Helen Weir
Life on Asteroid 328
By Helen Weir
June 6, 2010

"How is it possible," asked the Little Prince (in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's touching fairy tale of the same name), during one of his notable stops on the way to planet Earth:

    ". . . for one to own the stars?"

    "To whom do they belong?" the businessman retorted, peevishly.

    "I don't know. To nobody."

    "Then they belong to me, because I was the first person to think of it."

After a further and fruitless disputation with this acquisitive person, the Little Prince goes his way, thinking to himself yet again that the grown-ups are indeed very strange.

What might the little fellow conclude, then, about the recently-released Federal Trade Commission Staff Discussion Draft entitled, "Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism"? Not content with appropriating mere corporations and industries, the Obama Faction is now contemplating the creation of a legal category called "proprietary facts" (p. 10). Yes, you read that right — they want to assert their ownership, and therefore their control, of information itself. Very enterprising! Even the mind-boggling Businessman of Asteroid 328 never thought of that.

Journalism (in the estimation of our new rulers) stands in need not just of being revitalized, but even of being reinvented, because (p. 6):

    copyright (currently, and throughout the history of the concept) protects an author's particular expression of ideas or facts, but does not protect the facts or ideas underlying that expression. Thus, news stories as written and news images are protected by copyright, but the information reported in the news stories is not.

How restricting. How is Obama supposed to accomplish his lofty and necessary goals if he is to be constantly hampered by the threadbare, tedious concepts of fairness, honesty, and (worst of all) verifiability that have characterized eras of lesser historical importance than his own? Not to worry, however, for the FTC is even now considering vital remedies, including:

  • Licensing the News. "Proposal 3," as the draft bloodlessly calls it, suggests that "some sort of industry-wide licensing arrangement be adopted, perhaps with the government's help and support" (p. 12). I suppose we ought to be "shocked, shocked" to find that the aforementioned "help and support" translates, when the rubber hits the road, into IRS intervention into just about every aspect of free speech as it is currently conceived of in this country. Would this be considered an adumbration from the penumbra of the Fourteenth Amendment, or yet another undiscovered application of the ever-ready Commerce Clause?

  • Increasing Government Funding of "reinvented journalism" through such initiatives as "establishing a 'Journalism' division of AmeriCorps" (p. 17 — not to be confused with AmeriCorpse), creating a "National Fund for Local News" from fees which the FCC "now collects or could impose" (p. 18), and the amendment of the tax code to make room for something ominously entitled a "Citizen News Voucher" (p. 18).

"Each of these potential recommendations involves some challenges," the document later allows. After all, someone would have to define exactly which news organizations "qualify" for these and other inventive new sources of government funding (p. 26). I wonder who that Definer-in-Chief might turn out to be?

Barack Obama, fortunately, has already demonstrated that, while oil spills may not be his cup of tea, definitions he can confidently handle. We were treated last fall to the spectacle of anchorman George Stephanopoulos actually reading the Merriam-Webster description of the term "tax" to the Chief Executive, who in turn replied that he "absolutely rejects that notion." Once Obama finds himself owning data itself, and armed with an ability to control (through IRS manipulation) who can and cannot access and utilize it, one doesn't need a lot of imagination to determine which other "notions" (like, say, that of marriage being between a man and a woman, or unborn children enjoying a God-given right to life) he might also feel inclined to "absolutely reject" — on behalf, this time, of the nation as a whole.

After all, it was during the convoluted, painful, and ultimately tragic healthcare debate that we first overtly experienced the depth of his personal and political commitment to preventing the "dissemination of disinformation." What counted, precisely, as "disinformation" about Obamacare? Why, any statement, verifiable or not, which contradicted the President's own. Lest we be tempted to laugh off this little foible of the Leader of the Free World, let's keep the "snitch" email address, the gag order on the insurance companies, the differential treatment of Fox News, and the attempted Waxman hearings firmly in mind.

Then there is, of course, the supreme irony of finding that copyright laws are now to be meddled with by none other than the Obama-Biden administration itself. In attempting to refresh my own memory about exactly what content Joe "Four-Score-Seven-Years-Ago" Biden has lifted wholesale from the expression of others — and there is a ton of it, all told — I spent an entertaining hour scanning through the commentaries on various leftist websites, which argued (simultaneously) that the current VP has never in his life plagiarized anything, even though he himself has admitted to it, and that plagiarism is an old-fashioned non-offense anyway, that in no way impinges upon Biden's character, credibility, or worthiness to serve. These arguments, strictly speaking, cannot be true at the same time. What is true is that a executive team with a known history of contempt for reality is now going to assume responsibility for the "reinvention of journalism." How about getting some Tea Party candidates to support the enforcement of existing copyright laws before extending amnesty to the tramplers of facts?

In the meanwhile, we are supposed to take comfort in the "notion" (have you ever noticed that anything Obama can't explain or account for gets automatically demoted to the rank of mere "notion"?) that the "Potential Policy Recommendations" draft is just that — a draft — which does not "represent final conclusions or recommendations by the Commission or FTC staff" (p. 1). Its authors even allow, with an imperturbability bordering on the distracted, that some of their proposals could actually "restrict citizen's access to (the) news, inhibit public discourse, and impinge upon free speech rights" (p. 6). In their view, however, such considerations are to be weighed (and, evidently, found wanting) against the growing need to fill the "emerging gaps in news coverage" to which the document everywhere refers. Let's hope the Obama administration has as much luck plugging this hole as it has (tragically) had with others so far.

When phrases like "forbidden political discourse" (p. 22) start cropping up in the American sociological landscape, it is time to wholly abolish the agency (that would be the IRS) which gives rise to their usage. It was none other than the Little Prince, of course, who gave us all good advice about the necessity of uprooting baby baobabs the very moment they become distinguishable from new rose bushes — and about what happens to the home asteroids of those who are too lazy or complacent to do so. He was able to go his way relatively undisturbed after his encounter with the pitiable and selfish Businessman of Asteroid 328. But when the people claiming ownership of things like stars and facts are in control of a planet from which the migration of wild birds cannot immediately help you to escape, what, oh what is to be done?

© Helen Weir


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)


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