No brakes! Rolling down the slippery slope in a GM car

The President of the United States is now firing CEOs. And why not? If the American Government is bankrolling a business, shouldn’t the CEO of the American Government have the power to hire and fire the leader of its subsidiaries?

Maybe this is the journalism degree talking, but when I heard that Rick Wagoner was being let go by General/Obama Motors, my first thought went back to a story that broke last week: Senator Benjamin Cardin proposing that newspapers be able to exist as tax-exempt entities. Essentially, this would grant the struggling local newspaper industry a bailout of sorts.

Ask anyone who has worked at a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization and they will tell you that there are certain things you can and can’t do – for instance, you can’t endorse or oppose candidates for office. Thus tax-exempt status is a tradeoff – you don’t have to pay taxes, but in return your speech is limited by the government.

In other words, the newspaper bailout would create a plan where government would limit newspapers’ speech – a plan which would carry financial incentives over alternatives, such as finding new and innovative ways to deliver content. And though current tax exempt law still offers a great deal of freedom, how long will that last when a 501(c)(3) paper starts printing something unpopular?

Perhaps I’m stretching a bit to envision a world where government would use a newspaper’s tax exempt status as a way to regulate content. But if you told me five years ago that the President of the United States would dismiss the head of the world’s second-largest automaker, I would have said you were stretching a bit, as well.

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