The Hartford Courant this year celebrated its 250th year of continuous publication by retreating behind a paywall. A paywall is an internet iron curtain that will no longer allow “free” access to a publication unless a reader pays a fee or – much better – opens a subscription to the publication, in which case access to the publication’s internet site becomes “free.”
Immured behind the new Courant paywall are such bracing left of center voices as Colin McEnroe, an immensely entertaining commentator on cultural and political matters, and, just to mention one often consulted reportorial voice at the Courant, Jon Lender, an investigative reporter who has in his day bagged many a bumbling politician. For wide-awake reporters, bagging an idiot politician is not an arduous chore; for sleepy reporters, waking up in the morning is an unhappy chore.
Locked out of what once had been a “free” site and unwilling or unable to pony up the access fee, what is a good leftist to do?
Conservatives and some independents, many of whom consult other auguries, have long since gravitated to alternative corners of the journalistic barracks, most of which offer “free” access via the internet. Mr. McEnroe’s voice is not entirely lost to the left; people who enjoyed his Courant column may still find him, cost “free”, on WNPR News radio. What of Mr. Lender, whose voice will be lost to a significant portion of the general public?
Very likely, the paywall will diminish the political influence of the Courant. To be sure, liberal politicians in the General Assembly who do not subscribe to the paper will pay an entrance fee they can well afford. The Connecticut Capitol is full of upper-middle class progressives who, for political reasons, empathize with the sort of people who may decline to pay an internet fee or purchase a subscription from the paper. There are no burger-flipping senators or representatives in the General Assembly; many, if not most of the honored members, are lawyers or government pensioners who make a fairly comfortable living.
The lawyer-politicians, particularly if they are long term incumbents, understand better than most the calculus of power and influence. If Mr. Lender’s reach is narrowed, his influence will be commensurately reduced. The same will be true of other Courant reporters and commentators. To the extent that “the tribunes of the people” reach fewer people, their journalistic content and message will be similarly diminished. Joseph Pulitzer was certain that politicians would fear his St. Louis Post Dispatch in proportion to the number of eyes that swept his paper each morning. The politicians of his day were not afraid of journalists; they never are. They feared informed newspaper READERS. Fewer eyes, less fear; less fear, more audacity on the part of fearless politicians. The audacity of a politician increases in direct proportion to his inscrutable invisibility. If “the long reach of the law” were shortened, does anyone suppose there would be fewer bank robberies? It is opposition journalism that moderates the abrasive, ill-considered, secretive and often destructive audacity of politicians. The cop who does not oppose the bank robber facilitates bank robbery.
So then, are progressive politicians in Connecticut – and remember, in the post- Governor Dannel Malloy period, we are all progressives – weeping in their Espresso Con Pannas now that the Courant and other papers in Connecticut have erected paywalls blocking “free” access to their internet news sites?
Not at all. A narrower field of vision is the progressive’s playground. A sleepy, unruffled general public is a precondition of “populist” rule, especially when the kind of populism pushed by incumbent progressives proves to be unpopular. Examine closely the incumbent populist-progressive flag and you will find inscribed on it the motto: Co-opt the opposition, surround and capture the complicit media, and provide the general public with a surfeit of bread and circuses. The motto, of course, seems much loftier and more tolerable when translated into Latin.
The new progressivism was perfectly articulated by U.S. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren when she announced to a group of admirers that private, small “e”, enterprise depends for its existence and sustenance on the uninterrupted solicitude of those providing bread and circuses. The new progressive Connecticut motto, re translated back into English, might read: “We sustain you, and don’t you EVER forget it.”