An open letter to the blogosphere:
For some time now I’ve been arguing that the problems of the media primarily are caused at the ownership level, and that it’s foolish to zero in on specific individual reporters and commentators. The real powers are invisible (owners, publishers, and editors) , and the people whose names we see are basically responding to incentives. Bad reporters get promoted, good reporters get fired (not always, but far too often).
We have the same media wise men today that we did in 2002, even though they have failed us disastrously — Kristol and some other failures have even been promoted. Neither the Iraq War nor the Democratic Congressional victory seems to have taught anyone anything. We can vote politicians out, but not media — they are entrenched. As we speak, they’re starting to beat up on Nancy Pelosi.
Everyone knows about Scaife, Moon, Peretz, and Murdoch, but I believe that all of the media owners are hopeless. Financial management now dominates operations management (at the Times and the Post, the same individuals head both boards), and the Republican tax cuts and deregulation moves have succeeded in buying the media. (Someone at the Seattle Times specifically named the estate tax as their motive for supporting Republicans). When Ted Turner sold CNN to finance people, CNN went very bad very quickly. Turner was hardly perfect, but he did think about other things than the profit margin.
This country will never be healthy until new media institutions have been brought into being. National TV, national cable, national radio, and a national newspaper — all new. Air America was a very small start, and it was very poorly supported. We need much more than that.
This is doable — there’s a lot of liberal money out there. But for whatever reason (I suggest stupidity and inattention, but that’s just me), the liberal money people are reluctant to put money in media. The new media wouldn’t necessarily be profitable, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a money sink either. The main thing is, we need it. A considerable percentage of Americans never hear a liberal opinion except in conservative caricature form.
For whatever reason, this message has had no resonance at all so far. But I am convinced that it’s the main thing we need.