(And as long as your intentions are noble and good, nothing could possibly be wrong with results or go wrong on the way to them, right?)
For most of us, the story starts in the Wall Street Journal, which published an opinion piece from FCC Commissioner(!) and Obama appointee (!) Ajit Pai. The Commission generally serves quietly; it used to be a big deal to get even Newton Minow-esque growl from a serving FCC Commissioner. Monow has said that the two words best remembered from his famous speech are "vast wasteland," but the two words he wishes would be remembered are "public interest." Be careful what you wish for! It appears that Minow-ism took root in the FCC's middle bureaucracy and has borne strange flower:
Today's FCC, Commissioner Pai in the minority, has decided to ride Mr. Minow's wistful hope into the nation's newsrooms, starting with a "pilot project" in Columbia, South Carolina, in which "...the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run."
It appears to be motivated be the very best sort of intentions and all manner of clever research design [PDF] -- and utter deafness to history. Y'see, the FCC is concerned that newspapers, radio, the Internet and those horrid ol' commercial TV stations -- the ones that make most of their income from the ads run during local newscasts -- might not be giving you what you want and need. So they plan to "ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about 'the process by which stories are selected' and how often stations cover 'critical information needs,' along with 'perceived station bias' and 'perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.'" That's Commissioner Pai again, who is as mystified as you or I how this could be done without any sort of chilling effect by the very same government body that approves TV station licenses and levies nice fat fines for saying bad words on the air or not having any way to relay Emergency Broadcast System messages. Especially when they will be deciding just what news it is The People need, and then weighing news providers against that paradigm.
Oh, and to add to the general air of snooping and snitching, the Feds plan on "interviewing" not merely ownership and management -- nope, they'll creep right into the
Reading the report, I believe the wonks behind it really don't understand this; they honestly believe they will be as unobtrusive as wary little mice, a fly on the wall looking out for The Public Interest.
See, when The Censor shows up, she'll have nothing so crude as a red grease-pencil or a razor blade. She'll be wearing a nice business suit, not a brass-buttoned black uniform and shiny jackboots -- and she may well have no idea what she's really there to do. It's the soft fascism of dim expectations.
It's to be fought against. Commissioner Pai knows that. Good for him, but he's just one voice among the five Commissioners. He'll be needing our help.
* But doesn't each one set new records for tone-deafness?