Jul 10

Lee Bollinger: the man from Fruitcake City

Lee C Bollinger, the President of Columbia University in New York, is an important man in American academia and has opined in the Wall St Journal that it is time to start considering state subsidy as a solution to the economic crisis in US news media. He is, alas, not alone in raising the idea.

Lateral thinking and fresh examination of prejudices are fine. But Bollinger’s argument is foolish and dangerous. Mercifully, what he suggests isn’t likely to happen. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell said in a different context: this is an idea so stupid it could only come from a clever man.

Bollinger points out, reasonably enough, that news media in the US and elsewhere are already entangled with the government by way of subsidies to public broadcasters and regulation. His argument boils down to saying that what America needs is a version of the BBC.

Leaving aside the flippant rejoinder that pretty well any American who wants to access the BBC’s news output can now do so either through the internet or the BBC’s worldwide outlets, Bollinger’s case for state subsidy falls on two grounds.

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