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Regulatory Capture of the Press

(Credit: Photo by Jason O'Brien/Getty Images)) Regulatory Capture describes how the governement regulators come to be controlled by those that they are meant to reglate.Regulatory Capture of the Press
December 22
9:37 AM 2016

Regulatory capture was first put forth as an economic theory in the late 20th century, but it has probably been happening since the invention of regulation.

Classic all-American examples would be, say, an energy industry lobbyist becoming the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, or a host of Wall Street bankers and hedge fund guys taking control of our financial regulatory agencies. Needless to say, regulatory capture benefits private interests at the expense of the public, and makes a mockery of the original purpose of institutions that were supposed to be operating in the public interest.

Our vaunted free press is not a government agency, but it is susceptible-and indeed some of it long ago succumbed!-to the same sort of danger. The general mechanism of the overseen taking control of their overseers is similar. The most important job of the press is to inform the public about what exactly the government is doing, thereby keeping the government's power in check and keeping our leaders accountable to us all. But in a competitive media world, the government can use the promise of access as a tool to subdue the more troublesome aspects of journalism.

Once any media outlet becomes more concerned with its position in the pecking order than with what it is doing to serve regular people, it becomes manipulable by anyone holding the ability to boost its prestige. The more dangerous the government, the more dangerous it is to have a press willing to bargain for access.

Here-though VandeHei would certainly dispute it-we have the regulatory capture of the press in its purest form. To someone who has been swallowed this completely by the DC media beast, the idea that the White House press corps should be confrontational or aggressive with the newly elected president is absurd, an unserious waste of time.

The idea that the press might do something, like refuse to participate in off the record cocktail parties in order to try to force our government to do more things on the record, or the idea that government officials should be expected to tell the truth on the record, is not even within the bounds of legitimate conversation; rather, VandeHei accepts that politicians lie to the press and the public as a normal matter, and therefore off the record chats are the best they can hope for, and therefore he would "root for" more off the record chats between politicians and reporters, so that the two can "better understand each other."

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