“Succession,” the HBO series and obsession du jour for D.C. insiders, is in full swing for its fourth and final season. In a shocking, early season twist, Logan Roy, the family patriarch and one of TV’s great villains, is dead. It’s a testament to the “Succession” showrunners’ skill that the death of a monster can still feel so shocking and devastating.
As if it was coordinated with HBO, earlier this month, members of Congress reintroduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) that would have been able to resuscitate Roy on the floor of his private jet with how much cash it put in his pocket.
Led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, JCPA would give large media companies an exception to existing antitrust law so they can skim money off the top from social media services. It would essentially attach fees — a link tax — to news stories shared on social media to ensure that media companies get an even bigger slice of the pie.
The claim is to “breathe life back into local journalism.” The reality is that JCPA provides a carveout that will almost exclusively benefit the media’s most powerful and wealthy names.
It should not shock you that this bill died in the previous Congress. For one, JCPA doesn’t give the antitrust exemption exclusively to small independent newspapers — the constituency Klobuchar claims to be helping. The New York Times, The Washington Post and NBC, to name just a few, would be among the billion-dollar media empires given special treatment by our federal government to collude on prices. Don’t worry, though — I’m sure they won’t also be interested in colluding to swallow up a few more small-town news outlets.
JCPA also doesn’t require the government-sponsored gobs of cash that these media titans will receive to be spent on actual journalism, local or otherwise. You read that right: U.S. senators think a government handout to some of the wealthiest media magnates will magically end up in the W-2s of local journalists covering biweekly city council meetings. Because there’s no requirement on how the handout is spent, the money raised for our various Roy families will be funneled back into content that drives the most engagement: clickbait designed to enrage and divide us. Or they could spend it on a private jet or a golden toilet. Whatever floats their boat (yacht).
I don’t blame senators like Klobuchar for being drawn to legislation like the JCPA. If I wanted better press coverage, I’m sure the easiest thing to do would be to write a blank check to the folks covering me. It’s particularly smart of her ahead of a likely second attempt at a doomed presidential run.
Really, this whole push reads just like a scene out of “Succession”: Logan Roy calls up his buddies in government to get the regulators off his back; Gerri, off to the side, makes sure he doesn’t say anything overtly incriminating.
But that’s the simple truth: a bill like the JCPA is incriminating. It’s scandalous that Congress would propose legislation to redistribute billions of dollars to the Roy-like families of America as if they aren’t chiefly responsible for the decline in news media trust and quality.
For decades, these clickbait potentates have presided over the steady decline of American journalism. To blame this decline on increased access to news by social media, and to reward the guilty, is an outrage, especially when you consider that social media has aided the rise of many alternative outlets and voices.
While it may well risk angering Logan Roy, it is crucial to make clear to Congress that passage of bills like the JCPA, ripe with cronyism for the press bigwigs, is unacceptable.