Former Vice President Joe Biden, who visits Seattle Friday, is uniquely qualified to elevate the discussion of saving America’s free press.
As a front runner in the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden should make it a priority to support the press and its essential, constitutionally protected role in supporting democracy.
Federal leadership is needed to protect what’s left of the press from further consolidation and downsizing by rapacious investors. Regulators must also address the unfair competition of tech giants that profit from media’s content without investing back into journalism or abiding by advertising regulations that apply to traditional media. The next president should also work to restore net-neutrality protections to ensure a level playing field on the internet, and regulate the internet as an essential public utility.
Biden is saying good things so far. He favors net neutrality regulations created during the Obama era. His campaign pledges to use antitrust enforcement and other tools to hold big-tech companies accountable, although he’s decidedly more moderate on this front than Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who wants to break up companies.
In his foreign policy plan, Biden pledges to restore daily press briefings at the White House and departments of State and Defense. “Our foreign policy relies on the informed consent of the American public,” it states. The same goes for domestic policy.
Although Biden’s Obama administration service is generally a selling point, that administration disappointingly did some things to undermine the press and the public’s ability to learn about government misconduct. It spied on reporters, seized records from The Associated Press and prosecuted more people for leaking information to the public than all previous administrations combined.
Biden should clarify how his commitment to transparency has evolved. Perhaps, after journalists’ three years of stellar public-service reporting of Trump administration havoc, he’s among Democrats with a renewed appreciation of the Fourth Estate.
Biden was a strong supporter of the free and independent press during his Senate career. When the Federal Communications Commission weakened media-ownership regulations, enabling more consolidation, he co-sponsored the Media Ownership Act of 2007, an attempt to force the FCC to be more transparent and explore ways to increase the representation of women and minorities in broadcast ownership. It did not advance.
In 2008, Biden co-sponsored a Senate resolution disapproving the FCC’s media-ownership rules. It passed the Senate but did not advance in the House.
That issue has as much staying power as Biden’s career. The FCC keeps hacking away at bedrock regulations intended to promote diversity, competition and localism in media, and losing court challenges. In the latest ruling, a federal court roasted the FCC in September for shoddy work analyzing the impact its rules would have on ownership diversity.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated the bulk of the FCC’s media-ownership rule-making over the last three years, saying “its analysis is so insubstantial that we cannot say it provides a reliable foundation for the Commission’s conclusions.”
Meanwhile Americans are approaching the 2020 vote with a dearth of independent news organizations to counter propaganda and misinformation. That benefits unscrupulous politicos and foreign governments seeking to divide and weaken the U.S. and its democracy.
Nearly 1,800 local newspapers have been lost since 2004, creating vast news deserts across the nation. Many were shuttered as a result of consolidation that’s enriching only a handful of profiteers.
Saving the free and independent press is essential and should be a priority in the campaign of Biden and every other presidential candidate.