Government Control Of The Media Isn't The Answer To The Alexandria Shooting

by Joseph D. Lyons
Chris McGrath/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning there was yet another shooting. But this time politicians were the target. A man went to the lawmakers' baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia and fired about 50 times at a Republican congressional team, injuring four. The congressman who was most severely injured, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is still in critical condition. While this must unequivocally be condemned, some Trump allies are calling for a much more extreme response. A government takeover of media is not the appropriate response to the Alexandria shooting.

Michael Savage, the host of the right-wing radio show Savage Nation, had an extreme reaction, Media Matters for America reported. Much like those on the left have accused media on the right of inciting violence and preventing meaningful gun control reform, he blamed the attack on social media and progressive news media. "The coming civil war that Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, I will even say Rachel Maddow have been screaming for. You know, the words like 'resist.' You know 'resist' means something. It means kill it means shoot," Savage said on the program Wednesday.

But that was not the worst of it:

Should Trump take control of Twitter for not monitoring haters. You heard me. Is it time for the government to take control of the out-of-control on social media like Facebook and Twitter who do not monitor left-wing haters. Should Rachel [Maddow] and the haters be removed from the airwaves by the federal government for their constant drum beat of their hatred against Trump and Republicans, calling for, among other things, resistance with their sneers every night.

That is not a solution to this problem. In fact, it's a scary step toward an autocracy. David Frum wrote a long piece for The Atlantic explaining "How to Build an Autocracy" and suppressing media is a key factor. He explains, using the examples of other countries like Hungary, that government allies buy up media and that independent outlets receive pressure with lost advertising dollars.

Even if there aren't controls on the media, painting newspapers and TV stations from the center as partisan can be dangerous too. Nic Dawes warned against what Savage is doing in the Columbia Journalism Review. He took lessons from India, South Africa, and Venezuela to explain the way a free and open media is vital to a functioning Democracy. One tool that some may use, he argues, is painting the media as the opposition, as Trump has. Savage brings that to a new level, going as far as blaming Maddow for the violent actions of one man.

But imagine the United States becoming a country like Venezuela, where nearly all private media has been shuttered or taken over by the government. In February, CNN Español was kicked off the air in the country for allegedly instigating "religious, racial, and political hatred" and, yes, violence. Sound familiar? The National Telecommunications Commission Director Andres Eloy Mendez said that CNN's broadcasts "threaten the peace and democratic stability of our Venezuelan nation, as they generate a climate of intolerance."

Essentially this is what Savage is urging that Trump try to do in the United States. Not just with television, but with social media too (which at least for now remains a tool of the opposition in many of these countries). Whether or not you agree with what a journalist is saying, the answer is not to take over the country's newsrooms to prevent them from inciting violence. Because it's hard to draw a line in the sand once you've started down a path of government control.

Luckily the United States has very strong press protections, but they're not perfect. The First Amendment is great, but America is still not at the top of the World Press Freedom Index put out by Reporters Without Borders. It ranks 43rd this year. To survive a presidency's like Trump's — or a future autocrat who rises from the left — America must work to improve journalists' ability to freely report the news. Government control is in no way acceptable.

The gunman's attack on Democracy was beyond unacceptable, but government control of media would make matters far worse.