Over-mighty (press) barons

If the Rupert Murdoch media empire has so much political clout that Scotland Yard won’t properly investigate its criminal phone-hacking – which reached to the royal family and the Cabinet – maybe it’s time to think about not just new leadership for the Mets but about cutting the Murdoch empire back to size. The rise of Silvio Berlusconi ought to be a warning to us all about the dangers when media barons get to be independent contestants for political power, rather than just reporting on the contest. That the former editor of the Murdoch rag that paid for the illegal prying is now the Downing Street communications director just makes it all that much scarier.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

13 thoughts on “Over-mighty (press) barons”

  1. Well said. All the way back to Aristotle's observations, the people who first begin the process to destroy political freedom seem to have been the very wealthy with lots of power in their societies.

    No matter how much they have, it is not enough to fill the hole in their hearts and emptiness in their souls, and so they incessantly seek more no matter who or what is destroyed. Today they hide their depredations by screaming "class war" and "socialist" at anyone who would push back, or even look.

  2. The self-proclaimed Jacobite reactionary Mencius Moldbug also decries the power of the media over the government, citing the lack of prosecution for leakers and such incidents as Watergate & the Pentagon Papers as evidence of the dominance of the "Official Press" over the nominal government. But I'm more in the Burnham/Chomsky camp to his Hart/Foucault.

    I'm surprised that there wasn't mention of another media owner who has become an elected official: Michael Bloomberg. A little while back Chris Hayes was on bloggingheads decrying how the lack competition faced by Bloomberg, while noting at the same time that most New Yorkers are fine with his administration (I don't know about Italians, perhaps they enjoy the entertainment).

    Robin Hanson argues that eliminating restrictions on political campaigning would help level the field between media & non-media corporations. Others may differ, but it would seem best to come up with general ways to reduce harmful influence of media than just knocking a particular baron down a peg when you notice they are a problem. One would hope that the internet's erosion of the "gatekeeper" function could accomplish much of that.

  3. "maybe it’s time to think about…cutting the Murdoch empire back to size."

    For an outfit called The Reality-Based Community this post reflects an astounding degree of wishful thinking.

    Consider the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which, as you may recall, was largely responsible for allowing media empires such as News Corp. to consolidate their vast holdings. Here's the rollcall of the senate vote on the legislation. Among those voting yea include the current Vice President, President Pro Tempore, and Majority Leader. In addition, every single Democratic senator currently on the relevant subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee who was in office in 1996 also voted in favor of deregulating the media market.

    Over in the House, it's better, but not by a lot. Voting yea on H.R. 1555 (Communications Act of 1995) were the current Speaker and Majority Leader. One-third of the Democrats currently on the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet also supported deregulation back then.

    I don't know about you, but little that has occurred in the intervening fifteen years leads me to suspect a change in heart among the Democratic Party leadership vis-a-vis reregulating the oligarchs.

  4. Aww, c'mon – it's free speech, right? He who has the most money has the most speech! Think of Murdoch as our 51st state. In fact, maybe he should get a seat in the senate?

    It's all part of my ultimate plan for Libertopian secession. The deal will be that they can set taxes as low as they want, but they'll have to sign a contract vowing to never ask for our help when their Galtian overlords start closing the tollgates at dusk, charging a "clean water fee", and selling their capital building naming rights to the highest bidder. No, the "GE courthouse" was your idea, guys….

  5. However much power the wealthy may get over government, politicians will always have more. You're worried about the guy who rents the power, and not the guys he rents it from? How strange…

  6. "However much power the wealthy may get over government, politicians will always have more."

    Which is why throughout our history instances of things like the nationalizing of industry, and confiscatory rates of taxation have been and are far more common than regulatory capture and the purchasing of representatives and senators.

  7. Why, when somebody rents an apartment, do you see the landlord as powerful, and the tenant as powerless, but when somebody rents a politician, (They're not available for purchase, only for lease.) you see the power relationship the other way around? Ever stop to think that, often, businessmen would prefer NOT to have to rent politicians? That it's as much a defensive measure as anything? That the businesses are victims of extorition, not guilty of bribery?

    And politicans usually don't nationalize industries, only their profits, (This is called "taxation".) because they're not interested in the hard work of actually trying to run them.

  8. Renters don't enjoy the droit de seigneur; the media lords do (too literally in Berlusconi's case). They can fire the elected delegates of the people more easily than the other way around.

  9. renter:landlord::big donor:politician is simply wrong. When a renter decides to lease elsewhere, the landlord still owns the property. When big donors decide to give elsewhere, the politician's tenure is strictly limited.

    You could argue that the correct analogy would be to a renter and a property-management agent. But no one thinks of management agents as powerful, just annoying in the way that so many minor functionaries can be.

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