Perhaps because of their declining prospects, much of the mainstream media are acting very hinky these days.  On the one hand we have the spectacle of such as the Associated Press and Newsweek openly adopting opinion as their journalistic motif.  While on the other we see newspapers, like The New York Times and The Washington Post, awash in the kind of political reporting that reduces even the most important policy issues to the banalities of “horse race” journalism.

This latter development has become all the more insufferable in the current nightmarish environment, where every current and proposed law or regulation should be more carefully analyzed for its effect on the economy than for its impact on politicians and political parties.

Coverage of the health care debate has been singularly inadequate for precisely this reason.  For every news and feature story that has delved into the effects, say, of the “public option” or the “employer mandate,” a hundred have dwelt on the chances of legislative passage, or on the political winners and losers.

Comes now the leaked e-mail  messages from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, just days before an important environmental summit in Copenhagen, and the question is whether the MSM, in the wake of it, will finally treat the subject of global warning with the care and objectivity that such a complex subject demands.

Even without so-called cap-and-trade legislation looming on the congressional horizon, the many national and international environmental laws that are now being implemented or considered require that global warming be closely scrutinized for its scientific findings, and for the impact and efficacy of any public policies as may be pursued in consequence.  The unseemly aspects of the CRU correspondence simply adds fuel to what should be a brightly burning subject even without it.

Consider, for instance, the critical linkages that have to be established and explained if “global warming” is to be understood by people generally (as distinguished from “warmists” or “skeptics”), as a subject they should care about.

First, it has to be clear that warming is happening, and that it is man-made, a subject about which there was, in fact, debate even before the CRU debacle.  Then it has to be determined that said warming is of such peril something needs to be done about it.  (Again, the subject of debate.)  Then, of course, it has to be shown that there is something that can be done about it.  And finally, we have to know that what we do won’t have negative consequences (like, for instance, on the economy) that are worse than the effects of the warming itself.

Seen in this way the opinions of climatologists are just one element, and not even the most important one, that needs to be considered and fully examined.  But is that happening in the coverage of this issue by the MSM?  Doesn’t look like it.  Instead, as with their coverage of health care reform, news stories about global warming tend to be either (1) preposterously opinionated, and wrapped in the familiar blather of political correctness, or (2) woefully superficial, a consequence of their horse-race aspects and focus not on substance but on the political sideshow.

Hardly a day goes by without someone, somewhere, lamenting the prospective demise of journalism, by which they mean, even if they don’t say so, what we have come to call the mainstream media – the broadcast networks, big-city papers, the newsweeklies, the wire services.  But as shown in their coverage of global warming and health care reform, today’s MSM appear to be adrift, and operating apart not only from their traditions, but also from what is in their own, and our, best interest.

Cross-posted in Huffington Post, here.

Bad Prescription for the First Amendment


It’s a good thing the USA isn’t experiencing any financial or economic problems, because if we were someone might notice that plans being hatched in committees of both the House and Senate will hurt all kinds of American businesses—and trash the First Amendment in the process.

The plans that are the subject of this note would deny the pharmaceutical industry—a perennial whipping boy—the right, afforded every other for-profit corporation, to deduct for tax purposes their advertising and marketing expenses.

The upshot of it all? An immediate hit to advertising agencies and to the media, all of whom are struggling in an economy that is tanking, and to the profitability of pharmaceutical companies, thereby putting downward pressure on their dividends to shareholders.

The impetus behind these congressional schemes is the frantic search for additional tax revenue as might (but won’t) cover the extraordinary costs, estimated at $1 trillion, associated with health care “reform.”

Of special note in these parts is the breezy dismissal by their congressional authors of the unconstitutional aspects of such legislation. From early landmark cases, such as Virginia Pharmacy and Central Hudson, to the present day, the Supreme Court has accorded commercial speech, as it’s called, a significant and growing amount of constitutional protection under the First Amendment.

Never mind. As demonstrated time and again, lawmakers are inclined to pass legislation without regard to its constitutional infirmities, leaving it to the courts to sort things out. Sorry to say, they are aided in this by a press corps that has demonstrated little or no interest in protecting the First Amendment rights of anyone other than themselves. (See, for instance, the coverage of McCain-Feingold.)

So it is that there’s a certain irony in the effort now underway by a number of media companies to resist this legislation. Having failed for years to explain to their readers and viewers how and why commercial messages too are protected speech, they now find themselves in the unhappy position of having to pay for that neglect.

None of which is to say that this legislation is deserved or a good idea. It is neither. It is, instead, just more economic mush issuing from people who are neither informed nor principled.