Jeb Kinnison describes something at the national level that I’ve noted from time to time at the state level — the degree to which social circles and, more importantly, career paths appear to be intertwining the people and organizations from whom the public gets its information and the people and agencies about whom we most need critical, skeptical information because they are empowered to take our property and compel us toward behaviors under threat of imprisonment and state-sanctioned violence:
As a result [of diminishing media opportunities], journalism can become just a springboard to work in government PR, which in turn gives entry to high-paying lobbying or TV personality positions. Occupations that become very low-paying tend to be of interest only to those who already have wealthy family backing and can afford to give up current pay for future status and influence — as seen in publishing. And the revolving door allows a few lucky partisan journalists to move into government PR, then cash in afterwards. The recent trend to marriage links and occupational crossover between Silicon Valley, East Coast media, and the White House staff is a warning sign of the merging of executive branch, administrative state, and media interests, weakening media’s ability to report truthfully on issues. …
These incestuous and corrupt linkages mean government regulatory authority is gradually undermining journalist’s independence, a nurturing a shared worldview — a hothouse bubble — making nonpartisan reporting difficult. Most journalists are progressive-leaning Democrats, though some are still trying hard to be evenhanded. But the bubble in which they live and hobnob socially with White House staffers and other apparatchiks and lobbyists in DC and NYC makes it very hard for them to see their own biases and report fairly, when they know breaking news “difficult” for the socially-approved candidate will hurt them socially or result in a decline in their access to government sources. It’s easy to make it as a reporter or opinion writer by rewriting press releases and forwarding talking points given to you by friendly insiders — and time-consuming and often fruitless to follow independent leads to do investigative reporting revealing government malfeasance. It makes people you know and like look bad. It might help a candidate you can’t stand!
The problem is that we’re all human, and ultimately, only a very, very few of us truly take ideological matters as a singular focus. Most of us are just folks trying to get through this life and make a living in a way that falls within varying boundaries of comfort. As Kinnison describes, bias doesn’t arise in the fashion of a cult, but with real incentives and general predilections drawing groups together and cementing their bonds. Following Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, Kinnison suggests a “Revolving Door Tax” that would charge a substantial surtax on the large private-sector salaries of former government agents and officials within five years of their leaving government.
Perhaps we could apply something similar in the other direction, creating a financial hit for those who take jobs in government after working in occupations (like journalism) that provide influence on who gains government office. A (preferable) free-market solution would be for the news organizations that profess to be objective to put clauses in contracts forbidding a revolving door, as part of a branding strategy touting independence.
These would be interesting wrinkles to add to the system, but it wouldn’t take long until they were simply factored into career paths. The only solution, ultimately, is to shrink the power of government. The less government can do, the less corruption will produce profits, thus increasing the relative weight of our better angels when it comes to our career and personal decisions.