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AUGUST 7, 2009 9:02AM

Holy conflict of interest, FTC!

Rate: 3 Flag

By Katharine Mieszkowski The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, who is preparing a broad inquiry into the future of journalism in this country, is married to a columnist for the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus.

As I blogged about earlier this week, Jon Leibowitz, the FTC's chairman, recently indicated that the FTC will consider whether the sorry state of the news biz means it should loosen anti-trust restrictions which currently prevent media monopolies in local markets.  

More broadly, the FTC is seeking input from economists, media execs, journalists and bloggers [insert your name here!] about the new media landscape with hopes of assessing nothing less than its implications for the future of American democracy.

Discussing the inquiry in an interview with The Wrap, Leibowitz said: "This is a really important public policy issue, and we think we can add, as we have in a lot of other areas, an objective voice that can point industry or lawmakers in the right direction." 

But as Michael Roston points out in True/Slant, how objective about the future of news can Leibowitz really be since he's married to a newspaper columnist? "So, it's difficult to believe that the findings Leibowitz helps shape will not be affected by the fact that his family's current standard of living depends in part on his wife's income working as a prominent columnist for one of America's most storied newspapers," writes Roston.

It's not exactly a secret that Leibowitz and Marcus are married. It's mentioned in Leibowitz's official bio. But it's worth noting that it was a blogger, namely Roston, not a newspaper or a TV journalist, who pointed out this conflict of interest.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Maybe the future of American democracy in this emerging media landscape is more secure than the doomers fear. 

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Wouldn't anyone qualified to chair this inquiry have a similar conflict of interest somewhere? I don't mean to downplay it, but anyone qualified to comment on the state of media today has to be someone with an intimate knowledge of said media, most likely from their own background. I suppose it's possible to find a media professor somewhere that has no direct link to blogging or the mainstream news media (surely a blogger would be just as "biased" the other way wouldn't they? The conflict of interest goes both ways), but would that media professor actually be qualified to speak on the requirements of actual, working journalists and the organizations they work for? It seems to me that anyone qualified to head this inquiry will by definition have some sort of connection to the MSM or blogging worlds ... if they don't, I can't see how they are qualified to comment on those worlds.