The Outstater: McCain and Journalism

February 20, 2017

John McCain, the anti-Trump, tells us he knows how to spot a dictator. He will be the one trying to suppress a free press. But Senator McCain was wrong about the effective range of North Vietnamese AAA fire and he is wrong about this.

For starters let us assume that, by “suppressing,” McCain does not mean challenging the factual content of news reports. That would be ridiculous. Let us assume he is referring to journalism as developed by Martin Luther and envisioned by the Founding Fathers, a truly independently owned medium willing to speak truth to power, as they say, and accountable to individual subscribers and advertisers.

Senator McCain wouldn’t recognize that kind of newspaper if it were thrown on his doorstep.

Historically, the Federalists, at least, given the choice of a democracy without such an independent press and a monarchy, preferred a monarchy. What McCain is championing, though, is national corporate mass media and the related media barons of Washington and New York, not traditional Main Street American journalism.

That is another thing entirely with a quite different view of how journalism should function, the difference having to do with ownership and private property, something the founders assumed but this generation of Americans must rediscover.

The first amendment is assigned to individuals, not to legally prescribed corporations. Skipping over the obviously differing incentives of an owner invested in his home community and a manager assigned by a distant headquarters, know that widely held corporations are justified because they provide financing for hugely expensive steel and manufacturing operations. In respect to mass media, however, such arrangements solely work to secure monopoly and maximize profits thereby.

Which brings us to the dictators from whom Senator McCain would save us. The career of Adoph Hitler is instructive in that regard. Hitler sent thugs to attack newspapers, but the papers were the small, proprietary ones. The large national newspapers, even as they remained in “private” hands, he incorporated into the Third Reich. (Fascist economic ideology emphasized that mass media could remain private but they must uphold the national interest as politically defined or have their editors’ legs broken.)

Many years ago I was assigned to give a Soviet journalist a tour of our newspaper plant. The Russian was a sports writer so the conversation went smoothly until we got to a point where it was necessary to define a “free” press. He became adamant that only his country’s newspapers were free of subscribers and advertisers and therefore could dare offend capitalist values.

Well, we’ve fixed that.

— Craig Ladwig



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