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The Indy Star: Marching Orders for the GOP Effete

(For the use of the membership only)

“February made me shiver with every paper I’d deliver;
Bad news on the doorstep — I couldn’t take one more step.”

— Don Mclean, “American Pie.”

 

Enough is enough. Indiana needs a statewide newspaper. The Indianapolis Star vacated that position some time ago. Fortunately, the capital requirements for the technology needed to reach a mass audience are no longer prohibitive; the low cost of Internet publication makes alternative media viable.

The straw that broke this camel’s back? Star readers, after taking a historic hit to their Jan. 1 paychecks, opened the editorial page this weekend to find insult added to their injury. The editorial board had decided they were not paying enough, that government needed to be bigger. It spelled out its justifications in an agenda for the current legislative session, a list of priorities we address under the subheads below.

But first a bit of venting — a screed, in editorial parlance. Members of the Star’s board and its columnists have developed a romantic view of their role in Indiana political culture. They see themselves as grown-up catchers in the rye, nudging recalcitrant Hoosierdom into the 21st century.Their newspaper, though, is an anachronism.

A few decades ago when the Star’s editors graduated from distant journalism schools, such a soft-headed agenda might have contributed to the public discussion. It doesn’t this year, the most liberal year of a liberal era. In Indiana in 2013 it reads like so much boosterish hoopla, marching orders for the GOP effete. Most of the Star’s ideas for 2013 have been fully tried elsewhere and have just as fully failed. Others have been overcome by fiscal and monetary events. Still others have been made moot by the re-election of Barack Obama.

Earlier Public Education

Charles Murray and other social researchers are verifying what you can see on any shopping trip to Walmart — American culture has been coming apart for five decades now. Public education’s callousness to that fact is inexcusable. It not only failed to bolster the nuclear family but portrayed it as optional; that is, only one of several arrangements supposedly producing the same happy result. Nor did the superintendents of our classrooms and textbooks see need to instill individual responsibility or draw the connection between liberty and economic well-being.

The Star’s answer, incredibly, is we need more of the same, that we should extend the influence of an unrepentant education establishment over our children, and with it a collective-bargaining structure that makes meaningful reform impossible. So how many educrats and public-sector unionists does it take to replace a mother and father overwhelmed by ruinous taxation and destructive social forces? The Star would have us find out.

Subsidized Mass Transit

Dollar for dollar, there are worse ideas for keeping government big and busy (cash transfers to the able-bodied unemployed, environmental hysteria, global war) but mass transit is right down there. It is adored by the armies of engineers, municipal planners and political attendants who can see it adding to their professional muscle. Everyday commuters, however, making the minute and very individual economic decisions about how to get from here to there, are unimpressed. The Star is undeterred. It looks down on its readership as would an architect the figurines in a balsa-and-Styrofoam city. It sees Indianapolisians scurrying around on subsidized and centrally controlled buses if not “high-speed” trains (to where?).

In reality, public bus systems are a fiscal disaster. Rail transit has a worse record. When you consider profitability, ridership or cost-efficiency “few American rail transit systems make sense,” says Randal O’Toole, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and a transportation expert for the Cato Institute. “With the possible exception of Manhattan,” he says, “Americans do not live or work in environments dense enough to need any higher capacity transit than (privately operated) buses.”

Mandated Workforce Development

The relatively new usurpation known as workforce development has little to do with “workforce” and nothing to do with “development.” It is make-work for a growing and costly tax-supported bureaucracy that imagines — or would like us to believe — that it replaces the private sector in ensuring the educational preparedness of Indiana workers.

But even the best-run companies do not presume to see more than five years into the future. The Star, undaunted, promises a committee of quasi-government experts fine-tuning the educational needs of Indiana’s many and varied industries into the next century. Our Cecil Bohanon put it this way: “If central planning is not an effective way of organizing textile production in India why would we think it is likely to be effective in directing human capital acquisition in Indiana?

Conclusion

There is an antidote for this Gannettization of the public discussion. It is the independently owned news operation. A compelling rationale was put forward early on by Noam Chomsky for alternatives to what he called the “propaganda model.” Chomsky’s work provides an empirical, quantified test of whether a modern American medium is meeting its obligations under the First Amendment (the Star fails). More recently, the communications scholar Robert W. McChesney links the failures of the mainstream press to corporate ownership with its only abstract accountability to a readership. The modern “professional’ journalist is a myth, both argue.

This is not new. Since the beginning of this country the need for an independent, individually owned media has been understood. The original Tea Party was the inspiration of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, an alternative to King George’s official news. Indeed, several of the Founding Fathers fathers would have preferred a monarchy over an elected executive unchecked by a free, critical press. Marvin Olasky quotes John Adams in his history of American journalism: “If the press is stopped and the people kept in ignorance, we had much better have the first magistrate and senators hereditary.” You get a good one at least from time to time by genetic accident, is the logic.

Understanding the need for an independent media is not the same thing as securing one. Many of us will write checks to smiling candidates at campaign parties and imagine we are making a difference. It is the rare individual who will take the financial risk and dedicate the personal energy to become a publisher, to build a viable information system, an honest or at least consistent broker of the public discussion. That requires certain sacrifice — and on the order of a Citizen Kane.

Even so, hundreds of experimental news operations are under way throughout the nation. In fact, there are 131 up and running in 42 states according to the newly formed Association for Alternative News Media. Someone here will have to do the same if the Star’s purblind advice does not prevail. That someone will save Indiana from mediocrity or worse. They will deserve the gratitude of a long-suffering Hoosier readership.

Resources

Editorial. “The Star Editorial Board’s Legislative Agenda: Top Priorities for 2013.” The Indianapolis Star, Jan. 6, 2013.

Charles Murray. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Cox and Murray, 2012.

Andrea Neal. “Mass Transit: Time for a Reality Check.” The Indiana Policy Review, Jan. 30, 2012.

Cecil Bohanon. “Top-Down Is not the Way to Fix our Colleges.” The Indiana Policy Review, June. 11, 2012.

Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Pantheon Books, 1988.

Robert McChesney. The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Monthly Review Press, 2004.

Marvin Olasky. Central Ideas in the Development of American Journalism: A Narrative History. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991.

This post was tagged under: Indiana Politics

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