Jon Leibowitz, chairman of Barack Obama's Federal Trade Commission, is at the epicenter of a quiet movement to subsidize news organizations, a first step toward government control of the media. In our book, "2010: Take Back America -- A Battle Plan," we reported that he had commissioned a study to examine plans for a federal subsidy for news organizations. Among the measures under consideration are special tax treatment, exemption from anti-trust laws and changes in copyright laws.
Now Leibowitz has begun to pounce. A May 24 working paper on "reinventing" the media proposes that the government impose fees on websites, such as the Drudge Report, that link to news websites or that it tax consumer electronics such as iPads, laptops and Kindles. Funds raised by these levies would be redistributed to traditional media outlets.
While Leibowitz distanced himself from the proposals for the taxes calling them "a terrible idea," his comments appear to be related only to the levies proposed in the working paper. Nobody is commenting on the other part of his proposal -- a subsidy for news organizations.
By now, the Obama M.O. should be clear to all. As he has done with the banks, AIG and the car companies, he extends his left hand offering subsidies and then proffers his right laden with regulations. Should the government follow through on Leibowitz' ideas and enact special subsidies and tax breaks for news organizations, it will induce a degree of journalistic dependence on the whims of government not seen since the days when the early presidents bestowed government advertising on favored periodicals.
Is it too difficult to imagine that the Democrats might pass laws favoring news organizations, only to question -- as the former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn did -- whether or not FoxNews is a news organization or an "arm of the Republican Party"? We can see a future in which news media are reluctant to be too partisan or opinionated for fear that they would endanger their public subsidy.
Once such a subsidy is extended to news organizations, every company in the business must have it. Otherwise, the competitive advantage for the subsidized companies would prove too steep an obstacle to overcome.