So, the bright bulbs at Obama’s Federal Trade Commission have decided to regulate blogs based on the premise that undisclosed financial relationships between bloggers and businesses could lead bloggers to deceive their readers as to the value of products they blog about. [h/t Instapundit]
If we’re going to regulate speech based on inducements to bias why stop with mere financial relationships? I think we should require all media sources to reveal all possible sources of bias starting with the political affiliations of the publishers and reporters. After all, the media sells stories they advertise as accurate and objective. Shouldn’t consumers have ready access to the information they need to decide if those claims are true?
Politics is more important than money. If you buy a toaster based on a biased recommendation, you’re only out the cost of a toaster. If you vote based on a biased political recommendation, you could lose your freedom. If the government has both the duty and the ability to protect you against bias in product recommendations on blogs, why doesn’t it have the same duty and ability to protect you against biased reporting on political matters?
Political beliefs matter. Soldiers fight and die for their political beliefs, not their paltry pay. Our political beliefs are closely tied to our moral sense of right and wrong and our sense of the just order of society. Political beliefs influence us on an unconscious level. Political beliefs do, without doubt, bias people even more strongly than money does.
This Wednesday, ABC is turning an entire day of news programing over to the Democrats’ health care plan. Wouldn’t viewers alter their judgment of the accuracy and objectivity of ABC’s reporting on the subject if they knew that the ABC employees donated to Democrats 80 times as much as they did to Republicans? Certainly, I can’t help but note that if the circumstances were reversed, most people who see nothing wrong in ABC’s actions now would suddenly see ABC’s donations as profoundly undermining the integrity of ABC’s reporting.
(For that matter, shouldn’t Deborah Yao have to reveal that she has an economic stake in suppressing blogs as competitors with traditional media?)
Revealing bias in matters of politics is even more important than revealing bias in commercial matters. If you buy a bad toaster on biased advice, you can easily tell because the toaster is crap and you can easily get another toaster. In politics, the media is often our only source of political information and we can’t easily tell which particular political policies are working and which are not. Worse, when we vote, we’re stuck with whomever we elect until the next election. For most political reporting, knowledge of the reporter’s bias is the only means of judging the accuracy and objectivity of a news story.
I’m not suggesting that the government regulate the truth or falsehood of political reporting the same way the government appoints itself the arbiter of truth in business matters. I am simply suggesting that the government should require that anyone legally defined as a journalist or publisher (such as for shield laws, broadcast licenses, etc.) be required to reveal their history of political affiliations in terms of political donations, membership in political parties and membership in political activist organizations. They would need to do so prominently in every product they sell, such as on a newspaper’s banner or at the head of every newscast. The cost of doing so would be minor but the benefit to consumers would be significant.
As I’ve noted before, leftists are strong advocates of the free market as the sole corrective mechanism when it comes to the economic freedom of articulate intellectuals. It’s high time they learned what it is like to live under Big Brother’s benevolent eye. If FTC regulation is good enough for everyone else, it’s good enough for the media.