Paul Greenberg

Another entry in the Chutzpah sweepstakes is Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University. He's wants to add a Government Press to Government Motors. The man is a master of unintended satire, too, Note the title of his book proposing government-provided news and opinion: "Uninhibited, Robust and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century."

Lee Bollinger makes his case on the same grounds the journalistic establishment was citing half a century ago: Newspapers are failing, the sky is falling, and all is lost unless the government subsidizes the press. Much like President Bollinger today, those earlier diagnosticians of the press didn't foresee the rise of new, competing and highly successful institutions that would fill the gap as old media gave way to new.

Those doomsayers of the last century failed to take into account the innovative spirit of Americans when facing new challenges. Much as Lee Bollinger overlooks the power of the World Wide Web, the profusion of bloggers, and the dynamism of the free market. Joseph Schumpeter's term for it was creative destruction.

The masterminds who propose a Government Press tend to overlook the ever-inventive spirit of a free, not to say rambunctious, people. How else explain the rise of, among other highly successful enterprises, Fox News and the ever newer, bigger and better Wall Street Journal, which replaced the New York Times as the country's premier newspaper some time ago?

Lee Bollinger confuses the sad fate of failing newspapers -- some of which, let's face it, deserved to fail -- with that of journalism itself. Much like someone worrying about what's going to happen to the buggy-whip business once those awful horseless carriages take over the road.

As an example to follow, President Bollinger thinks the British system is just dandy, complete with its requirement that the public be obliged to support the BBC. To heck with the paying public's own preferences. Government, or at least a journalistic elite, will know what's best for We the mere People to see and hear.

Mr. Bollinger can't see that the Internet has moved the press back to the uninhibited, robust and wide-open days of the founding fathers, when anyone with a printing press could publish his own news and opinion, advertisements and manifestos. Today they may be bloggers, or, as one outraged and outdated TV executive called them, guys sitting in their living room in their pajamas. And occasionally taking down an imperious Dan Rather.

The little people are definitely getting out of hand when they start exposing American journalism's leading pomposities. What's worse in Lee Bollinger's chummy little world, these amateurs are ... uncredentialed! Much like John Peter Zenger or Elijah Lovejoy or H. L. Mencken or ... well, name your own journalistic hero. Strangely enough, none of those champions of a truly free press were subsidized by the U.S. government.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.