The Controlled Press

If liberty means anything, it means freedom of the press. “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

The freedom of the press means not only the right of newspapers to print what they want (though libel is subject to tort), but to hire the reporters they want, sell papers the way they want, and structure their business the way they want.

But Congress has made a law abridging the freedom of the press. It is enforced by the Department of Justice’s antitrust division.

As David Milstead writes for the Rocky Mountain News, “It was just eight years ago that The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News hung up the gloves and went to the federal government for permission to combine business operations.”

A free press does not need to beg the federal government for permission — permission! — to conduct its business the way it sees fit.

Even if the antitrust laws did not influence the outcome of journalism — the stories that appear on the printed page — the controls would still constitute an unjust imposition on the freedom to conduct business, control one’s resources, and contract by mutual consent.

But it is obvious that the antitrust laws do influence what appears on the printed page. Milstead notes that the two papers are struggling financially, and one might have to shut down. He writes, “The biggest obstacle to this scenario is the Justice Department, which blessed the JOA in the first place. In the past, government antitrust attorneys have made it difficult to end one of these partnerships early… [P]erhaps they would block any substantive change, forcing Scripps and MediaNews to pile up more losses in the name of editorial independence.” Not only can the unjust policies of the Justice Department force businesses to run at a loss, in the process they strongly influence which reporters a paper hires. Two papers forced to compete at a loss cannot afford to keep on all of their top-notch talent, nor hire away talent from outside or the other paper. The result is not direct censorship, in that the federal government is not restricting what the papers can write about, but it is indirect censorship, in that the federal government is partly determining what the papers are able to publish.

A free market is not controlled by lawyercrats of the federal government. In a free market, the two papers would be free to openly compete, merge partly or completely, offer to buy the other out, or do anything whatsoever that does not involve force or fraud. It is simply not properly any business of any bureaucrat or federal official.

As an aside, assuming the Department of Justice grants permission for one of the papers to close, I sincerely hope it’s the Post, but I doubt that it will be. I hope that at least the Rocky’s editorial staff stays in business. If they’re let go, too, I hope somebody has the brains and resources to keep that talent in Colorado.