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Media Policy and Government Failure

Recently, I had a conversation with a liberal law professor about government policy and bias in the media.  I argued that there was government failure.  The media was dominated by liberals and the government supported liberal public television and radio, which reinforced that domination.  This could not be justified.  Instead, it was an example of the dominant group exercising their power in both the private and government sphere.

The professor countered that while public broadcasting was liberal, the private media was capitalist, implying that public broadcasting was providing something that was missing from the private sector.

I thought of this conversation the other day when I read the New York Times the morning after Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.  During the entire Republican Convention, including after Donald Trump’s acceptance speech, the Times had negative headline after headline.  I should have taken a screenshot of it, but did not think to do so ahead of time.  But after Clinton’s acceptance speech, I did take a screen shot.  The stories were uniformly positive, and in some cases triumphant.  The titles: “Clinton Declares Election a Moment of Reckoning,” “Nomination Claimed and a Barrier Falls,” “Clinton Makes History, and Wears It, Too,” “Writing Her Own Story,” and on and on and on.  No one could reasonably claim that the Times was impartial about these matters. 

Was the New York Times just being capitalist?  I suppose one could argue that the Times readership, especially in New York, is liberal and therefore it benefits from such bias. And a similar story might be told about the big cities where the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and other liberal newspapers reside.  But that hardly explains why the television networks, which broadcast news to the country, are liberal.  Nor does it explain why Fox News, the only conservative news network, has such high ratings, but fails to attract competitors for that conservative audience.  In my view, the better explanation is that elites in broadcasting and the media as well as reporters are liberal and therefore push that agenda as much as they can.

But even if I am mistaken, that still does not justify public broadcasting.  Suppose there is something of a market anomaly, if not market failure, in both the print and broadcasting media.  Perhaps big cities are liberal and therefore big newspapers reflect the politics of those cities.  Perhaps something else explains the liberalism of the networks.  Still, we have government failure in the form of the public broadcasting subsidy.  If there is a market anomaly or failure, the government ought to be subsidizing, if anything, conservative views, not reinforcing the liberal ones.  It is as if there were a market failure from businesses polluting, and then the government stepped in and required additional pollution.  The obvious explanation would be that pollution interests were dominant.  That explanation applies here as well: liberal interests are dominant.

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