President Obama has had a bad June. You know that because the Democrats and the Left are already providing a laundry list of recriminations to explain a defeat in November: SuperPAC money, the European economy, a conservative Supreme Court, the Koch Brothers, the list goes on. But there’s another excuse that is also bubbling beneath the surface of Democratic finger-pointing: You, with all your access to limitless information, views, analyses, facts.
As President Obama himself explained: “I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.”
And that was in 2009, when the president was at the height of his popularity. Imagine the denunciations that will spew from the Democratic spin machine if Obama loses. Fox News, bloggers, talk radio hosts, readers of this newspaper [BD1] – all of you contributed to president’s inability to find “mutual understanding” with the voters. On the surface, efforts to revive tyrannical policies like the “Fairness Doctrine” or the “Newspaper Revitalization Act” (the context for Obama’s remarks) are about ensuring Americans receive the best news and information, not just one-sided spin.
But that’s always been a cover. Central planners fear our new media age – where the information is unfiltered and easily accessible – because it makes their job harder, if not impossible. Not only does the abundance of media outlets increase the amount of information we can consume, but it changes the way we engage with each other as well. The new paradigm is a rowdy, decentralized model of exchange in which news consumers bypass the gatekeepers to share facts and opinions directly with each other on a grassroots level.
Media used to exist in a top-down system where only a small few individuals produced the media outlets we watched and read. Walter Cronkite, anchorman for CBS Evening News, told an entire generation what to think. Truth came in a one-size-fits-all package, and was allocated to the public twice daily, with delivery of the morning paper and the start of the six o’clock news. An individual’s only recourse if he wanted a different set of data was to switch channels to the strikingly similar versions of truth offered by ABC and NBC.
Not surprisingly, the heavy hand of government played a key role in propping up this “truth cartel.” From the earliest years of radio, the Federal Communications Commission not only seized control over the airwaves, but radio and television markets as well. Because broadcasters were federally created monopolists, regulators dominating stations could impose rules that would control broadcast ownership, reach, and most importantly content. Democrats might call themselves “progressives” but they pine for Roaring ‘20s.
Now, the media is bottom-up. Stories begin with the pajama-clad blogger, the girl with the camera phone, or the “amateur” journalist asking his betters the tough questions. The Old Media once tried to ignore these party crashers, but not any longer. What we watch on the evening news we’ve likely already seen on our Facebook or Twitter feed.
The liberating power of social media and a decentralized open-ended online discovery process is integral to the story about the emergence of the Tea Party movement. Before the information revolution, we needed centralized parties to find candidates, raise money, buy ads, craft messaging, and organize supporters. Now we can do all that for ourselves. The people can connect directly with one another, through various social media tools and networks. Groups are able to mobilize themselves by gaining information quicker, sharing with others, and sparking their message across many venues.
The reality is that these new media venues are growing at a pace that bureaucrats find threatening. Nothing irritates a central-planning bureaucrat more than an unpredictable public. If government loses control over the media outlets we engage in, they no longer retain control over how we think, respond, vote, engage, and share. A loss of centralized control means no longer can the government decide what is best for society.
As Thomas Jefferson foreshadowed in a letter in 1789, “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” The Jeffersonian ideal is finally upon us, and it’s driving Washington’s central planners nuts.