Overstepping the bounds

“A man begins cutting his wisdom teeth the first time he bites off more than he can chew.” – Herb Caen

It is an article of faith in the news business that a lot of the public doesn’t like us.

Sometimes, though, politicians and bureaucrats misread that seeming mistrust and try to make political hay out of it. Generally, a quick lesson is learned.

Take, for example, the Federal Communications Commission. Now, according to articles in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, the FCC decided that it needed to do a study of how news departments work.

It came up with a nice bureaucratese-sounding program called the “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs.” According to USA Today, the study would try to find out “the process by which stories are selected,” are news outlets supplying “critical information needs,” and if there was any “perceived bias.”

Now, this government intrusion might actually have occurred if an FCC commissioner who opposed the program hadn’t blown the whistle. Ajit Pai wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal exposing the plan. Media and Capitol Hill reacted strongly to the revelation and the study is off, at least for now.

Apparently, the FCC forgot about the First Amendment.

But, what makes this plan so scary is the FCC’s power over broadcasting. Rem Rieder of USA Today wrote:

“The last thing we need is journalism cops flooding into newsrooms to check up on how the sausage is being made. That’s particularly true when the journalism cops are dispatched by the outfit that grants licenses to television and radio stations.”

Hopefully the FCC has learned that nobody – even the public that hates us – wants government dictating how to report the news.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.