Now More Than Ever, Make ABC ‘s George Stephanopoulos Moderate Presidential Debates

I’ve never been a fan of the “objective media” platitude, preferring competing biases to pretended objectivity. The crucial corollary to that, though, is that government may neither censor nor force certain kinds of speech; the war of ideas must play out unimpeded.

Today’s mainstream media often takes big government for granted and cheerleads for it rather than functioning as watchdog. The class interest , if you will, of such intellectuals and elites is a larger state, as Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter famously argued (read the explanation here by CEI founder Fred L. Smith Jr.).

It’s almost as if they can’t help it. The major media outlets’ leftward tilt is “pronounced“; similarly, Harvard faculty political contributions clock in at over 80 percent Democratic. Meanwhile liberal commencement speakers outnumber conservative ones six to one.

Such realities about big media outlets and the educational establishment may frustrate, but they’re not a threat to democracy if censorship is avoided. Impatience with them even sows seeds for change over time.

For now, though, the liberal/progressive (as opposed to classical liberal) perspective is so entrenched it’s, as I’ve heard it described, like asking a fish about water. “Water? What’s water?

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Given the bias, how are we to be shocked that George Stephanopoulos, anchor of ABC’s “This Week” and “Good Morning America” presumably didn’t adequately disclose $75,000 he contributed to the Clinton Foundation. As an ex political operative benefiting from glistening contracts worth tens of millions (most recently $105 million over seven years), the fault is ours in not simply assuming ongoing private political interests.

America already had the Stephanopolous debate back when he first joined ABC after years as a Clinton aide; we accepted that Stephanopolous-touched journalism would be sympathetic to the left. It was our prerogative to like it or lump it. The real crisis for ABC was whether or not he was too short.

Given that the watchdogs don’t always bark, the rise of a new medium fostering a genuine froth of competing biases and utterly unimpeded media freedom is why the Internet has been and remains so remarkable.

But that very freedom is also why left-wing progressives and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seem so eager to control speech online; this is where the above-noted corollary to competing biases–no censorship–is breaking down today.

The signature example today is the FCC’s so-called net neutrality, the goal of which is to assure that those with nonconforming views can be made to advance leftist speech preferences at some future date–not the smoke and mirrors about assuring access and pricing. The real would-be gatekeepers are trying to pin that tag on others.

We can be sure of such designs because of the FCC’s “newsroom study“; because of prior proposals for off ramps to alternative viewpoints on websites; because of plans being laid to regulate conservative blogs and voices; and because of the effort to block anonymous comments on blogs as two professors approvingly (surprise!) described in the Washington Post, invoking the American Journalism Review and the New York legislature as authorities (surprise again).

It’s no doubt that major media figures and today’s largest and most trafficked media outlets have internalized progressive premises and reflexively presume the desirability of larger government. Over-reach by Homeland Security and the National Security Agency aside, they rarely emphasize the importance of containing the power of a growing, coercive state.

So there are real dangers to the marketplace of ideas and democracy when the left leaning seek to silence debate; but let’s get back to Stephanopoulos. Some Republicans want him banned from moderating Republican primary debates.

Yet my reaction is different; Stephanopoulos’ objectivity was never available, so it’s neither here nor there whether he moderates a Republican primary debate. Instead, if he and ABC want to “atone,” use this episode to instead see if Stephanopoulos is capable of asking Democrats questions that presume the progressive agenda is misguided, rather than a marinade in which we all unquestioningly soak.

Imagine a Democratic primary debate, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley on the stage. One could come up with a raft of them, but here are a few questions for Stephanopoulos to ask:

  • “Which major agencies and government programs do you pledge to eliminate?”
  • “How much smaller will the federal government be after your term?”
  • “What will you do as president to roll back the influence of Washington in health care so as to guarantee that government plays as little coercive role as possible, to return decisions to states, localities, individuals and private arrangements?”
  • “With respect to economic recovery, President Obama has said we are not going back to the “policies that got us into this mess.” Since the policies that got us into this mess were the progressives’ collectivism, force and centralization, what do you propose as new approaches?”
  • “Many of your proposals would undermine America’s institutions of self reliance and make more people, even the proud and self-reliant middle class, dependent upon government entitlements in child care, college education, retirement, housing, and health care. How can viewers tonight be certain that you will renounce such policies?”
  • “What will you do to phase out the Transportation Security Administration and allow it to be replaced with humane and effective airline security procedures?” (Alas, note that any question, liberal or conservative, about the Department of Homeland Security operates from the premise that the DHS actually is such a thing.)
  • “As president, how will you transfer government-owned western lands into private or state hands so that species can be saved and resources properly managed and protected?”
  • “What are you doing to roll back the influence of Washington in people’s retirement choices, particularly the not-yet born for whom there are options other than being herded into the broken entitlement programs like Social Security?”
  • “What can the government not do? What is beyond its mandate? Please make explicit what you see as bounds of government power when it comes to both economic and social intervention.”

I have no illusions that any media will ask such questions, nor similar ones presuming the moral virtues of mining and the energy sectors, or on the harm of artificially raising labor costs via a minimum wage, or the harm of the Dodd-Frank financial law, of course. Still, the outcry over the ABC star presents an opportunity to underscore the veil of pretended objectivity.

The spot we’re in now is one where the president–the President–is comfortable saying about Fox News, the sole major conservative broadcast outlet, “[W]e’re going to have to change how the media reports on these issues.”

As far as he’s concerned, censorship for some. But as for the rest of you guys, Stephanopoulos included: Carry on!