It wasn’t merely that the news itself was bad in 2017 though, mostly, it was.
But it was also a bad year for the news media. Here in Illinois, citizens, once again and in increasing quantities, were fed a daily ration of BS by the “Illinois Policy Institute,” an organization dedicated to the eradication of unions, the privatization of public education and to the enrichment of the state’s wealthiest people at the expense of those on lower rungs of the economic ladder.
This organization (its leaders prefer IPI be called “The Institute” – we won’t be doing that) officially refuses to divulge who funds it, though we’re certain the Koch Brothers are involved and we know an early funder was a guy who made a fortune off the teacher pensions he wants to eliminate.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner has donated more than $500,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute over the last five years. The institute, which bills itself as a free-market, liberty-based organization, promotes a range of policies and has writers in an offshoot called the Illinois News Network, which provides stories free of charge to newspapers.
After the legislature approved a new state budget for the first time in more than two years, former state legislator James Nowlan analyzed the work of IPI’s “analysts” and their “conclusion-driven” reports.
By that, I mean the IPI first establishes its ideological conclusion, to wit: Illinois could have enacted its recent budget without a tax increase. Then, the so-called analysts go out in search of narrative to buck up the conclusion.
The IPI “budget solution” is not to save or cut huge amounts but simply to shift, massively, state responsibilities onto the backs of its local governments. Their proposal would, for example, shift at least $2.5 billion in teacher and professor pension responsibilities off the state ledger books and onto local school districts and universities.
The IPI tools for BS distribution include social media and spokespeople claiming to be experts. Their pronouncements are, too often, presented to the public as “news” by people who, as journalists, should protect their consumers from unfettered nonsense.
For example, the Editorial Page of the Chicago Tribune regularly features editorials from IPI sources. Similarly, the TV show Chicago Tonight allows IPI spokespeople, long on ideology but short on credentials, to appear as “experts” on taxation, economics and government.
More recently, the IPI has spread its tentacles into broadcasting by purchasing the Illinois Radio Network. As is the IPI M-O
, “news stories” are offered at no charge to radio stations statewide.
Among the stations now airing IPI propaganda is one of Springfield’s top news and information outlets, WMAY Radio. (full disclosure: I was a WMAY news reporter from 1982-85)
In an interview
with columnist Bernie Schoenberg, WMAY general manager Harvey Wells defended the IRN association, apparently believing an organization that exists solely to advocate for its anti-tax, anti-union agenda, purchased an unprofitable statewide radio network in order to deliver fair, balanced, journalistically sound information.
He said it was made clear to the station the policy institute and INN/IRN are separate entities. He also said the station isn’t using some weekly programming from IRN — just news that can be chosen, story by story, by the station.
There certainly is a financial advantage to the arrangement. “Nothing” is always a good price and that is what WMAY and other IRN stations are paying to air, as news, IPI propaganda. It allows the station to sound “bigger” at no cost.
The price paid for the acceptance of free “news” is that true journalists can suddenly seem prohibitively, or at least unnecessarily, expensive.
Why buy news when you can get “news” for free?
In 1987, 44 journalists representing 27 news organizations were Illinois Statehouse reporters. In the most recent edition of the state government “Blue Book,” 14 journalists representing 13 independent news organization are listed as members of the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association
Not every news operation airing IPI propaganda is in cahoots with the dark money
For example, despite the IPI BS regularly printed on the Tribune editorial/opinion page, the paper continues to publish journalists delivering accurate and fair reports.
At the Tribune, there exists a metaphorical “wall” between the newsroom and the editorial board room. It is safe to assume that much that appears in the Tribune’s news section irritates the folks in the board room. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
WMAY continues to employ independent and outspoken hosts who “call them as they see them,” but to claim a wall exists between the IPI and its in-house news operations would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous to the public good.
So, in in the interests of keeping journalism alive, the following resolution for 2018 is offered:
Whereas, a misinformed public cannot be expected to make decisions protecting democracy and our Constitution,
Whereas, the Koch Brothers, Bruce Rauner and the Illinois Policy Institute have made the eradication of public employee unions, the privatization of public education, the reduction or elimination of services for the poor, sick , elderly and children their primary goals,
Be it resolved that I, as a news consumer in 2018, will strive to remember that reports from the Illinois Radio Network and the Illinois News Network are propaganda intended to further the agenda of the Illinois Policy Institute, Gov. Rauner and the Koch Brothers,
Be it further resolved that, when I receive BS, via newspaper or broadcast, I will contact the newspaper or station and let then know that I expect journalism from the news and, if I don’t get it, I will will stop supporting advertisers who support attacks on our democracy,
Be it also resolved that, as a free and independent news media is crucial in a democracy, in 2018 I will support journalism by purchasing subscriptions and supporting the advertisers of stations, papers and e-publications that continue to deliver high quality, fair and accurate journalism.
If we pay attention, the truth, the facts, will prevail.
Happy NEWS year!
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