May 19th, 2022


The Perils of a Compliant Media

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published Oct. 30, 2014

With the midterm elections less than a week away, everyone is talking about politicians, of course: Is the election a referendum on President Obama's policies? Will voters throw Democrats out of the Senate and give Republicans a majority?

I wish we also had the option of voting out members of the media and electing new ones.

Reading reviews of former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson's new book, "Stonewalled,"

(Buy it at a 38% discount by clicking here or order in KINDLE edition at a 51% discount by clicking here)

I am struck — anew — by how shocking the events she recounts truly are, and the extent to which the media has ignored them to protect the Obama administration. Attkisson asks, rhetorically, what the media's response would have been had a Republican president been responsible for scandals such as Solyndra, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, NSA spying, IRS targeting of private citizens or the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act (not the mention the deceit which preceded it).

The answer is obvious. Anyone paying attention knows that the press is more liberal than Americans in general. (According to recent surveys by Pew, 38 percent of Americans consider themselves "conservative," while only 6 percent of journalists do.) Our major media pretend to care about government overreach, but largely turn a blind eye to abuses committed by "their guy." Even when this administration targets journalists or restricts press access, it barely generates a murmur. This is crony capitalism run amok. It isn't merely corporations that are in bed with government; it is corporations and the press that are in bed with government. (Sometimes literally.)

The press was intended to be — and should be — a bulwark against government usurpation of our liberties. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution "prohibits the making of any law ... infringing upon the freedom of the press." Laws that constitute "prior restraint" on the press are struck down as unconstitutional. What would the founders think of a press that routinely restrains itself?

A press sincerely devoted to constitutional freedoms and limits on government would be just as critical of power grabs by liberal politicians as conservative ones. But they aren't. And this is not merely hypocritical; it is deeply damaging to the common good.

First, it sets a dangerous precedent. If a president the media adores flouts the Constitution, one they dislike can, too. And though the media no doubt assure themselves that they can nevertheless rein in a wayward conservative, they have already eroded much of their own credibility. (Pew reports that the vast majority of major media are no longer trusted by conservatives in the U.S. That is a lot of people.)

Second, it contributes to public disillusionment and apathy. When the press refuses to hold all politicians to the same standard, the public eventually shrugs and says, "They all do it."

Third, it increases corruption. A public that no longer believes in civic virtue will neither expect it from nor demand it of their elected representatives. A virtuous candidate will struggle to find acceptance in a populace so cynical that it cannot believe an honest public servant exists. The crooks, however, will thrive, given cover by their sheer number, and a public desensitized to scandal and abuse of power.

Fourth, it creates a perception of helplessness. Americans have always been a "can-do" bunch, and this same spirit extends to our politics. Even if power tends to concentrate itself into fewer and fewer hands, a vigorous and even-handedly inquisitive press can minimize this risk and empower the "little guy" to challenge oppressive authority. But when the press actively undermines the search for truth, who could blame people for thinking that any attempt to right a wrong is futile?

With too few exceptions, our press has become smug and self-congratulatory, more concerned with being a part of the "in" crowd than with protecting the American people. We may not be able to vote them out. But technology and social media have created plenty of alternatives.

It will have to do.

10/23/14: 'Legal' Doesn't Equate to Moral Approval
10/20/14: Language in the Service of Life
10/09/14: Why does his administration refuse to protect us?
10/02/14: Toward a More Productive Policy Discourse
09/25/14: That burden called 'motherhood'
09/23/14: Obama's Johnny Bravo Moment

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.