Yes, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But is it better to read deeply biased news than not to read a newspaper at all? Or is a little knowledge exceedingly dangerous within a democracy?
Liberals are mourning newspaper demise, as well they should. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times offers a typical moan: "When we go online, each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about. Nicholas Negroponte of M.I.T. has called this emerging news product The Daily Me. And if that's the trend, God save us from ourselves."
Hmm—The New York Times finally admits that we need salvation. The Times certainly does. It recently mortgaged its Manhattan headquarters, borrowed $250 million from a Mexican billionaire at 14 percent interest, cut salaries by 5 percent—and still had to lay off 100 newsroom staffers. Now it's talking about shutting down a newspaper it bought 16 years ago, the venerable Boston Globe.
I grew up reading the Globe and later worked on it and on an Oregon newspaper, so newspaper death does not delight me. And yet, I wonder: True, we miss out if we read only The Daily Me, but the good old days of reading only The Daily Liberal were not so good. I don't believe that America will be worse off with fewer breakfasts of propaganda on newsprint, over easy.
Desperate liberals are proposing solutions. One is that newspapers become nonprofit organizations and readers contribute to them. The dinosaur maintenance funds will appeal to sentimentality, as do the contribution-seekers at big secular universities: Both sets of fundraisers want us to ignore the ideological poison spewed out in contemporary columns and classrooms. But mega-newspapers will be harder pressed to garner funds than mega-universities are, because they don't have football teams that lock in loyalty.
Others propose that liberal foundations endow newspapers: $5 billion for The New York Times, $3 billon for The Washington Post. That's fine too, although foundation officers will be wise to wonder about the efficiency of daily newspaper distribution. In recent years the typical subscriber has thrown away a pound of newspaper on most days and three pounds on Sunday, after chomping on only a few ounces. The obvious question: Why continue cutting down trees and expending gasoline when delivery of the news via computer is so much more efficient?