Ink by the Barrel

Author: Gary Hart

According to H.L. Mencken, never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.  Though he was correct about the consequences, some of us have refused to be intimidated.  (But that is another discussion.)

Nevertheless, what are thoughtful people to do when the men, and women, who buy ink by the barrel use an unconscionable amount of it–or its electronic equivalent, hours of airtime–to “report” on a hitherto anonymous minister in Florida for the simple reason that he threatened to burn a Koran?  And particularly when the reporting is 24/7, non-stop.  (The quotation marks are used to suggest this really isn’t news in any traditional sense.)

Had this travesty of abuse against the First Amendment to our Constitution not occurred, does anyone seriously believe that this minister would have received a pleading call from the Secretary of Defense of the world’s greatest superpower to cease and desist?  Would the Secretary of State, the Mayor of New York, and even the President of the United States have felt called upon to render opinions and pleas?

It is what it is.  But, at the very least, it is a cause for wonder about who is running the news business these days when audiences for both network and cable “news” are disappearing as fast as candidates who don’t take special interest money.  One has to have some suspicion that the 26 year old producers and editors calling the shots are under the bizarre assumption that some of us poor ignorant readers and viewers actually are interested in or amused by this nonsense.  Apparently their theory is that we are too dumb to absorb real news, so we must be fed irrelevant childishness.

Too bad a few of these overpaid children weren’t required to read the purposes of the First Amendment.  It wasn’t so that they and their publishers and network moguls could make money.  It was because the Founders knew the Republic would be in peril without the public having solid information about its really important business.  And there is a record amount of public business that we are being told precious little about.  These children must find it boring and assume we adults do as well.

11 Responses to “Ink by the Barrel”

  1. Gill Winograd Says:

    Could it be that it was an anomaly of the technology of the printing press that made reporting a profitable private enterprise and that in a digital age we cannot support real reporting that way? The move to substitute low-brow entertainment by the press and TV simply reflects this. If indeed hard-news reporting is vital to our democracy and the private, profit-making model no longer exists, we need to think about public subsidy/utility approaches to funding this necessary activity.

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    The closest we will, and probably should, ever come to that is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. They are still the best source of news and information, though they are always under attack from private news organizations who, mistakenly, think they own the airwaves.

  3. Debbie Lackowitz Says:

    Again Mr. Hart Thank you for speaking out. You are SO right. Where IS the news in our 21st Century? Well I don’t think that’s the question to be asked actually. You see, its all in the questions you ask. Here’s my take. The news is there, if you want it. What really needs to be is asked is why aren’t we interested in it anymore. Follow me here. The perfect example is ‘balloon boy’. Remember that Sir, out in Colorado? We ALL became engrossed in it (even I did, until I found out it was a fake!). Celebrities? That’s another one. Trials. Anna Nicole Smith? Scooter Libby, not so much. And If I hear anymore about OJ Simpson? Please! We get sidetracked, distracted by the stupidest things. 24/7. The media is to blame, sure. But if you really think about it, they’re only giving the people what they want. And I DO agree with you that the Fourth Estate has an obligation in our democracy. And it’s definitely beyond money. WE have to demand that they fulfill their obligations. Unless and until we do, well they’re just gonna go for the cash.

    Response to Gill Winograd; I agree with you about the substitution of low-brow entertainment. And I think it’s a disservice to our nation. But public subsidy? We do have PBS. But even that now has diminished. I’m guessing you mean a license fee like in the UK, that subsidizes the BBC. Excellent idea. Except i really don’t know how that would go over here in the US. Right now, you have a populace that is raging about taxes. Put I license fee on them at your own peril at this point!

  4. Gary Hart: Ink by the Barrel | Says:

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  5. James Starkey Says:

    As always, I couldn’t agree more. However I’m afraid that the “adults” are being outnumbered by the “children.” It is getting more and more difficult to consume news and I think that has driven me into some kind of permanent depression. I am a retired English teacher and I remember times when I looked out at one of my freshman classes and imagined what would happen if these people ever got power! My worst fears are being realized.

  6. Neil McCarthy Says:

    The private production of useless pablum is not new to this viral internet age or 24/7 cable news. Hearst started the Spanish American War and objectivity in journalism only emerged as a consequence of the efforts of late 19th century media moguls like Ochs and Sulzberger. Before that, newspapers were bald advocates for their causes or candidates on all pages. The solution now, as then, in keeping with our appropriate respect for the First Amendment, is the emergence of a new generation of editors and gatekeepers who separate mindless egoism from newsworthy speech and action. In the meantime, the rest of us must either turn the channel or shut off the TV and go back to the good book (or Koran even).

  7. Pat Boice Says:

    Mr. Hart, you are so right! My husband and I (89 and 77 respectively!) watch very little TV, and try to glean what we can from the printed news page. We do want to know what is going on in the world news-wise, but not the trivia that is produced so much of the time. Unfortunately, some of what is available as “news” (even “fair and balanced”) serves only to fan the flames of ignorance – and sadly, these viewers do vote!

  8. sebastian Says:

    Why bother cross posting to when you turn off comments? I hate reading your work when you refuse to accept feedback.

  9. Gill Winograd Says:

    @Debbie, @Gary
    I am not for expanding the CBP/PBS model and have the Gov. directly fund the Press. There would be no way to preserve independence in a crisis. I was thinking more along the lines of exempting the Press from taxes, like we do churches, not only their property and earnings, but making subscriptions tax-deductible contribuitons. I think the 1st Amend. could be interpreted to support that. Whether that would be enough of a subsidy to matter, I don’t know, and as always the devil is in the details.

  10. Jeff Simpson Says:

    @Gill: Perhaps only programming classified as news could enjoy a tax-exempt status, with this status being contingent on truth in reporting. Much of the Fox News Channel programming they classify as ‘entertainment’ to distance it from those who are picky about things like facts, numbers, dates, the truth, etc.

    The kids that came of age under Reagan embraced fully the ‘greed is good’ Gordon Gecko speech and now they are the energetic movers and shakers, or denialists and operatives, depending on your perspective. Rupert Murdoch’s business model features hate-mongering, polarization, Orwellian doublespeak; and this is combined with the ultimate capitalist seal-of-approval: financial success.

  11. Gill Winograd Says:

    The details are difficult and would both be legislated and litigated. Who is to be tax-exempt, what part of an organization is tax-exempt, conflicts with campaign contribution laws, privacy and anonymity concerns of subscribers, avoiding cross-subsidy to taxable entities… It’s a long list. But we do it for charities, universities, and churches now.

    I don’t advocate the government deciding what is true or what is news except in the broadest sense of deciding if an organization is more than a tax dodge. If as Jeff says, Fox News is often untruthful, I’d rather see that fought out in the marketplace of ideas and the voting both, not by the government lifting their license. What I’m trying to get at in my proposal is a way to find a business model for real news which our private market system no longer seems to provide. I don’t accept the idea that if news is unprofitable as a business, than we don’t need it. I think news needs to be regarded more like religion and charity, as vital to our democracy but not supported well by the for-profit model.

    The difficult balance is how to get government support without government censorship.

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