Evasive FTC wants it both ways on the reinventing of journalism 

Those seeking more evidence that the American people are smarter than the progressive elites think they are need look no further than Scott Rasmussen’s first survey of public opinion on the FTC’s pernicious “reinventing journalism” project.

The centerpiece of the agency’s recently released “discussion draft” is a proposal for a new 3 percent federal tax on monthly cell phone bills to create a $3.5 billion fund to be doled out by Washington, D.C., bureaucrats to favored old-media outlets like The New York Times. Fully 84 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen opposed this idea.

If instead of a monthly cell phone tax respondents were asked if they would support a 5 percent tax on electronic gadgets like Kindles and iPads, 76 percent said no.

Change the survey question to imposing a tax on websites like the Drudge Report and the opposition needle barely moved, going to
74 percent.

And when asked if they would support a new AmeriCorps-type program to hire and train young journalists to be paid with federal tax dollars, 71 percent replied in the negative.

In other words, three-fourths of the American public recognize what Jeff Jarvis describes as “one old power structure circling its wagons around another” for what it is, a corrupt power grab by federal bureaucrats in cahoots with left-wing activists masquerading as journalists seeking a government bailout.

Jarvis is absolutely right to use the word “corrupt” to describe the major players in this latest Obama administration campaign to transfer yet another big chunk of American liberty into the bureaucratic sinkhole. But there is another sense in which this effort deserves to be labeled corrupt.

When I wrote last week that journalists had better wake up to what Obama and the FTC bureaucrats are preparing for them, the agency issued a statement: “The FTC has not endorsed the idea of making any policy recommendation or recommended any of the proposals in the discussion draft. Recent press reports have erroneously stated that the FTC is supporting and proposing some of the public comments.”

So I asked the agency’s deputy public affairs director, Peter Kaplan, if the inclusion of any idea in the working draft thereby made it at least possible that it would subsequently be endorsed by the agency.

Kaplan hemmed and hawed a bit, but said yes. So, contrary to the statement, the decision of FTC staff to include a selection of ideas in a menu of ideas any one of which could ultimately become official government policy constituted a form of endorsement. They want it both ways: They’re not our ideas, but we took the first step toward making them law.

Further, when I asked Kaplan what standard FTC staff used in deciding whether to include in its working paper any particular idea, he said “the staff did not censor out any ideas or proposals” voiced in the agency’s prior workshops on the issue.

In fact, they did “censor out” at least one proposal that was vigorously presented to them — that they immediately and forever get the hell out of the newsroom. Or, as Jarvis more delicately put it in his workshop statement, “get off our lawn.”

Jarvis was not alone, as his suggestion was echoed by media titans as diverse in their ideological perspectives as Rupert Murdoch, Steve Brill and Arianna Huffington.

Bottom line: “Reinventing journalism” is just another grubby Washington, D.C., power grab.

Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner.

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