Friday, October 23, 2009

A Slippery Slope

Back in J school, I had a professor that would always say, "If you start down that path it is a slippery slope." I think that is the same thing he would say about what the current administration is doing in relation to speech. This administration is very savy in Internet and propaganda. They also tend to play Chicago style politics. The two make for a very unique and possibly ugly combination.

The Obama administration has not been shy about using the media to propel their message. It has been that way since he was candidate Obama. In fact, other Democrats complained about how the media was not asking him the hard questions and not being balanced in their reporting. It was so apparent SNL even did a skit based upon it. Once he was elected, it did not really change. Except there are a couple of problems:
  1. Bloggers
  2. Talk Radio
  3. Fox News

Obama cannot control those three entities and the work they are doing is causing problems for this White House. So rather than engage and retort them, like most administrations would, Obama has instead started working to circumvent the system to quiet dissenters.

Let's go through this and look at how the White House is dealing with this.

This may be one of the most difficult issues for the administration. It is not easy to limit speech and that is exactly what they would have to try and do. The power of bloggers was truly showcased when Dan Rather was put in his place when he attempted to defame President Bush. Since then, blogging has become a way for many people, including yours truly, to report and and analyze the events of the day without having to belong to a newspaper or television organization. Obama took advantage of the power of the Internet to get himself elected. Since that time, it has been many of the bloggers who have risen up to become a political movement of their own and created the Tea Party. Add to that the far left bloggers who are unhappy with Obama not being progressive enough in their mind and you can see that Obama has a blogger problem. So what are they to do? This starts with FTC cracking down on bloggers for payola schemes. This seems obvious, bloggers are going to have to let people know that they were given a product or were paid to promote an item in their blog. While this is the ethical thing to do, the interesting part of this is that it paves the way for the government to force ISP's and providers to provide private information of bloggers. There is not litmus test for this either. If I, as a blogger, am given a book on politics in the digital age by the author and I Tweet or post that I am reading this book, the FTC has a right to come after me if I do not disclose that I know the author and they gave me the book. Even if I did not run out and tell everyone to go out and buy this book, the FTC can come after me. Add to this the recent court case where a Manhattan federal judge has ordered Google to tell a model the name of an anonymous blogger so she could sue them for libel. We are in very dangerous waters here. Some people, like myself, have to stay anonymous so that we may keep our jobs or to keep our families from harms way. In these cases, the government has begun paving the way to remove the anonymity and pressure those that we are speaking of.

In addition, the administration has used their own Internet savvy to try and counter the bloggers. Locally here we have the FiredUp Missouri blog which is one of many Democratic controlled blogs that are made to feel like the authentic blogs like yours truly, Jim Hoft of the Gateway Pundit and Sharp from Sharp Elbows have created. BTW, hat tip to 24th state on all the good work he has done researching FiredUp's links to Robin Carnahan's office. Barack Obama himself has used his own website to transform from a campaign website to one that pushes for organizing support for his plans. In addition, Dana Loesch has found some great stuff on how was linking to groups like Acorn. Since the administration cannot completely stop their critics, they crowd the market with spokespersons perpetrating to be regular folk and linking back to their supporting organizations.

Talk Radio
This is where things start getting uglier and more apparent. Candidate Obama came out and said that he was against the "Fairness Doctrine". That sounds great, but listen to what his surrogates are saying. Mark Lloyd, the FCC diversity "czar" was quoted as saying, "Unless we're conscious of the need to have more people of color, gays, other people in those positions, we will not change the problem. We're in a position where you have to say who is going to step down so someone else can have power." These statements were made in regards to talk radio hosts and ownerships. Lloyd's solution in a report entitled "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio" and a subsequent essay, "Forget the Fairness Doctrine", he calls for he called for "equal opportunity employment practices," "local engagement" and "license challenges" to rectify a perceived imbalance. "Nothing in there about the Fairness Doctrine," he wrote. He continues by saying, "The other part of our proposal that gets the 'dittoheads' upset is our suggestion that the commercial radio station owners either play by the rules or pay. In other words, if they don't want to be subject to local criticism of how they are meeting their license obligations, they should pay to support public broadcasters who will operate on behalf of the local community." So instead of mandating equal time, he wants to make stations pay to allow commercially successful free speech.

Implementing a program like this would be no less than bullying media outlets to either pay for play or support the likes of "Air America". Never-mind that the government already supports National Public Radio but under Lloyd's plans, media outlets could be forced to pay for government favorable views. If you want to know more about Lloyd and his interesting interactions, check out this transcript from Glenn Beck.

Fox News
This one kind of blurs between talk radio and FNC since many of the opinion shows are hosted by people who are part of the conservative talk radio movement. That said, let's talk about Fox News and the Fox News Channel. Within recent weeks, the Obama administration has made it clear that they are going to go after their opponents. They have publicly statedthat they are going after their critics. In the case of Fox News, the news channel itself has been fair in their reporting, showing both sides of the issues. That said, the administration takes issue with FNC's opinion shows that lean anywhere from Libertarian to hard right, with Greta Van Susteren being probably the only center to left of center opinion show. The Obama administration hates that. They would prefer to have everyone emulate MSNBC and the New York Times. Why else would it be that Barack Obama met privately with a group of commentators from these two groups to talk about the media.

What the administration is trying to do is paint Fox News as not a news outlet, but an opinionated news forum, therefore not worthy of being considered in the same vain as network news, including MSNBC and CNN. They are attempting to pressure other news organizations from allowing Fox News into the White House press corp and not reporting on news items broken by Fox News. In addition, the administration has banned all officials from appearing on Fox News shows and recently tried to keep Fox News from interviewing the "Pay Czar" when he was made available to the White House pool.

While Fox News is the most apparent act of the administration, all three are a scary attempt to control the free press. Any J school student at Mizzou will tell you that the press has long been seen as the fourth establishment, there with the Presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court. While the press does not have federal power, they do have the power to keep these entities honest. They are also taught the history of other governments who have attempted to silence the press and the ways that they go about that. Even though the press has become a business whose model is changing, they all still respect the sanctity of the First Amendment and of free speech. There is a reason that some professors make every student learn, word for word, the First Amendment. Knowingly or not, the Obama administration is taking their leads from the likes of Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even Adolf Hitler. Secretly, the press is not happy with the way they were manipulated by candidate Obama, as explained by Anita Dunn.

Obama is asking the news organizations that he favors to enter and engage a slippery slope that they do not want to go down. They no full well that if they act in concert with this president, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future. In addition, much like it has happened with other countries, they know what happens when the president starts bullying the press. These issues are not a matter of national security so the administration does not have a leg to stand on. While the pundits who back Obama will continue to do so, they may lose some of their zeal. Most Democratic strategist think this is a bad idea. Many in the print press, who dislike Fox News, think this is a bad idea. This is not going to end well for the administration. It may cost them some seats in 2010 and will probably cost someone their job if not the entire presidency in 2012.

UPDATE - On Thursday 10/29, Glenn Beck did an outstanding show covering many of these things and much more. It was well worth a view. You can watch them over at the P/Oed Patriot's website here.

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