Monday, July 21, 2008

The Statism of CNN

Tibor R. Machan

Should one ever claim that mainstream media is statist, let alone Left leaning, a bunch of voices will rise in protest. How could that be? After all, don’t giant corporations own the media? Which, of course, assumes something totally unwarranted, namely, that corporations are managed by champions of free enterprise. Baloney. Corporate managers can be just as devoted to trying to get government to redistribute wealth in their direction as are educators, artists, scientists, farmers, or any other “special interest” group.

The charge that is worth considering is that the media, especially news organizations with their commentators and reporters, lean toward statism, which is to say, they favor turning to government with nearly any problem people face in their communities. The only exception is where the press itself faces problems, and when it comes to religious matters, mainly because the fairly strong tradition of separation of journalism and government, as well as religion and government, at least in the United States of America.

On a recent lecture tour through a good bit of Europe I had a chance to watch BBC-TV and CNN-TV quite regularly. Although I speak and understand a smattering of German, English is the language I use routinely for obtaining information on current affairs.

On one occasion I was watching a report on Kenya which just went through an especially violent election season. I turns out that one result of this has been a serious reduction of tourism in that country the economy of which is usually the vital beneficiary of this industry.

At the beginning of the broadcast CNN’s anchor introduced the topic and then brought in a stringer from Kenya who elaborated on it, giving some specifics, numbers, and anecdotal evidence. Once this was over, the camera went back to the anchor who promptly posed the following question: “What is the Kenyan government doing about this problem?” Exactly why it is the government’s task to do anything at all about tourism in Kenya viewers were not told. Just what skills does the government possess that would especially qualify it to do something about this problem? Nothing was said about that.

Imagine for a moment that the TV audience was being given a report on a sporting event, say the recent Wimbledon tennis tournament. As was the case this year, many of the games, especially during finals, experienced inclement weather. Frequent showers led to stoppage of matches and a few had to be extended into the wee hours of the night. But, lo and behold, no commentators raised the question, “What are the referees doing about the inclement weather?”

But, you may say, well the weather is something very different from violent interruptions of political elections. Yes, in some ways it is. But in some ways it isn’t. Both manage to interrupt normal proceedings and neither can be dealt with post facto, including by those charged with upholding the rules. While the government might have done something about the violence that interrupted Kenyan electoral politics, once the interruption occurred, what could it do? Nothing.

The best way to improve the climate for tourism in Kenya has nothing much to do with government. It has to do with merchants getting back to work, resorts opening their doors, oil companies revving up their productivity, and business in general hiring reliable security agents; this might well make Kenya into an especially appealing place for tourists to visit with no help from the government.

It is, of course, ironic that a CNN’s anchor would assume that government will solve Kenya’s tourism problem, given that governments tend to pose rather annoying obstacles to tourism in most places around the globe. Moreover, the violence during the election campaigns had been prompted, in large measure, by the political circumstances of Kenya, so it isn’t likely that politicians are going to manage to remedy matters.

In any case, the point I wish to focus on is just how readily CNN buys into the government habit, how it is nearly second nature to its anchors to expect all problems to be solved by government, never mind whether it is government’s expertise that best addresses the problem. And CNN isn’t alone, only a clear cut example. For CNN the government is treated as the almighty. Not only is it not the task of news anchors to perpetuate the myth of almighty government but such a myth will reinforce false expectations.

It is bad enough that too many ordinary folks place their trust in government—the use of physical force—but to have the supposedly impartial, unbiased media reinforce this is unprofessional and truly lamentable.

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