Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Government of the United States is increasingly corrupt. Its revenue agency is corrupt and its justice department is corrupt, so it's hardly surprising, in a hyper-regulatory regime where bureaucrats write their own rules and enforce them with their personal SWAT teams, that more peripheral government bodies find the temptation too much to resist. On Fox News today, Shannon Bream has been reporting on the Federal Communications Commission's plans to put government monitors in TV and radio newsrooms to assess their coverage of eight "critical information needs", and "underserved populations".
The FCC, like much of the alphabet soup in Washington, is an FDR creation that, as with many others, used the cover of "interstate commerce" to turn a federal government into a central government: Radio stations' signals often crossed state lines, and so they supposedly fell within the feds' jurisdiction. In the usual boundlessly expansive way of Washington, that's somehow evolved into a regulatory authority over how local stations serve local communities. Now it's evolving again, into micro-regulation of the news.
I was interested to see what the eight "critical information needs" - or CINs, in the regulatory jargon - actually are. You can find them listed in this report, from something called "Social Solutions International" of Silver Spring, Maryland:
Social Solutions has been tasked with the development of a research design that can be used to identify and understand the critical information needs (CINs) of the American public (with special emphasis on vulnerable/disadvantaged populations).
The litigious Fake Nobel Laureate Michael E Mann will be heartened to discover that "the environment" has been identified as a Critical Information Need. So the government monitor in your local newsroom will be tracking how the station covers "the environment", what resources it devotes, the prominence it gives to stories, etc. But what if you're a news editor and you happen to disagree that "the environment" is one of the eight most Critical Information Needs. What if you happen to think that "runaway public debt" or "the vulnerability of US diplomatic facilities in Libya" is a more Critical Information Need than "the environment"? What government bureaucrat do you go to to see about getting the federally-mandated Critical Information Needs changed? Or does it require a constitutional amendment?
The state has no business determining which news stories have priorities over others, and certainly no business sending monitors into newsrooms to ensure compliance - because the essence of a functioning press is not what the state decrees the citizen has a "critical need" to know but what it doesn't think he needs to know. Why should "Social Solutions International" get to determine "the critical information needs of the American public"? And why should the government get to enforce them?
My book (and now eBook - see banner above) Lights Out has a quote from Salman Rushdie: "Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game." Because without free speech you can never be quite sure whether the ball game is even real. Is the Channel 7 News covering that dreary speech by Michael Mann because the news director thinks it's one of the vital stories of the day? Or are they covering it because it fills their quota for one of the government-mandated categories of news and they don't want to lose their license?
As I say, the Government of the United States is increasingly corrupt. Covering that story is the "critical information need".