DOJ, to Newspaper: Shape Up, or Ship Out


Over at the Mises Economic Blog, Federal Trade Commission watchdog S.M. Oliva explains how newspaper workshops are the least of it when it comes into FTC and Department of Justice meddling into media affairs.

The First Amendment, as re-imagined by the DOJ and FTC, is actually an affirmative grant of state power that allows unelected lawyers the right to seize control of publications if they deem it in the "public interest."

To that end, the DOJ is currently pursuing litigation against two West Virginia newspapers, who have been operating for decades under a joint operating agreement. The DOJ wants to dissolve the agreement because it is dissatisfied with the editorial quality of one of the papers, the Daily Mail. The Newspaper Association of America, in a court filing, explained why that would be a bad idea:

The government cannot properly base a claim on its negative evaluation of the Daily Mail's content. Nor could it properly seek a judicial decree that more newspaper editorial and news content be published in Charleston then currently exists. No branch of government in this Nation is entitled to determine the type or volume of the editorial and reportorial content of newspapers.

Editorial quality is in the eye of the beholder. One need only contrast 60 Minutes with Entertainment Tonight to see the subjectivity involved. In the field of newspapers, different publications may take vastly different approaches. The New York Daily News is not the same type of paper as the Miami Herald, the New York Times or USA Today, to arbitrarily pick a few. Which newspaper would the DOJ most want the Daily Mail to resemble and have the Court require?

More about the DOJ's West Virginia lawsuit here. My case against Joint Operating Agreements here.

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  1. Wow. I’d never heard of this joint operating agreement business before. The DOJ suit should be (but of course won’t be) a warning to anyone who thinks gov’t aid to newspapers is a good idea.

  2. How is it even possible to file a suit based on content or viewpoint? If I were a judge, I’d sock the DOJ attorney with sanctions.

  3. This isn’t based on content, it’s based on quality. The Obama administration graciously allows all viewpoints to be expressed in the nation’s newspapers, so long as they are expressed in a quality way (as determined by Obama).

  4. Luckily, this can’t happen in America….

  5. God save me if the DOJ learns of my very controversial story about the Friends of the Library book sale. I mean, yes, there WAS a first edition of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” for sale, but it was a first American edition, not British, so whether that can really be called a “first” edition is debatable in light of … well, let’s just say I’m a badass who lives life on the edge.

    Regardless of whether it’s true, let’s just say it. Unless the DOJ comes snooping around.

  6. Also: a newspaper accepting government money to stay afloat is about as sensible as an unemployed American woman staving off homelessness by becoming a Saudi housewife. Giving up your freedom forever to solve a temporary problem never, EVER works out in the long run.

  7. Re:

    …newspaper(s) accepting government money to stay afloat.

    Have others seen how freaked local papers get by the notion that state and local government stop buying legal notice ads in the dead-tree classifieds in favor of online postings. After all, even the internetless can stop in at the public (government) library and look that sort of stuff up on the state, county or town website.

    A good argument can be made that such legal advertising is a subsidy. The contracts to be the prime venue for such ads have long been a way that local pols could reward friendly newspapers.


  8. Graf 1 of quote, “more newspaper editorial and news content be published in Charleston then (sic) currently exists.”

    Perhaps the paper should get a DOJ citation for reckless malapropism?

  9. This is not new. FDR tried to license newspapers under the NRA. The US lost the case om 1st amendment grounds. I guess they never give up.

  10. I suppose we should be grateful that newspapers are rapidly becoming as relevant to public discourse as the town crier. Government intervention will only hasten that evolution to irrelevance.

  11. And then, Shannon, the government can turn its attention to “reforming” the internet.

  12. Oh great, so Obama’s DOJ is going after the Charleston Daily Mail because it is one of the few newspapers that is “soft on Republicans.” In other words, it refuses to carry the water for the Democratic Party because it frequently criticizes Democratic leaders on both the state and national levels and occasionally sides with the Republicans on various issues.

    And what about the other paper in the joint venture, the Charleston Gazette? Its editorial board does nothing more than regurgitate the Democratic talking points. How Orwellian. We should be celebrating the fact that two papers can pooled their news services together, yet still maintain different points of view on their editorial boards.

    But don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself.

    Charleston Daily Mail:
    Charleston Gazette:

    On that note, this may also be a way for the OB administration to silence Don Surber (, who writes for the Daily Mail and frequently linked to by Glenn Reynolds at

  13. The Charleston Daily Mail is one of the few newspapers that is friendly to the output of libertarian-leaning think-tanks.

    One of its editorials quoted from one of my research papers for Competitive Enterprise Institute.

    This is crass politics by the Obama Justice Department.

    The editorial quality of the Daily Mail is better than that of the Charleston Gazette, which has a relentlessly liberal, pro-Democrat editorial page.

  14. Will our nation’s leading newspapers recongize this assault on the First Amendment as the same problem as government control of radio content?


  15. Joint Operating Agreements have been around for decades, and have generally passed muster with DOJ’s Antitrust division (which must approve them in advance). They actually promote competition by allowing different newspapers to survive in the same market by sharing presses and distribution systems, etc., instead of one or both failing due to costs.

    The idea these would now be challenged on the basis of editorial content is chilling, but should hardly be unexpected. The journalist types who giggled and guffawed as the big banks were bossed around in the name of “saving” them and the bondholders of Chrysler saw their assets confiscated to be given to unions are only now getting their own taste.

    I believe it was President Ford who said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have.” Of course, the real problem is we have roughly half the electorate paying virtually no taxes anyway, so there is no restraint upon their demands.

    Obama, OTOH, is the chap who said he would raise capital gains taxes even if it cost the government revenue – in the name of “fairness” (as defined by Obama, of course).

    And you wonder why we are seeing ammunition shortages across the country?

  16. And Kevin, regarding “legal advertising”: the requirement that governments publish their notices in local “newspapers of record” is entirely the creation of newspaper lobbyists in state legislatures across the country. In earlier days, “public notice” was given by simply posting the notice on the courthouse door or another public place, so your point about these advertisements being a subsidy is absolutely correct.

  17. Check out House Bill 5. It would repeal the 22nd Amendment and allow BO to run as many times as he wants. Then,as the king, he can just decree these things and avoid litigation.

  18. I don’t know if anyone else saw this, but the AZ attorney general has filed a suit to prevent the dissolution of a joint operating agreement between two newspapers in Tucson, and to force one to continue publishing a dead-tree version rather than become an on-line only publication.

    I hope he’ll have his head handed to him by the judge.

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