Rather’s Misguided Proposal

Originally posted: August 11, 2009

Greencastle, Ind. – Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather has made his own news lately with his call for President Obama to form a commission to study the challenges facing the news industry. Rather floated the idea at a speech at the Aspen Institute and restated the proposal in a Washington Post column Sunday.

Rather is quite right that a healthy news flow is essential for democracy. He is also right that big media corporations have become more interested in the bottom line than serving the citizenry.

He is wrong, however, to expect the government to play any role in addressing journalism’s difficulties. The press can’t effectively serve its historic role of being an independent government watchdog once presidential commissions start jawboning ways “for improving and stabilizing” the media industry.

The industry should be left to address its own economic and news judgment problems, and Obama should state that the government will play no formal role in guiding, counseling or bailing out the news media.

Jeffrey M. McCall is a professor of communication at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and author of “Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences.”

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