News Media Are Corporations

There’s so much money in politics these days one might suspect it’s all about getting a reward for making a contribution. Impolitely, that’s called a kick-back. That couldn’t be happening, could it? Of course it is. Politics is and has been always about handing out political favors in return for money or support. Not all jobs, contracts, or favors are about that, but some are.

The problem is, how do you stop it besides saying “stop it” or voting people in and out of office? Most people these days are opting for curtailing, capping or forbidding campaign donations. However, the problem is who gets curtailed and capped. Or, better yet, what (as in non-profits and corporations or political action committees) gets the clamps. Generally, the popular approach is to find a way to cut off your political opponent’s sources.

The controversy at the moment is about corporate contributions to whatever political action committees are legal at the moment. The U.S. Supreme Court says that corporations are people and have First Amendment rights. That is, all organizations, businesses, unions, non-profits, etc. Of course, we think of corporations as entities such as Exxon or Google or Facebook or Microsoft.

We forget about the media. Some of the biggest and most powerful corporations are the media as in The New York TimesLos Angeles Times, CBS, Fox, ABC, CNN, Time Warner, Tampa Bay Times, and so forth. These guys along with nearly every newspaper, radio, or tv stations have editorial or news staffs that address politics. And almost all of them decry the money and influence in politics unless it is theirs.

Millions of dollars of free news stories, straight news coverage as well as analysis, are provided to candidates for office as well as political parties. We assume most of these are unbiased, but don’t forget the editorial or opinion divisions of these organizations. They are, by definition, biased. That is, favoring or against someone or something. Those opinion groups are supposedly separated from the straight news guys and in general are.

However, think of the money spent on staff, materials, travel, just to espouse one view or another. Those are, in effect, direct contributions to candidates or political parties. Those are just the direct costs. The indirect or unallocated costs are reflected in the equivalent expenditures if these opinion pieces had run as advertisements. These “free” ads are forgone revenue. What about forbidding that kind of contribution?

That’s not going to happen because of the First Amendment which grants each individual the right to free speech and press (as well as religion and assembly). Hence, each individual working at these entities has rights to speak out or write out his or her opinion. The Supreme Court says these extend to corporations. Lucky for the media. If only the individuals could speak or write, then the corporations would have to declare those opinions, if they permitted them at all, as contributions.

The First Amendment, by the way, says nothing about professional journalists. There are no licensed journalists. These are individual rights. All it says is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The press at that time was anyone with a printing press or anyone who could get a pamphlet printed by someone with a printing press. I guess it can be assumed that these were organized journalists and hence “the press.” The point was, however, to give voices to the citizens without government interference.

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