Journalism Competition and Preservation Act 2.0: Why Would Democrats Subsidize Breitbart, Newsmax, and Hedge Fund News Vultures?

Bill would require Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft to pay and link to right-wing news

Why are Democrats rushing to pass subsidies for Newsmax?

Congressional Democrats are in array. They’ve passed investments on U.S. semiconductor jobs, a cut in Medicare prescription drug prices, and a massive plan to combat climate change. They’re riding high and delivering on things that voters care about.

So why are some Democrats working on a big subsidy for right-wing news outlets like Breitbart and Newsmax and news vulture hedge funds like Alden Global Capital?

Especially since right wing media outlets like the Daily Caller, RedState, and the Washington Times love this bill?

Let’s take a closer look.

JCPA 1.0

For years many news publishers have promoted a bill called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). The original, 5-page version of the JCPA — first introduced in 2018 — does something simple (though ill-advised): give news publishers an exemption from antitrust law so that they could form a cartel for the purpose of negotiating against Google and Facebook.

But in the intervening years, news publishers outside the U.S. took things even further in their own quests to extract more revenue from Google and Facebook.

Germany and Spain introduced “ancillary copyright” laws aiming to compel platforms to pay for linking to news articles, forcing Google to shutter Google News in Spain for eight years. Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspapers successfully lobbied the country’s government to pass a “news media bargaining code,” using the threat of regulation to force Google and Facebook to strike side-payment deals with the Murdoch papers. And recently the Canadia government has followed suit.

These cynical but successful news-subsidy campaigns made the original JCPA 1.0 look like child’s play. So it’s no surprise that this week saw the introduction of a supercharged “JCPA 2.0” — which takes things several steps further.

JCPA 2.0

The new version of JCPA has been expanded by 30 pages to do something much more harmful: require Google, Facebook, and Apple to pay and link to virtually every website claiming to provide “news” — including right-wing news sites like Breitbart and Newsmax.

Here’s how it works. First, the bill defines “covered platforms” (who will have to pay news outlets) in a way that only seems to apply to Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Meta:

Then the bill spells which news outlets are eligible to get paid. They must:

  • Perform a “public information function”
  • Have full time professionals either “conducting interviews, observing current events, or analyzing documents or other information, and fact checking through multiple firsthand or secondhand news sources.”
  • Have no less than 25% of their content “consisting of information about topics of current local, national, or international public interest”
  • Have an error-correction process
  • Generate at least $100,000 annually — or be a nonprofit
  • Have fewer than 1500 employees

Of course, most local newspapers, TV and radio stations would qualify to receive subsidies under this bill.

But based on the criteria above, Breitbart, Newsmax, the Ben Shapiro Show, and One America News Network would also qualify to receive payments under the bill. In fact, version 2.0 of the bill has been amended to specify that the “views expressed by the eligible digital journalism provider’s content” can’t be grounds for exclusion. Right wing media has to be included:

The bill would also guarantee payments to hedge funds like Alden Global Capital — which has been called a “vulture fund” for the way that it takes over local newspapers, then decimates their staffs:

After defining its beneficiaries, the bill then empowers news organizations to dictate to big tech platforms the financial terms under which they could link to the news organization’s content:

The bill spells out a complicated list of requirements that effectively force big tech platforms to pay news publishers to link to their articles. And while the news industry lobby claims that linking to articles will remain free…

…independent academics note that the bill effectively mandates platforms link to, and pay for, content:

If news publishers don’t like the financial terms that big tech platforms are offering — or if platforms refuse to pay — the bill gives news organizations a new right to sue the platforms:

In essence, it’s a “negotiation” that news publishers can’t lose.

Right Wing Media Loves this Bill

It’s no wonder that the CEO of the MAGA network Newsmax endorsed this bill, saying it will help “conservative publishers”:

And it’s no wonder that the bill has been endorsed by a who’s who of conservative news outlets:

Not only does the bill mandate that Google, Meta, and Apple make direct payments to right-wing outlets for their news articles, it ties the platforms hands against moderating extreme content from those services — by banning platform “retaliation” against news sites:

JCPA 1.0 was always a boon to right-wing news outlets — and version 2.0 goes even further by guaranteeing those outlets links and revenue:

Why Are Democrats Doing This?

Even though it’s in part a subsidy for right-wing news sites, the bill is surprisingly sponsored by a number of Democrats, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Richard Durbin, Rep. David Cicilline, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler. Why?

One explanation is this long list of local newspapers that have endorsed the bill:

Most of these newspapers issue endorsements in Senate and congressional elections — and backing a bill favored by the newspaper’s owner is a good step toward earning their editorial page endorsement.

If you doubt this effect among politicians, earlier this month South Dakota’s largest newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, editorialized in favor of the bill:

Two days later, South Dakota Sen. John Thune signed on as a cosponsor of the bill:

But wanting local newspaper endorsements is not a principled reason for Democrats to guarantee revenue to right-wing media purveyors of hate, lies, and conspiracies.

Local journalism does need help, and hedge funds forcing buyouts and consolidation are making things worse. There are better bills out there that target aid to local journalism outlets without subsidizing hate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider JCPA 2.0 in a few weeks. Let’s hope that enough Democratic Senators think twice about soiling the party’s recent record of delivering for voters by passing a giveaway to Breitbart.

Chamber of Progress (progresschamber.org) is a new center-left tech industry policy coalition promoting technology’s progressive future. We work to ensure that all Americans benefit from technological leaps and that the tech industry operates responsibly and fairly.

Our work is supported by our corporate partners, but our partners do not sit on our board of directors and do not have a vote on or veto over our positions. We do not speak for individual partner companies and remain true to our stated principles even when our partners disagree.

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Adam Kovacevich

Adam Kovacevich

CEO and Founder, Chamber of Progress. Democratic tech industry policy executive. Formerly Google, Lime, Capitol Hill, Dem campaigns.