The Neomarxist who is helping to influence Obama’s media policy

“Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism.” Does that statement give you chills?

How about this one: “The news is not a commercial product. It is a public good, necessary for a self-governing society. Once we accept this, we can talk about the kind of media policies and subsidies we want.”

Or this one? “In the end, there is no real answer but to remove brick-by-brick the capitalist system itself, rebuilding the entire society on socialist principles.”

These are the sentiments of Robert McChesney, a self-professed neomarxist media scholar and the founder of the lobbying group and think tank Free Press. McChesney’s statements should worry you, perhaps even fill you with dread. Not because the rantings of a lefty professor are particularly scary in and of themselves, but because McChesney’s views are having a direct effect on the Obama administration’s policies on the media. Don’t believe it? Check out a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission entitled, “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism.” Portions sounds like they were written by McChesney himself.

“I certainly think Free Press is making headway with the FTC,” said Adam Theirer, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation. “They’ve been filing extensive comments with the FTC and they’ve gotten face-time at the FTC workshops. And if you look at the 47-page discussion document that the FTC just released, many of those ideas were borrowed directly from McChesney or Free Press.”

Those ideas, many of them culled from McChesney’s book The Death and Life of American Journalism (co-written with the Nation’s John Nichols), include:

  • The establishment of a “‘journalism’ division of AmeriCorps” to “ensure that young people who love journalism will stay in the field”
  • Providing “a tax credit to news organizations for every journalist they employ”
  • “Establishing citizenship news vouchers”
  • “Increasing postal subsidies for newspapers and periodicals”
  • A tax on news aggregators, or even a policy to make news aggregation sites, like the Drudge Report, illegal
  • The allocation of roughly $35 billion in public news subsidies
  • A five percent tax on consumer electronics
  • A ISP cell phone tax
  • A revision of the tax code to allow for more nonprofit media

The group’s involvement in the FTC document might surprise people who thought Free Press was involved exclusively in pushing internet regulation known as net neutrality. But Free Press’s critics, and even some of its allies, say it has been working towards a much larger goal since its creation in 2002.

“Free Press hasn’t always been about net neutrality,” said a telecommunications expert with intimate knowledge of the group. “It’s just a diversion that’s been really lucrative for them. What they’re really about is having an order of magnitude more media under government control and implementing rules that disadvantage for-profit media.”