Dean of Columbia J-school unwilling to defend a free press. Says government intervention in journalism is a “conversation worth having” 11/26/07Posted by Steve Boriss in ColumbiaJschool, Government.
Reading through the British government’s recently released minutes of its meetings with America’s news executives, there is a curious, easily-overlooked passage on page 30. Dean of Columbia University journalism school Nicholas Lemann told the group, “the U.S. would never accept public intervention in journalism as experienced by the BBC. It works in the U.K. but would be a laughable proposition in the U.S.” Note that he did not condemn government intervention in journalism, but implied it was a good idea in Britain. He also did not say that he opposed government intervention in the U.S. — just that the country would not accept it or perhaps laugh at it.
A little digging shows that, in fact, the Dean of the nation’s top journalism school really is indifferent to defending the single most important principle that defines journalism in America — the press’ core First Amendment protections against government interference. In this PBS Frontline interview a year ago, Lemann suggests that if mainstream journalism runs into financial troubles, we should not be shy to implement “government interventions to make journalism better” as has been done in other countries, suggesting as models the government-controlled BBC’s taxing authority and U.S. radio’s proven free-speech-chiller, the now-lapsed Fairness Doctrine. His view is also consistent with a recent article in his school’s Columbia Journalism Review titled “The Uncle Sam Solution” that preached the virtues of placing news outlets on the government dole. Thankfully, the article quotes Modern Journalism icon Tom Rosenstiel urging that this idea immediately be taken “off the table.” If the Columbia journalism school is the key institution that Modern Journalism looks to for thought leadership, America is well advised to stop looking at Modern Journalism.