What’s a worse idea than the “Fairness Doctrine”?

It’s something I just knew would happen. It was inevitable in this climate of dying newspapers and government bailout mania.

I’m talking about a bill by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., to keep newspapers on life support, a plan for government to offer special privileges to the very journalistic institutions sworn to be watchdogs of government.

Meet the Newspaper Revitalization Act of 2009.

It would give newspaper companies the option of restructuring as tax-exempt nonprofits – something, by the way, they’ve always had.

There is no reason you couldn’t start a newspaper today as a nonprofit. There are plenty of nonprofit news organizations, and there always have been. In fact, the largest news-gathering organization in the world, the Associated Press, is a nonprofit. I started one myself many years ago, before WorldNetDaily. There are also radio networks that are nonprofits.

Joseph Farah’s book “Stop the Presses: The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution” explains why traditional news sources are gasping for breath amid Internet, talk radio phenomena

So, why would such legislation be necessary? No reason at all – except for the fact that government would love to see more newspapers beholden to government and the privileges it can bestow or take away from them on a whim.

It’s bad enough that most of America’s churches have agreed to yoke with government in these relationships that make them accountable to government’s rules and regulations. It would be a disaster if the institution of the press were the next to bow to government oversight.

“This may not be the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains, but it should be an option for many newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat,” said Cardin.

Cardin doesn’t answer the obvious question: What prevented newspapers in the past from being nonprofits? Many quite famous newspapers have virtually operated that way for a long time. The Christian Science Monitor, before suspending publication recently, relied on subsidies from the Christian Science Church. The Washington Times has been heavily subsidized, to the tune of billions of dollars, by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. While neither of them is technically a nonprofit or tax-exempt, the entities that subsidize them are.

We can be thankful Cardin’s measure has not yet attracted a single co-sponsor, but I predict it will.

Government would love nothing more than to be the watchdog of the press, rather than the other way around.

Listen, no one would rather see newspapers survive than me. I toiled in newspaper for more than 20 years before founding WND. All I ever wanted to be growing up was a newspaperman. But there are reasons newspapers are going out of business – just as there are reasons carmakers and banks and investment firms are. Businesses that go bust have generally outlived their usefulness or have been mismanaged.

It’s not government’s role to prop up inefficient businesses of any kind – but certainly not press institutions.

One wonders if Sen. Cardin were around during the days of horses and carriages whether he would have proposed a bailout plan for manufacturers of buggy whips.

When I heard the first rumblings from Capitol Hill about lawmakers’ desires to bring more “fairness” and “balance” and “diversity” to the news media through legislation, I predicted some form of bailout for newspapers would be on the horizon – as crazy as the idea is. When I heard the first rumblings from the Hill about how talk radio needed to be brought under government control, I predicted these freedom-hating, First Amendment-denying meddlers would come up with something like this.

These would-be totalitarians in business suits would love an even more compliant press. That is clear.

What better way than to suck them into being regulated by the Internal Revenue Service. They get out of line, the modern-day Gestapo is right there.

It happened to me and my nonprofit.

In 1996, my nonprofit, the Western Journalism Center, investigated corruption in the Clinton administration. The next thing I knew, it was under investigation from the IRS. The charge? Are you ready for this? One agent explained it this way: “What do you expect to happen when you criticize the president of the United States in an election year?”

Do we really need more press outlets under that kind of threat?

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