I get angry quite often these days—especially after watching the folks who bring me television news each night! Although it would be unjust to indict all newsreporters, program directors, and others of those responsible for what comes out at my end of the radio and television receiver, the evidence indicates the worst.
Consider their self-righteous protests, hurled at Agnew when he complained about the media, or when some reporters were ordered to reveal sources (crucial to testimony involving what is at least a nominal pursuit of justice). In general, whenever some action unfavorable to the media is taken, from Walter Cronkite to the local blunderboys at the city desk, all scream bloody murder. Those at NBC, CBS and ABC are especially hard to swallow, what with their ill-gotten and illegitimately maintained corners on their market: it's no wonder that the newsmongers feel threatened whenever someone voices just a sigh of criticism of their practices!
Now what specifically is so irksome? First, David Brinkley always gives his profession a carte blanche license for distortion—by declaring that "objectivity" is impossible. Well then, what criterion is one to use to criticize the news media? How well-groomed the boys and girls are? No wonder Agnew was wrong—by Brinkley's doctrine no criticism of television can be right! If objectivity is impossible, then criteria are too, and anything goes.
Which is quite the case, of course. NBC's Richard Hunt did a special report on the Penn Central recently, offering all sorts of "explanations" for why it is going broke, how much it is needed everywhere, etc. Do you think the unions were mentioned even once? That featherbedding and price controls and all sorts of rotten practices made possible by the feds and encouraged by all sorts of lobbies made for the doom of the railroads? No, sir! Everything bad came from people trying to live well, make a profit, or just be mean on principle. I am no rail expert, but even I know that the railroads have been choked, at least in part, by unions! So why does NBC keep this off the air? Because objectivity is impossible? Well, then, so is honesty—and Agnew and Nixon and the rest are just doing the best they can.
Then there was Catherine Mackin's stuff on the Idaho Wilderness project which is being proposed by "business interests" and opposed by "those who want to leave a bit of nature amongst us." No names, of course, nor any attempt at some decent representation of the competing views. All Mackin did is to keep intoning on about "business interests" and softening her voice when speaking of the lovers of nature.
Outside strict news itself the story is no prettier. Tom Snyder, the KNBC-TV (Los Angeles) 6 p.m. anchorman and host of the Tomorrow Show on NBC network TV, has been as dishonest about presenting various sides of different news items as one can get. He's had this little Naderite bureaucrat, the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Herb Denenberg, on the program twice already, with both of them gloating over the meanness of insurance companies and every other "profiteer" they could think of. Nader was taken to be a saint—this is a self-evident truth these days to Snyder and others of his ilk—and anyone who did not believe that government should grow larger and larger, with lots of virtue, of course, added to its sometimes admittedly "unfortunate errors" in judgment, had to be ready for commitment. Then also Snyder's disdainful approach to advertising—the thing that keeps him rich—is a pain in the neck. (You ask why I watch? Cultural anthropology.)
Now all this invites the obvious question: why not simply shut off the news, Snyder, or anything else that comes across the set? And of course this is an option. But another option is to broaden the market. And that, my friends, is just what the networks are lobbying against. The National Association of Broadcasters has been putting this fraudulent ad against pay television in all media, begging people to write to the FCC about how terrible the idea is. The ad says "Family spend too much on TV last month?…That's a question you may have to wrestle with in the near future…because if pay-TV operators have their way, you'll have a new bill to pay every month.…" Bull shit!
The networks have hired this superslick lobby group called Television Information Office (745 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10022) which sends out beautiful scare literature to solicit letters against pay-TV, just as the film industry did back in the days when TV movies began. OK. That's the way "business" is done these days.
But has anyone heard a TV special on this topic? Has Brinkley or Cronkite or the instant-philosopher Severeid said anything about this "business interest"? No way!—that would be objective reporting par excellence. So turning off your set is not the only option that ought to be possible in a free market place of television production. But the folks with so much love for liberty (and license) are doing all they can to make it impossible for anyone but the Big Three to get into the act. Pay TV could enter small markets; it could cater to small audiences, with special interests and preferences. The local news could be bought—maybe at a high price, maybe not. But your protectors of the freedom of the press are shutting out competition—by sheer force and fraud.
So I am angry—and I hope you will be too. If so, maybe you'd like to let those around you know about it. And give them your reasons; maybe something can be done to stop coercive monopolies—even if their mouthpieces come off sounding like the First Amendment personified.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Viewpoint: Liberty and the Loaded Press".