Billionaires Have Their Uses in Protecting Democracy


There is only one routine activity that no economic philosophy could designate as a function only of government, and that’s providing the news, the information about the functions of government. Government has a monopoly on delivering the mail. Just as government should have the power to keep the private sector honest, the private sector, in the form of a free press, is essential for preventing government corruption. Thomas Jefferson famously said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

It seems almost ironic that if we need government to protect us from malefactors of great wealth we’ve needed a pair of billionaires to protect us from a government that would happily monopolize the news business, rather like Big Brother in a fright wig. In 2009 Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, loaned $250 million to the New York Times. The debt was repaid in 2011, but in 2015 Mr. Slim exercised warrants that brought his ownership stake to 16.8% of the paper. However, Mr. Slim has no editorial control of the Times and can’t be credited or blamed for its reporting or opinions. On June 23, the Times published a list of President Trump’s lies. “Trump achieved something remarkable: He said something untrue, in public, every day for the first 40 days of his presidency. The streak didn’t end until March 1.”

In 2013, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, bought the Washington Post for $250 million, and instead of trying to cut operational costs, went on a hiring binge both on the technical side for new ways to deliver the news, but also more reporters. The result has been rapid growth of readership and profitability. Mr. Bezos simply bet that if he offered a better product, people would pay for it. In recognition, President Trump tweeted “The @washingtonpost, which loses a fortune, is owned by @JeffBezos for purposes of keeping taxes down at his no profit company, @amazon.” Mr. Bezos has not exerted editorial control over the paper.

The Wall Street Journal, also a national newspaper, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has been known to exert editorial control over his other newspapers. The WSJ has not been as focused on Trump’s tweets as other papers, but on March 21 the paper published a scathing editorial: “If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations ...”

Meanwhile, President Trump has attacked CNN and the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. But MSNBC has been gaining viewership, some, apparently at the expense of Fox News. According to The Blaze: “MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow destroyed her competition on June 7-8, earning 745,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic and 979,000 viewers, respectively. Her biggest competition at the 9 p.m. hour came from The Five on Fox News, which finished with a two-night average of 592,000 in the key demographic.” Keith Olbermann’s webcasts have been drawing as many as 2 million views each.

This is important. President Trump’s tweets not only give him the opportunity to distract us from the most recent hateful act of his administration, but a chance to spin the facts and let his followers have the rationalization behind any action, however illegal or immoral.

And, what every internet user should have bookmarked, and perhaps set as a home page, is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List at This is a simple blog, free of advertising, with each entry headed, “Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.” Ms. Siskind has been keeping a week by week record of the evils done in our name so that if the fates give us another chance, we can start the slow job of repairing the damage done by Donald John Trump.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living in New York. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652