Do Unto Others, But Not Unto Us, Say the Media

NYT wants more regulation for everyone else

Miracle of miracles: The New York Times finally has found an industry regulation it doesn’t like. The other day the gray lady denounced “Britain’s Press Crackdown,” which it described as an “attempt to rein in [Britain’s] reckless tabloid newspapers”—but one that would “chill free speech and threaten the survival of small publishers and Internet sites.” Such regulations, the paper said, “would do more harm than good” because “an unfettered press is essential to democracy.”

To put things mildly, this is not the standard posture for The Times—which currently is pounding away in an editorial series demanding more regulation of guns and gun owners. And when America’s No. 1 paper is not treating the Second Amendment like No. 2, it is demanding tougher regulation of the banking industry. And the food industry. And power plants. And home-care aides. And on and on. “Government regulations,” the paper declared in an editorial last year on “The Phony Regulation Debate,” “keep the air and water clean, improve the safety of consumer products, reduce workplace hazards, and prevent destructive financial practices.”

In short, regulation is great—except when it comes to the press.

In this, The Times enjoys a great deal of company. Major news outlets are forever churning out investigative reports exposing the horribly inadequate government oversight of this industry and that one. “Federal regulators and the mining industry are failing to protect miners,” declares NPR. “Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry . . . by repeatedly weakening [safety] standards, or simply failing to enforce them,” warns the Associated Press. There are drugs in the water supply, and payday lenders ripping off the poor. Why isn’t the government doing more?

After Hurricane Sandy struck last fall, “Today” reporter Jeff Rossen did an exposé on how some contractors were “preying on” homeowners. How? By performing repair work without the proper licenses. Rossen found several contractors who lacked home-improvement licenses, but only one consumer who had been taken advantage of—and that was two months before Sandy struck. His big story boiled down to the fact that some Sandy-related tree removal and home repair work was carried out without prior government permission.

But wait—does Rossen have a license to practice journalism? Does he think journalists should be licensed? I reached out to Rossen by email. “What can I do for you?” he wrote back. But when I put those questions to him, he never responded—much like the unlicensed contractors he caught on camera. How scandalous!

It was a similar story with The Washington Post, which recently ran a lengthy, front-page article on the dangers posed by Virginia’s ostensibly too-lax standards for small family child care businesses. The paper termed those home-based businesses “unlicensed, unregulated, unmonitored, and perfectly legal.” But what about the reporter, Brigid Schulte? Does she have a license to report the news, or think journalists should be licensed? She didn’t answer those questions, either.

Just to be perfectly clear: The point here is not that we ought to have lots, or even any, government regulation of the media—even though you could make a case for that out of the many examples of journalistic malpractice in the past couple of decades: the Jayson Blair scandal at The New York Times. The Janet Cooke scandal at The Washington Post. The Stephen Glass scandal at The New Republic. The “fake but accurate” memos used by “60 Minutes” against President Bush. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s front-page apology for an 18-page series about Chiquita banana. Etc.

If you wanted to, you could produce a heck of an exposé about how “unlicensed, unregulated, unmonitored, and perfectly legal” news organizations are “preying on” consumers by providing coverage that can be incomplete, inaccurate, wrong, and even completely fabricated—with little or no accountability, except that imposed by their own internal controls or the pressures of a competitive free market.

Rather ironic, isn’t it? The U.S. media enjoy the closest thing you can get to laissez-faire capitalism. To become a reporter or editor, you do not have to pass a government background check, licensing exam, or even a spelling test. No federal oversight board monitors the accuracy of news stories or forces news bureaus to print corrections. If someone fouls up, it’s taken care of internally. Thanks to the First Amendment, the industry is entirely self-regulated. Just as it ought to be.

So no, the question is not why the press is not more heavily licensed, regulated, measured, monitored, censured, constrained, and controlled. The question is why so many in the press think every other industry should be.

This article originally appeared in The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  • some guy||

    I just wanted to earn some money on the side while helping unfortunate people get back in their homes sooner. Fuck me, right?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    You sir, are worse than Hitler!

  • phandaal||

    Don't worry. Those homes are still not repaired, nor will they be any time soon. Just ask the rubes who are still waiting for federal workers to put roofs on their houses down in Louisiana.

  • Linda518||

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  • joelgarcia||

    I made decent money on the side with an Etsy site for a while. It's something you can do from home but also feel proud that you're doing your own thing and have something unique to offer. I don't do it now, but reccomend it where I can! http://trunc.it/nbnsm

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Your license please, Comrade Anonybot.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I would love - LOVE - to see some idiot try to foist a licensing requirement on the Fourth Estate and doubly love watching those morons in the press go irony-free apeshit.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    It might surprise you how many in the press wouldn't object. Barriers to entry, etc.

  • ||

    "some idiot"? Does Press Council Chairman Markandey Katju count?

    Katju widens scope of committe to regulate journalism schools

  • ||

    Katju widens scope of committe to regulate journalism schools

    http://www.indiatvnews.com/new.....20732.html

  • Andrew S.||

    A few years back I was called for jury duty. I was brought up for voir dire in a case involving an unlicensed contractor. The prosector didn't mention anything about work being done incorrectly, just that people were "ripped off". During voir dire, the prosecutor asked me, directly, what I thought about the case (I can't remember the exact question). I told him that I really didn't care whether the guy had a piece of paper from the government, that if he did the work correctly, why should he be punished?

    I wasn't picked, obviously. I hoped that I was able to plant the seed in the mind of one or two people who ended up being picked, but that's probably unlikely.

    (Oh yeah, that was also the time where, while we were all sitting outside the courtroom waiting to be brought in, I explained the theory of jury nullification to my fellow jurors. Fun times, fun times.)

  • phandaal||

    "While we were all sitting outside the courtroom waiting to be brought in, I explained the theory of jury nullification to my fellow jurors."

    If I am ever conscripted for jury duty, this is how I'll spend all of my free time with the rest of the jury.

  • Loki||

    Oh yeah, that was also the time where, while we were all sitting outside the courtroom waiting to be brought in, I explained the theory of jury nullification to my fellow jurors.

    And you didn't end up in jail for contempt of court?

  • Juice||

    Voire dire has become such a corrupt practice. The lawyers or the judge should have no idea what you think about the case until the verdict.

  • Libertarius||

    I was called in for a rape trial a couple years ago, the story boiled down to a drunken he said/she said with no witnesses, and in my estimation it was a coin toss for rape vs. buyers remorse (or just another one of these little bitches seeing what they can get away with).

    Not wanting anything to do with any of that, I made myself sound like a feminist whipping boy on the defense survey. I was not kept for trial.

  • ||

    Barton, that was a really good article.

  • ||

    Good read. I have nothing snarky to say.

  • ||

    "I reached out to Rossen by email. “What can I do for you?” he wrote back. But when I put those questions to him, he never responded'

    Maybe because he was too busy rolling his eyes. Liberals excel at that shit when confronted with a logical question.

    And what's with the investigations into day care I keep reading? Are they pining to susbidize it in some form in the future?

    One need only look at Quebec to see how much of a mess that is. Still, I don't think that will discourage lefties.

    Here's the thing. You can give 'free' or low-cost daycare but that's actually MORE expensive to society than letting private services run. Why? Because you PAY for it through higher taxes. And then they wonder why they have less in their pay cheques. It's not that complicated.

    Government regulated daycare is a classic case whereby many codes written already are practiced by good, reputable private daycares (in Quebec 'private' is a bad word to be skeptical of. Only something with a government stamp, license or approval is 'caring.' Communism by other means...)

    It overlaps, it's incoherent in places leading irrational interpretations by inspectors - costs money to pay someone 60g's a year to badger private daycares who receive NO subsidize. Yet MUST play ball with laws that are designed for public daycares.

    It's anarchy.

    STAY AWAY from that shit.

  • ||

    Should read: 'leading to irrational; 'it costs money' and 'who receive no subsidy.'

    Not that it's an excuse but my kid is home for lunch and is blasting the Disney Channel distracting my thoughts.

    I should review, review, review!

    I'd like to add, that when a subsidized daycare gets their subsidy cheque (which the Quebec government has just cut by the way - all those investment groups who invested in daycare will soon see it's not wise to invest in anything that's subsidized in my view), they don't shop wisely.

    While I constantly shop and look for bargain prices (without compromising on quality), subsidzed daycare just pay high prices for everything and waste a shit load of food.

    On the private side, it's more responsible and realistic.

    But...shhhhh.

  • Tommy_Grand||

    Good article.

  • Free Society||

    This same thing happens when 'liberals' or progressives talk about any other right you care to name. It's an absolute human right for them to benefit from x, y and z, but no one else should be trusted with the same freedom. Some examples that come to mind:

    Diane Feinstein carry's a concealed handgun so that if someone comes after her, she can "take them down with me."
    Gabrielle Giffords was carrying a pistol the day she was shot and her anti-gun crusading husband Mark Kelly recently tried to purchase an AR-15 rifle from a gun dealer that refused to sell it to him.
    Charlie Wrangel wants to crack down on foreign 'tax havens' while he maintains his own off-shore accounts for the exact same reason.
    Al Gore wants to use government force to artificially inflate the price of fossil fuels while he zooms around the world in his private jets and spends the down-time at his palace that burns through more energy than your average wealthy person could purchase with their yearly salary.
    And let's not forget that it's only fair that we all 'pay into' social security while our congressmen are allowed to choose how to invest their money.

    Great article Hinkle, it's familiar territory that's seldom visited.

  • Alan Wright||

    Liberals aren't the only people who are evasive when confronted, or act with a seeming hypocrisy. Stop trying to perpetuate that. It's not helpful.

    Otherwise, everyone will start saying: "Libertarians generalize all the time. They assume a pedestal so narrow that only that can stand on it. They literally make no distinction between the political ideology and the human psychology at work in others. So, they only bark at liberals and progressives while ignoring the hypocrisy all around them"

  • z80kid||

    Otherwise, everyone will start saying: "Libertarians generalize all the time."

    Everyone? All the time?

    Alan sounds like someone who always generalizes to me...

  • Tonio||

    Good article, Bart.

    Ironically, the Richmond, VA free paper (styleweekly dot com) has a back page editorial this week about Steubenville and victim-blaming. When I read that piece it occurred to me how licensure of journalists would have prevented the horrible aftermath of the Steubenville rape.

  • mtrueman||

    "The U.S. media enjoy the closest thing you can get to laissez-faire capitalism."

    If this is the case, why isn't Al Jazeera widely available in the USA? Why does the federal government track down and close unlicensed radio stations? Media is highly regulated in the USA, just as it is in other countries.

  • InlineSkate||

    As far as I understand the only people preventing Al-Jazeera from achieving widespread coverage in the US are cable providers themselves, and even they are starting to let up on it.

    To combat this Al-Jazeera live streams 24/7 online.

    Now as far as unlicensed radio stations that has more to deal with unlicensed stations disrupting the channels of other stations.

  • mtrueman||

    I think what prevented Al-Jazeera from access to the American market was a pervasive climate of fear and bigotry. If censorship is exercised by outfits like Time Warner, then there is no need for the government to get into the act.

    It's probably equally true that licensed radio stations disrupt the signal of unlicensed radio stations. If licensed radio stations take precedence over unlicensed radio stations, we are not taking about laissez-faire capitalism.

  • ||

    I think what prevented Al-Jazeera from access to the American market was a pervasive climate of fear and bigotry.

    Or maybe just that there isn't a big enough market in America just yet for batshit crazy anti-Semitic shitheads outside you and maybe some of the last straggles of the white power movement.

    Also, when a private company decides not to do business with another private company, that is not "censorship". That is... a functioning marketplace.

    Obviously there should be no regulated airwaves. Property rights are more than sufficient to address that issue. Nevertheless, "the media", including print and online media, not just broadcast media, enjoys a dearth of regulation that would be quite enviable to most other professionals in this country, and the hypocrisy of their largely pro-regulation stance of every industry but their own is still nakedly obvious and a valid target of criticism.

  • mtrueman||

    "That is... a functioning marketplace."

    When companies shy away from lucrative business deals because of the pervasive climate of fear and bigotry, we see a poorly functioning market. Lassez faire requires a well functioning market.

    I'm not sure what exposure to Al-Jazeera you've had, but it is a nest of leftism, the like of which you've never seen on American TV. To assume that the nature of their content is not a part of the equation in keeping them from wider exposure is obtuse.

    Congrats by the way on your putting your slurs and insults in your first paragraph rather than following the custom here of saving them for the last. Such stylistic innovations deserve recognition. Maybe you can start a trend. I also have to congratulate you on outing me as an antisemite. You are the first to do so in these pages. And only on the strength of a mention of Al-Jazeera. Well spotted.

  • Libertarius||

    Whoever invested in American al-jazeera as a "lucrative business deal" would lose his ass and get booted out of business, rightfully so.

  • mtrueman||

    Do you think those who 'invest' in Reason make a profit? I heard that Washington Times has never turned a profit. The fact is that media outlets with an agenda to pursue aren't expected to turn a profit - they have other things on their mind.

    That's not to say that there isn't money to be made by those willing to risk the popular outrage and milk Al-Jazeera for all it's worth.

  • Jerryskids||

    Why are other industries regulated while newspapers aren't? Perhaps it is because other industries' malfeasances can cause actual harm to consumers. In order to show that newspapers' malfeasances can cause harm, one would first have to show that any consumers actually rely on what they read in the newspaper, rely upon it to be accurate information trustworthy enough to be acted upon. I submit such a showing would be an impossibly high hurdle. Perhaps journalists aren't hypocritical in believing that they themselves shouldn't be regulated while everyone else is; perhaps journalists are just realistic about the fact that nothing they say actually makes a damn bit of difference to anybody.

    (Not you of course, Mr. Hinkle. Your work is vital and important and meaningful.) /still looking for a /sarc tag

  • InlineSkate||

    How is false and misleading information not harmful?

    You'd be amazed how many people take what they read in the paper as absolute truth?

  • Alan Wright||

    False and misleading information can be settled through the court(defamation/ libel) or by subscribers themselves: they can abandon what they read; demand a more proactive newspaper ombudsman; or buy advertising in alternative papers.

    Since there's no legal obligation to tell truthful information, those viewers "harmed" by falseness have only themselves to blame.

    Listen up, Fox News fans, I'm talking to you.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "In order to show that newspapers' malfeasances can cause harm, one would first have to show that any consumers actually rely on what they read in the newspaper, rely upon it to be accurate information trustworthy enough to be acted upon. I submit such a showing would be an impossibly high hurdle."

    Spanish-American War?

  • Bill||

    Iraq war?

  • Disgusted Dem||

    How about all the people now getting gastric band surgery because of all the obesity scare stories? And what of all the people on the west coast of the U.S. who needlessly bought gas masks, iodine pills, and geiger counters in the wake of the Fukushima disaster because of irresponsible reporting?

  • ||

    Perhaps it is because other industries' malfeasances can cause actual harm to consumers.

    What harm is caused to consumers by, say, unlicensed taxi services operating in NYC, or a contractor not licensed in a particular specialty performing work within that specialty and doing a competent job?

    I've been a helluva lot more harmed by shitty weather on a day when the forecast in the local paper was sunny than I ever have by a home daycare operator. A lot of people have voted for candidates for local and national office based on media reports that were outrightly false. The people who are in charge of things like our taxes, what we can eat, and with whom we can associate, mind you. You think that's any more non-harmful than me having a handyman replace some ABS pipe in my basement instead of paying 3x as much for a licensed plumber? Really?

  • allen||

    Because the essence of leftyism is emotional immaturity - think spoiled, seven year-old - and to the emotionally immature "that's different" is a perfectly acceptable, not to mention unpuncturable, argument.

  • Alan Wright||

    This almost exactly the same rhetoric liberals use against libertarians. I honestly don't understand why Reason.com's "libertarians" are just knee-jerk conservatives.

    Or do I?

  • z80kid||

    "I honestly don't understand why Reason.com's 'libertarians' are just knee-jerk conservatives. Or do I?"

    You do? Or you don't?

    I'm sure you'll be the last to know. :)

  • izzyabby||

    PM is right. Major propagandist, diversionary, slanted, twisted outright lies are printed, believed, acted upon and affect all of us, usually badly. So, let's not pretend manipulative crooks aren't the basis for "journalism" of all kinds. I submit all so-called journalists would make excellent used car salesman.

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  • ||

    There would be a lot of support for a campaign to regulate Fox News, and regulations initially tailored to fit that operation could be altered later to fit pabulum pushers like the NYT, The Nation, Huffington Post, etc.

  • Alan Wright||

    As noted by Jerryskids above, this argument is inane and irrational.

    For one, journalists and columnists who support some kind of financial or industry regulation are, in the whole, doing so on the plausible basis of "safety" for workers, shareholders, the public generally, the environment. Thus, they believe in using the state's police powers to protect the "health, safety, and welfare" of the populace.

    With regard to industry practices, newspapers are regulated for safety. There's no evidence they oppose these. Their factories, of which many are unionized, must comply with safety codes for their machines, non-toxic ink, air quality control, cleaning and maintenance, etc. Their delivery drivers must comply with speed and safety limits. Their employees are subject to labor law, pay scales, etc. It goes on and on.

    It's only with regard to CONTENT that journalists do not wish to be restrained. In many cases, to do so would be prior restraint, which violates the 1st Amendment. Even so journalists are subject to market forces (as they well know), defamation laws, and they cannot report on national security matters without consequences.

  • Alan Wright||

    cont'd

    It's not the place of regulatory oversight to adjusting these strictures on content. But, Hinkle could always propose a more rigorous standard for defamation laws. In Britain, where they lack the 1st Amendment, they have stricter laws for defamation. They have also had press licensing and the British colonial tradition brought us the Alien & Sedition Acts circa 1800. During WWI, a Sedition Act was revived and upheld by SCOTUS within a year. Current Supreme Court precedent would hold many further restraints unconstitutional.

    Neither journalists nor their readers advocate for prior restraint or regulatory oversight on content. On the other hand, the FCC already exists and oversees cable, over-the-air, and other media. The FTC has oversight over some business matters, and the SEC would govern publicly-traded stock in media.

    Does the media actively reject these forms of regulation of their industry? Yes, they lobby, but from what I can tell they do not reject the regulatory authority in toto.

  • Alan Wright||

    Of interest to this piece and the 1st Amendment:

    WNYC's On the Media re-aired their interview with Supreme Court reporter Anthony Lewis this weekend. He passed away this week.

    http://www.onthemedia.org/2013.....ony-lewis/

    In part, they explore why government restraint of the press is and should be held to a different standard (various tests depending on the issue) than government restraint of business (generally, based on police powers and rational basis scrutiny).

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