Conservatives Could Be Trump’s Biggest Fight

As the mainstream media pillory Donald Trump, and in doing so reveal the hypocrisy lurking in their news standards, Trump’s supporters find themselves caught between the rock of the MSM and the hard place of the conservative intelligentsia. And it may be the latter that are doing the most damage.

Because academia and the legacy media are so hostile to them, intellectuals of the right have for years congregated in think tanks and publications. Places like the libertarian Cato Institute, the conservative National Review and the Wall Street Journal, and the neoconservative Commentary (and more recently the Weekly Standard) have incubated and nurtured some of the best pundits and policy analysts in the country.

Yet today, not one of them supports Donald Trump’s candidacy, and several (particularly the neocons) are in full-throated opposition. Taken together, these “Never Trumpers” fault the GOP nominee for his stands on immigration and international trade, for his personal style, and for his lack of familiarity with, much less fealty to, conservative policy positions.

In other words, they have their reasons. Yet for all of that, there’s a look and feel about their efforts that smacks of vanity. Sadder still, their collective posture reveals an embarrassing lack of discernment » Read More

Maines is president of The Media Institute. The opinions expressed are his alone and not those of The Media Institute, its board, advisory councils, or contributors.  The full version of this article appeared in The Hill on Aug. 31, 2016.

Net Neutrality Decision: A Welcome Development

Tuesday’s decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, striking down the FCC’s so-called “net neutrality” regulations, is a welcome development.  As noted by many, these regulations amount to a solution in search of a problem, with the only lasting and real-world effects being the creation of the precedent of governmental oversight of the previously unregulated Internet.

Moreover, and as argued in this space a little over a year ago, there is an international dimension to net neutrality, as the existence of these regulations in the U.S.A. advances the agendas of countries like Russia and China in regulating the Internet through the International Telecommunication Union.

Writing today in the Wall Street Journal, former FCC commissioner Robert McDowell makes a convincing case that, for this reason too, the FCC should abandon any further attempts to promote net neutrality.

For the new FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, this development threatens the very real prospect of becoming his signature activity for the duration of his term.  This, because if, at the urging of Internet companies like Google, plus the Obama Administration, Wheeler is importuned to try to resurrect the net neutrality rules, he basically has but two options.  One is to appeal the Circuit Court’s decision, and the other is to attempt to reclassify broadband provision as a “telecommunications service,” rather than an “information service,” something that would allow the imposition of net neutrality regs (and who knows what else) by the same authority that the FCC regulates telephone service.

But if Wheeler goes the reclassification route, it will set off congressional fireworks of a sort that will land him and the FCC in a protracted war with telecom companies, and Republican legislators, without any guarantee of success.

Still, one can only imagine the angst among the net neutrality crowd following yesterday’s decision. As reported in The Hill by Kate Tummarello, Internet companies have “pushed net neutrality with an almost religious fervor.”  Indeed, one of the most ardent pushers, the ludicrous organization called Free Press, coined the sophomoric slogan: “Net neutrality, the First Amendment of the Internet.”

So it’s not at all clear what the FCC’s next step will be, but suffice to say that the Circuit Court’s decision is going to make for some very interesting times there … and elsewhere.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.


Fordham’s Take on Freedom of Speech

An important piece in the Wall Street Journal, profiling the president of a student free-speech group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, spotlights the challenges facing free speech on the nation’s college campuses.

A recent incident at Fordham University, mentioned in the article, provides a good example.  There, the university’s College Republicans invited conservative columnist Ann Coulter to speak on campus.  Student groups opposed to Coulter and her politics protested the upcoming event, and on Nov. 9 the university’s president, Rev. Joseph McShane, S.J., weighed in on the matter in a letter addressed to the student body, faculty, and alumni:

To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement.  There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them.  Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative – more heat than light – and her message is aimed squarely at the darker side of our nature.  

In the same letter, Father McShane said that the university would not stop Coulter’s appearance owing “to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement.”  This tradition was apparently of scant comfort to the College Republicans, however.  Faced with the attacks issuing from students, faculty, and the university president, the CRs disinvited Coulter and apologized for having invited her in the first place, a development that McShane quickly and lavishly praised:

Late yesterday, Fordham received word that the College Republicans, a student club at the university, has rescinded its lecture invitation to Ann Coulter.

Allow me to give credit where credit is due: the leadership of the College Republicans acted quickly, took responsibility for their decisions, and expressed their regrets sincerely and eloquently.  Most gratifying, I believe, is that they framed their decision in light of Fordham’s mission and values.  There can be no finer testament to the value of a Fordham education and the caliber of our students.

Yesterday I wrote that the College Republicans provided Fordham with a test of its character.  They, the University community, and our extended Fordham family passed the test with flying colors, engaging in impassioned but overwhelmingly civil debate on politics, academic freedom, and freedom of speech.

Somewhere Thomas Jefferson weeps, while George Orwell is smiling.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.


Nonprofit ‘Investigative’ Journalism: A Distraction (and Worse)

As noted here, the recently released FCC report on the future of journalism has effectively put the kibosh on the “media reform” crowd’s dream of government intervention to “save journalism.”  Likely gone forever are such schemes as a federal tax credit for investigative journalism, or an AmeriCorps-like “Geek Corps for local democracy.”

But there’s another element of the “reformers’” agenda that is still alive and kicking, and that is the rise of so-called nonprofit journalism, i.e. the creation, as nonprofit organizations, of “investigative” journalism groups, like ProPublica, which research and write feature stories that are then peddled for publication (or publicity) to for-profit, and often mainstream, media companies like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

At a time when so many news organizations, newspapers especially, are laying off reporters, concern about the future of journalism is neither wrong nor untimely, and when compared to the inherent evils in direct (or indirect) government funding of journalism, the nonprofits’ activities are orders of magnitude more benign.

This said, even a cursory review of this cottage industry reveals deep flaws that aren’t, in the main, even being discussed.  Two in particular stand out: (1) Virtually without exception these groups are funded by left-of-center individuals and foundations – funding that is reflected in the groups’ mission statements and/or in the material they publish; and (2) the nonprofit groups’ relationship with for-profit outlets reveals a business plan on the part of the former that relies utterly on the existence  of the latter, thereby vitiating claims that the nonprofit groups are any kind of “solution” to what ails the media.

A piece recently published in Politico shines some (unintended) light on the problem.  Titled “Liberal Journalism’s Fickle Godfather,” the article tasks PBS commentator Bill Moyers – who also heads a grant-giving foundation – for not staying long enough in financial support of some liberal nonprofit startups that subsequently folded.

In between quotes from disgruntled grant recipients dropped by Moyers’s foundation (the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy), the author of the piece recounts some recent history of such organizations, including a few survivors, and sums things up this way:

“Earlier this month, the FCC released the results of a year-long survey of this destruction and recommended that philanthropy play a bigger role in supporting journalism.  But so far, few foundations are set up to provide the ongoing support that journalism organizations really need.”

Well, okay, if Politico says so it must be true, right?  But there is this: Every nonprofit mentioned in the piece as doing “investigative journalism” derives virtually all of its financial support from liberal grant-giving foundations.

Take, for instance, the Center for Public Integrity, said by Politico to have “a diverse funding base.” In fact, the Center’s funding base is “diverse” only in the sense that there’s more than one contributor.  Otherwise, virtually every group shown (on Wikipedia) to be in support of the Center is a liberal grant-giving foundation.  Though not all of them give the same proportion of their funding to nonprofit journalism groups like the Center for Public Integrity, the media programs they do fund are resolutely left-of-center.

There is, one hastens to say, nothing intrinsically wrong with committing liberalism (of course there’s nothing right with it, either), but kidding aside, when the whole of the nonprofit journalism community is funded by such as George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, or the MacArthur Foundation, or the Tides Foundation, or the Knight, Ford, or Schumann foundations, and manned by the kind of people, and/or with the kind of mission, as at the Center for Responsive Politics, the Center for Investigative Reporting, or the Center for Public Integrity, there is the risk (how to put this gently?) that the resultant investigations will be “one-sided.”

Of course this isn’t a problem for everybody, and certainly not for Politico, but it really is a problem – though not yet widely recognized as such – for the participating mainstream media.

About a year ago I was given the unpleasant task of participating on an ABA panel with the general manager of the newest kid on the block, the nonprofit investigative group called ProPublica.  Founded, chaired, and bankrolled by the billionaire and uber liberal Herbert Sandler, ProPublica’s editor is Paul Steiger, formerly with the Wall Street Journal, on whose watch the organization has won two Pulitzer prizes.

According to published reports, Mr. Steiger’s total compensation in 2009 was just under $600K, so it’s not clear if he joined ProPublica because he believes in its stated mission (“shining a light on the exploitation of the weak by the strong”), or for more pedestrian reasons, but whatever the case the point of conflict between me and ProPublica’s general manager back then was his argument that it was possible for journalists to separate their work and opinions from those of their employers.  The example the gentleman gave was of the management of The Wall Street Journal and its reporters.

As I subsequently wrote, this argument doesn’t compute because a for-profit media manager’s job (as at the WSJ) is to make money, not politics, whereas the investigative nonprofit manager’s job is just the opposite. Indeed, this argument is akin to the tired old nonsense, spouted for decades by certain editors, that the political affiliation of their reporters – even where, say, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nine or ten to one – doesn’t color their journalistic product.  Of course it doesn’t.

So at a time when the perceived bias of the MSM is driving people en masse into the arms of such as Matt Drudge, Andrew Breitbart, and Glenn Beck (and how “progressive” is that?), the collaboration of mainstream media with the uniformly liberal nonprofit journalism groups threatens to hasten that emigration.  And as suggested at the beginning of this piece, even this isn’t the only problem with nonprofit journalism.

The other problem is that, unlike the ersatz “reforms” (of which nonprofit journalism is but one) promoted by such as the Knight Foundation, there are some real initiatives being undertaken by individuals and organizations – including media companies themselves – who have not given up on the MSM or for-profit journalism, and are trying very hard to find ways to compensate for the extraordinary loss of advertising that is at the root of the crisis in medialand.

Broadcasters, for instance, are hoping to adapt to the new realities through the development of such things as multicast digital channels and mobile DTV, while print companies, like The New York Times and the Dallas Morning News, are rolling out online subscription pricing plans in an attempt to generate more revenue.

And they are not alone.  Other informed people, like certain members of the communications bar, are trying to lend a hand.  Take, for instance, the highly regarded media and First Amendment attorney Bruce Sanford, who has written and testified about prospective changes in copyright, ownership, and antitrust laws as would provide a more level playing field for the commercial mainstream media.

At the end of the day it’s this – the contrast between the hopes and plans of those who have not given up on the media versus those who have, and would now turn it into an industry reliant on the government, or nonprofit groups with an agenda – that frames the other problem with nonprofit journalism: It’s a time-consuming and expensive distraction from the real work that needs to be done.

Even if, as often seems to be the case, the real motive behind the promotion of nonprofit journalism is the rescue of the recently (or soon-to-be) unemployed, dressed up in the rhetoric of “saving the news,” it amounts to little more than a gesture in the larger scheme of things.

Even if it were a more ideologically even-handed enterprise, nonprofit investigative journalism is not now, and never will be, either a solution to the problems of, or an obviation of the need for, mainstream, professional, and for-profit media.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.


Funding Net Neutrality … And Worse

There are so many things wrong with the FCC’s codified “net neutrality” rules, the kindest thing one can say about those responsible is that they were all born yesterday.  But criticism of this monstrosity abounds already, and given the potential for it to be wholly or partly undone by the courts or Congress, no further discussion of its many flaws is either timely or necessary.

Just before Christmas, however, John Fund wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal that ought to be required reading for every media and communications mogul in America.  Titled “The Net Neutrality Coup,” Fund recounts the role played by a handful of large grant-giving foundations, and the beneficiaries of their largesse (“paid clappers,” in Ted Turner’s immortal phrase) in the promotion of this cynical creation of the “media reform” movement.

Perhaps the greatest value in Fund’s piece is his finding that most of those foundations that provided the lion’s share of funding for net neutrality were also among the biggest sources of funding for the earlier (and even worse) mischief, “campaign finance reform.”

Fund identifies by name a total of six grant-giving foundations and four operating organizations.  They are, among the former: the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Joyce Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the John and Catherine MacArthur Foundation.

The four operating groups are Free Press, Public Knowledge, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the New America Foundation.  What all of these groups – funders and recipients alike – share in common is that, to varying degrees, they are all liberal-leaning, or “progressive,” as they yearn to be called nowadays.

Missing from this list is another billion-dollar grant-giving group – the Knight Foundation – which, through the Knight Commission, has itself peddled  net neutrality, along with such pap as the need for greater funding of public broadcasting, and tax credits for investigative journalism.  Though we won’t know for sure until its report is issued, the FCC appears to have adopted the Knight Commission’s recommendations as a kind of blueprint in its approach to the commission’s so-called Future of Media initiative.

The reason all of this should be of the greatest importance to everyone, but particularly to titans of media and communications, is simple: The communications policy views of grant-making groups like the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation (not to mention Free Press) are inimical to the well being of media and communications companies.

It’s not entirely clear why the “progressive” moneybags’ lavish spending has not incited individuals with different political views, many of whom have amassed great wealth in the media and communications business, to fund non-profit organizations with more pro-business communications policy views.  Perhaps it’s because some of them, having gotten theirs and now in retirement, no longer care much what happens to the industry of which they were once a part.  Or maybe it’s because many don’t think of themselves, or want others to think of them, as “conservatives,” whatever that means in the context of communications policymaking.

But a likelier explanation is that many fail to understand what a threat to their own and their industry’s welfare some of these groups actually pose.  Perhaps because businessmen are very good at lobbying, and understand the ins and outs of PACs, they don’t see the need to engage their critics in the worlds of academia or think tankery.

It’s a mistake, that, because in truth it’s the people who deal in ideas – intellectuals and artists, activists and policy wonks – who are often the engines in the development of policy issues in which legislators and regulators are but the last people to board the train.  Witness, for instance, net neutrality.

As John Fund puts it, in the conclusion of his WSJ piece, “So the ‘media reform’ movement paid for research that backed its views, paid activists to promote the research, saw its allies installed in the FCC and other key agencies, and paid for the FCC research that evaluated the research they had already paid for.  Now they have their policy.  That’s quite a coup.”

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not necessarily of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

‘Interest Groups’ and the News Media

From the Pew Research Center/Project for Excellence in Journalism comes the welcome report that newspaper editors and TV news directors are not eager to be, or to be seen as being, wards of the state.  This wholesome sentiment will not come as a surprise to most people, but it has to be disconcerting to the “media reform” crowd, which has been clamoring for direct government subsidies or tax breaks for the news media.

According to the study, 75 percent of the respondents, drawn from the ranks of members of ASNE and RTDNA, had “serious reservations” about direct subsidies from the government, and approximately half had such concerns about tax credits for news organizations.  (Note: These figures do not indicate how many of the respondents had “reservations,” only those who had “serious reservations.”)

It’s in the matter of non-governmental support, of the sort that issues from “interest groups” or nonprofit organizations, that the picture becomes a little murky.  According to the report, a whopping 78 percent of the respondents had serious concerns about accepting donations from “interest groups that engage in advocacy of some kind,” while a little over half expressed either serious or “some” reservations about funds issuing from nonprofit foundations.

Buts what about those groups, like the investigative news organization ProPublica, that are funded and led by people with extensive, and clearly defined, political profiles?  Is ProPublica an advocacy group or just a nonprofit news group?  The question takes on a practical significance in light of the Pulitzer recently awarded to ProPublica and The New York Times for their collaboration on a piece published in the New York Times Magazine.

As reported here, the founder, chairman, and principal financial backer of ProPublica is billionaire Herbert Sandler.  Since selling his interest in the bank (Golden West Financial) through which he made his fortune, Herbert and his wife, Marion, have become big-time philanthropists, with substantial sums going to “progressive” organizations like the Center for American Progress and Acorn.

Along the way the Sandlers acquired an interest in bankrolling a news organization that would create “journalism in the public interest,” as ProPublica calls itself, and hired Paul Steiger, then the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, to act as editor-in-chief.

As reported in The New York Times, Steiger, who was then nearing the WSJ’s mandatory retirement age, didn’t know the Sandlers well but regarded them as “civic-minded people who were kind of partial to lefty or progressive causes.”

From its inception in 2008, ProPublica has proclaimed its independence and impartiality — a claim that is undermined by its avowed goal of producing journalism that “shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong,” and by the looming presence of Mr. Sandler who, rather than donate his money as a lump sum and walk away, installed himself as chairman and is parceling out his contributions over time.

At a recent conference of the American Bar Association, the general manager of ProPublica who, like Mr. Steiger, was formerly with the Wall Street Journal, defended the organization against criticism of Mr. Sandler’s role by suggesting that ProPublica, like the WSJ, is capable of producing journalism that is independent of the political views of management.  Unfortunately, this is an inapt analogy.  In fact it’s worse than that — it positively undermines the argument it’s meant to buttress.

This, of course, because the reason that the Wall Street Journal, or any commercial news organization, can produce news stories that are not a reflection of the political views of management is because they, like all for-profit organizations, operate on the principle of maximizing returns to the shareholders, rather than as a forum for the expression of management’s political or ideological views.

But contrast this dynamic with the very different operating principle of ProPublica, or any nonprofit enterprise.  As Slate’s Jack Shafer asked at ProPublica’s launch, “What do the Sandlers want for their millions? … How happy will they be if ProPublica gores their sacred Democratic cows?  Or takes the ‘wrong’ position on their pet projects: health, the environment, and civil liberties?”

In fairness, most of the reports produced by ProPublica to date do not suggest an organization that is marching in lockstep with the progressive agenda.  For the most part they are ideologically value free.  But that’s only half the story.  The real issue with a group like ProPublica is not the kind of issues it does cover but the kind it doesn’t.  As Jack Shafer asked, what kind of investigative pieces will ProPublica do — not counting the rare expose that proves the rule — that discomfit progressives?  That will be the true test of its independence from its benefactor, and of its suitability as a partnering organization with mainstream news organizations.

In the meantime, close your eyes and try to imagine the kind of reception that would have come to Paul Steiger and ProPublica if, instead of Mr. Sandler, the group’s founder, chairman, and bankroller had been someone who, politically, was Mr. Sandler’s polar opposite — someone who had supported conservative or libertarian causes and organizations.  How do you think that would have gone down with the J-schools, journalism reviews, and grant-giving foundations?

Rupert Murdoch and the Future of Journalism

It’s reported that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., pledged last week that his company has plans to charge for the online news content of all its newspapers and television channels.  Though the announcement came with few details as to when the charges will commence or how they will be structured, the fact that it is Murdoch who is leading this campaign is hugely important.

This, because nobody is better equipped– by background, influence, knowledge, or constitution–to attempt such a move.

One of the most telling examples of Murdoch’s shrewdness and tenacity was put on display in 1986 when, as chronicled by his biographer, William Shawcross, he broke the Fleet Street print unions that went on strike against his plans to modernize his newspapers’ printing processes.  Against all odds the striking union members, 6,000 strong, were obliged to surrender a year later after it transpired that the company had built and secretly equipped a new printing plant for all of its British newspapers in the London district of Wapping.

If News Corp.’s plans fail it will send shock waves throughout the industry, but if it succeeds — that is, if its titles can generate sufficient revenue from access fees and advertising — Murdoch will be owed an enormous debt by newspaper publishers here and abroad.  They won’t pay that debt, and some, like The New York Times, are unlikely even to acknowledge it, but it is certain that many will follow his lead, as Murdoch himself claims.

That he is very much on their minds even now is shown in a remarkable story published yesterday (Sunday) in The Observer, sister paper of The Guardian in the UK, one of Murdoch’s biggest political and business adversaries.

The lead paragraph sums things up nicely: "Rupert  Murdoch is often cast as the villain of the newspaper trade, but having revitalized the Wall Street Journal and with his radical plans to charge for access to online papers, he could be the unlikely saviour of the beleaguered industry."

And what a relief that would be!  Because if professional journalism is to survive it will have to be paid for, and paid for handsomely.  And the only way to do that is by putting together a business plan that features at least two revenue streams.

Whatever the outcome, Murdoch’s plan provides a stark contrast with the naive and corrosive idea, entertained by some, that journalism can survive on a diet of investigative news stories issuing from nonprofits, "citizen journalism," and greater funding for public media.