Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

It's The Economics, Stupid

Since he decided not to again seek the Presidency, Al Gore is reported (although reported only in TIME for the moment) to be devoting considerable time to another dream, one he shares with many Democrats these days — creating a media enterprise that could challenge the dominance of conservative voices in cable television and talk radio.

It's a curious dream. And one conservatives should devoutly hope comes true.

Such liberal efforts are hardly new.

The debate over whether the mainstream news media is "conservative" or "liberal" ignores a major fact that at least one man - Rupert Murdoch - is making a lot of money by not ignoring: Fox News was expressly created to fill a market niche for news not seen by the public as "liberal." And the success of Fox News should pretty much end the "debate" for any sensible person. Put another way: it is an economic fact that there is simply an oversupply of liberal news reporting - relative to public demand. In the course of the "debate," many on the left routinely deny that there is any such bias, selecting a range of ad hoc criteria to make their case. But the market cares not a bit about any such clever rhetorical criteria. Organs such as the New York Times, the old broadcast television networks, CNN and the Washington Post insist they are "unbiased." But the purchasing public does not agree.

Fine. That's great. I hope they keep that up. And I hope that Al Gore is successful at persuading some very rich Democrats to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into creating yet another source of liberal news - since any such new source will primarily compete with the existing liberal news outlets (or, rather, what is the only relevant criteria for these purposes, news outlets perceived by the public to be liberal). Inserting yet another source of liberal news into the national market where many of the existing outlets (ABC, CBS and NBC network news, for example) are already showing huge, if often disguised, economic losses, should help precipitate a major economic crisis for such outlets while likely causing the new investors to lose much of their investment.

Of course, what is needed to strengthen the liberal newsmedia is downsizing. Fewer liberal competitors would mean stronger liberal competition. That's the kind of reasoning that so many liberals and Democrats have a lot of trouble understanding - so it's not a surprise that they continue to equate a larger number of liberal competitors with more effective liberal competition. But that reasoning is as wrong in media as it is in banking or car dealerships.


One might ask: why would a conservative want Al Gore to succeed at creating a new liberal media outlet, thereby accelerating the liberal media shakeout and the creation of more effective liberal media competition? Don't conservatives want less effective liberal media competition?

The short answer is: No, most conservatives should desire more effective liberal media competition. Liberalism and liberals often have something to offer - or, at least they did at one time. But the current structure of the liberal media, which subsidizes the old news networks and pressures liberal columnists into becoming silly hacks (Krugmania unbound!) represents a huge waste of resources. If the Dan Rathers, Aaron Browns and Paul Krugmans could be swept out in some economic shakeup, their replacements might be incentivized to locate and articulate the strong points of the liberal approach - whatever those may be. The world would be a better place if liberal hacks were not subsidized and thereby rendered largely ineffective and uncompetitive. Indeed, one major reason conservative thought - especially conservative economic thought - is intellectually dominant today is likely that much of it was formed or begun in an era of liberal institutional dominance and, increasingly, liberal flaccidness and fatuousness. In a sense, John Kenneth Galbraith helped to create Milton Friedman, and so too Dan Rather helped to create Brit Hume.

And, while all that is going on, it would be nice to see investment banker Al's investors likely lose their shirts.

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