Press protects the country
The office of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, potential 2016 presidential candidate and Koch Brothers favorite, decided to construct a state-sponsored, taxpayer funded news agency to help the public and media access news within the state and from the governor’s office.
What could possibly go wrong?
After all, government-funded news is not exactly an untried concept. President Bush paid Media commentator Armstrong Williams almost a quarter million dollars to plant favorable stories about President Bush’s education policies, an exercise the New York Times called “covert propaganda.”
On the first anniversary of 9/11 a story made the news in the U.S. about the success of advancing education for women in Afghanistan, implying that our forceful intervention was changing lives and advancing freedom.
WHBQ Fox broadcast the story without knowing that State Department contractors conducted the interviews, edited the video, and wrote the narratives presented by WHBQ with little alteration.
And of course Pravda, the Russian state news agency, has been selling news from the government for generations, establishing a history of how government and news can fit together in a model designed to get the good news out to the public. The Atlantic promptly dubbed the Indiana news agency “Pravda on the Plains.”
When news of the new media vehicle came out this week to the general public, Pence, in the face of withering public response, retreated immediately from the concept of Just In, the name designated for the news agency. Pence attempted to describe the agency as nothing more than easy access to state press releases, while the new managing editor had put out inquiries already for feature stories, how-to guides and top 10 lists.
The governor avoided noting the seeming disconnection between the two concepts.
Unfortunately, Pravda on the Plains was not a concept borne from a vacuum. Politicians have always felt misunderstood by the independent news media and from Nixon’s “Checkers” speech to Anthony Weiner’s attempt to deny his Weiner moment on the Internet, politicians have tried to appeal directly to the public to counteract unfavorable media representations.
The trend has advanced in recent years as politicians have used Facebook and Twitter to go direct to their voters and supporters. But there is a large leap from posting a Tweet to creating a government-run, taxpayer-paid, news agency. One would think smart politicians and their staffs would know that any plan for state-run news is a no go in America.
Sure, it would have been nice for Pence to read stories like “Governor works late into the night for taxpayers;” or, “Pence visits VA hospital, praises vets and their families, hugs baby;” or, “The governor takes time off to decorate family Christmas tree, a family custom with eggnog and sugar cookies.” Who would not appreciate such honest moments shared with an adoring public?
But independent news, free of government intrusion, is a cornerstone of America’s foundations. While an independent press can occasionally be fooled, can on occasion follow a bad lead, or advance a false story, the best of our news professionals also retract, correct, re-state and clarify when they get the facts wrong.
Should we forget, even for a moment, the crucial role a free press plays in freedom, remember not that our press largely supported a race to war in Iraq, it also uncovered the false claims when that war unfolded. When America tortured, the media eventually uncovered the facts and reported the news.
Free speech, buttressed by a free press, protect America. Pravda on the Plains represented what will never survive here, news by and for the government.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.