Monday, December 08, 2008

No Thomas Jefferson Bailout

With Congress preparing a $15 billion Christmas tip for Detroit, a more basic American industry is slowly going under.

"If I had to choose," Thomas Jefferson famously said, "between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter."

The "latter" is in the grip of the financial squeeze and advertising losses in a failing economy as the company that owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun files for bankruptcy protection today, and the New York Times is reportedly planning to borrow up to $225 million against its mid-Manhattan headquarters building to ease its cash crunch.

Some bloggers who hate the MSM will no doubt show little more sympathy for newspaper makers than the most of the public does for the car industry. Yet their downfall threatens us all in an age when we are awash in tip-of-the-iceberg news, while fewer and fewer journalists are helping us see what's going on under the surface.

As we are threatened with drowning in repetitious cable TV and online headline-chasing and opinionizing, we learn less and less about hard news that might help us with the informed consent that Jefferson wanted us to have and depend more and more on the government he did not trust in its absence,

As far back as 1922, in "Public Opinion," Walter Lippmann pointed out that "the citizen will pay for his telephone, his railroad rides, his motor car, his entertainment. But he does not pay openly for his news,"

There won't be a Washington bailout for newspapers, so they will have to figure out new answers to who is going to pay for what we urgently need but expect to get free.

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