The disturbing effect “Fox and Friends” has on our public discourse has brought into focus the power of corporate media in the era of Fake News. The President has repeatedly and immediately tweeted opinions after they’ve been discussed on Fox and Friends. The tendency for Fox News in general to pander to their audience – seemingly  spewing whatever nonsense their viewers want to hear – naturally makes one question whether profit-driven media is a part of the problem these days, and whether public broadcasting could be a solution. But like many leftist dreams of government correcting the ills of the market, the idea that public broadcasting would necessarily be an improvement has become even more unlikely in the age of Trump.

In the recent Bruenig-Caplan debate on socialism vs capitalism, my strongest takeaway was perhaps this: One of the most underrated arguments against socialism is that socialists’ arguments are always in favor of policy outcomes rather than institutions that will lead to these desired outcomes while safeguarding against abuses of power. If the drive to profits is what keeps organizations like Fox News, Breitbart, and tabloid magazines spewing outright lies and propaganda instead of cold-hard facts, a public or non-profit alternative must be an improvement…right? Here’s the thing with any leftist idea that the government solution will be an improvement to the current market landscape: The theorizing is based on the idea that their benevolent bureaucrat is in power. It never seems to account for the probability (and now reality) that an unbelievably incompetent and shameless bigot like Donald Trump will be the one controlling the government. If our media industry consisted entirely of BBC- or PBS-type companies, the officials our country elected would now be dictating what they broadcast as “news.” Imagine if Donald Trump and/or a Republican-controlled Congress decided who was heading the state-run media agencies. The Fox News of today would appear harmless to the filth and propaganda the government would broadcast with taxpayer dollars. A likely outcome would be that a Roger Ailes-type would be elected Media Chairman. Hopes for a technocratic appointment like Federal Reserve Chairman can’t be guaranteed.

In other times, the libertarian scaremongering about government-run media looked simply overdramatic. “If we have the government run tv stations and newspapers, we’ll turn out like North Korea or Saudi Arabia!” The BBC, for one, is a fine organization, and any plausible criticisms of it having bias or skew are within a reasonable margin of error for how much a media organization can venture from optimality. There’s no reason to think that just because the government takes over certain operations, we’ll end up with an authoritarian regime. But government-run institutions are accountable directly or indirectly to the officials we elect, and when those elected officials really suck, the mediocrity trickles downward. With Donald Trump in office and an acquiescent Congress behind him, that libertarian scaremongering is not so farfetched.

One could argue a choice between government-run media versus a totally profit-driven one is a false dichotomy. Could an independent oversight board make sure the public media companies don’t venture into lunacy? Well who appoints those boards? Even the Congressional Budget Office is under threat from partisan hackery these days. I haven’t seen a plausible policy scheme that would convincingly ensure a public media organization from becoming a wing of taxpayer-funded propaganda under the Trump administration. Are there other regulations, subsidies, or vouchers, that could give a better alternative? Maybe there’s one out there, I just haven’t heard of it.

The unfortunate irony of many leftists complaining about Trump’s abuse of Executive power so far is the same people’s silence during the Obama administration. It’s totally fine when Obama did it because it agreed with certain policy prescriptions. In an age of immeasurable and unbelievable outrage, it can be hard to have a clear head and accurately critique government actions. But consider this whenever Trump does something you deem terribly awful: if what he is doing is within his legal scope as head of the Executive branch, should we reconsider how much power we give the Executive branch, or do you just not like how he’s using that power? Put another way, policy proposals are really easy to get enthusiastic about when the only reality you can envision is when Your Person is in power. But the next time you consider government presence as an alternative to market forces, try to picture what a government run by The Other Team can do with that power.

It gets back to a theme I find particularly relevant this day in age that applies to every public policy debate: when are individuals/institutions best held accountable through market forces and when are they best held accountable through the democratic process? As toxic as Fox News is for our culture, I’d take our profit-driven landscape over a Trump-run state media anyday.

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