Tag Archives: media

The Gordian Knot of Democratic Politics

Gordian Knot 2 Yes, Democrats – there’s a problem.  A party which can haul out voters during presidential elections is having an obvious problem getting the citizens out during the off-year elections.   The GOP, which did an “autopsy” of its 2012 efforts and then proceeded to ignore the results, did quite well.  It probably did so by offering the ideologues what they wanted —

The Philosophical Knot

At the risk of getting a bit philosophical,  “political zealots are people who are  over-indulging their emotional need of hatred.”  And, “men adopt ideas, not because it seems to them that those ideas are true, or because it seems to them that those ideas are expedient, but because those ideas satisfy a basic emotional need of their nature.”  (Bruce Montgomery)

If one’s “basic emotional need” is to have someone or something to blame for one’s anxiety then the GOP offered up a veritable gourmand’s banquet of targets.  The Appetizer:  Demonized Democratic leadership – Don’t you want to hate those people like Senator Harry Reid? Representative Nancy Pelosi? President Barack Obama?  The Soup: A Beltway Press club which once having determined its preferred narrative is loathe to give it up even in the face of stark evidence to the contrary.  “The President won’t work with the Congress,” for example, as if the Republican congressional leaders didn’t meet in a D.C. restaurant in 2009 and determine that theirs would be a strategy of obstruction throughout the President’s term.   The Fish or Chicken:  Well publicized Republican whines when their positions weren’t adopted completely, re-defining what the term “compromise” initially meant.  The GOP got nearly everything it wanted in the Affordable Care Act, including the adoption of a proposal originating with the Heritage Foundation, and then voted solidly against it, after which they  whined to the gates of glory about the provisions.  The Palate Cleanser:  The careful packaging of otherwise radical Tea Party candidates so that their rough edges were camouflaged, see incoming Senator Joni Ernst.  The Main Course: Fear! Ebola!  — all one case of it. ISIS! Some 33,000 terrorists who would really like to kill Americans – the U.S. population is about 317 million.  The Salad/Fine Vegetable:  A lovely diversion from real issues and a delicate scattering of pure inventions such as the Democrats are going to take your guns, or Democrats are going to promote abortions.  And finally, the Hot or Cold Dessert:  The Republican assumption that they’ve worked the refs sufficiently, and ginned up the base enough to make Democrats run away from their own leadership, see Grimes in Kentucky.   There are ways to make this dinner come to an end.

The Structural Knot

There’s the predictable grousing about the efforts of DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  However, few have commented on the structural issues about her position.  She’s wearing two hats and both of them represent  full time jobs.  Did she not “do enough” in the last election – or was running her own campaign, running the DNC, and trying to represent her constituents just a bit too much to ask.  One way to untangle the leadership thread of the structural knot would be for the Democrats to employ a full time chairman.

Independent leadership is fine in concept, however there must be something to lead.  A national party which allows state and local organizations to wither won’t be national for long.  [DB

The Media Knot

How where the Republicans able to keep their seven course gourmand banquet going well into election night?  This strand has been long entangled in American politics.  The corporate media represented by the beltway journalists have used the cable news outlets to broadcast some well known and recognizable narratives.  There must be two sides.  Not when we’re talking about the implications of global climate change.  Not when we’re talking about the decimation of the American middle class.  Not when we’re speaking of the need to fund infrastructure elements in America. Not when we’re addressing the need to adequately fund taking  care of our veterans.

The national media has not served this nation well.  This frustration is altogether too common:

“Finding clear information about issues and candidates in this midterm was difficult, and I certainly didn’t find it on cable television. Lots of times I went and dug it out myself. Sometimes I relied on alternatives. It was often frustrating to have to dig around in the universe of silos that exist today on the Internet, particularly when those siloes are loaded with hate talk on the right side of things.”

To adopt the notion that there are two sides to every question means that both sides should be presented.  However, the cable news outlets are content to state the Democratic position, and then allow Republican/Libertarian critics air time for commentary after commentary after commentary to present their talking points.  This isn’t “both” sides – it’s purely corporate sponsored, corporate presented propaganda.  It’s especially not “news” when there is little attention paid to issues.

Chart News Issues

65% of what the viewing public got was “political speculation,” and they’d have to be lucky to turn on the set when the 35% appeared, to inform them of related issues.  Untying the media knot will require coordinated effort, based on an intelligent analysis of the current situation.

Little wonder the author of the excerpt above  on media news is frustrated with the silos.  The sources are drying up.  The number of black journalists working for daily newspapers has dropped by 40% since 1985, and the number of white journalists working for daily papers is down 34%, the number of Hispanic journalists is off 16%, and the number of Asian-American journalists is down 2%. [Pew]   What do they all have in common? Down.  How about the number of reporters covering state politics and governance?  Since 2003 the number of persons employed to cover state governance has declined by 35%. [WaPo]  In the interest of “shareholder value” we have accepted a diminished press corps from one end of this country to the other.   It is almost as it we’ve decided that the “product” created by the press should be “share value” and not “news.”  There’s always been tension between the business side and the production side in journalism, and it appears the business side has won.

What makes the problem a double whammy for American citizens is that while the number of people employed to cover state and national news is declining, the cable TV system still provides most of the national coverage of major national and international issues.  The American Press Institute explains, including the chart below:

Cable News Source

Note: People are going to the cable news outlets for an explication of news about foreign, international, national government, social, business and the economic issues, and they aren’t getting it!

Not only will Democrats have to calculate the best messages in order to reach voters they are going to have to figure out how to get those messages broadcast to the general public, in the face of business-referenced cable news decisions.   If the cable news networks aren’t the answer, will social media make a difference?  The answer is still a large “maybe:”

“…social media appears to be largely adding to, rather than replacing, other ways that people get news. At the same time that 4 in 10 now use social media, more than 80 percent of Americans say they also got news in the last week by going directly to a news organization in some manner—and that was consistent across generations.

Even for the youngest adults, age 18-29, social media and the web in general have hardly replaced more traditional ways of getting the news. Nearly half of the youngest adults also read news in print during the last week, 3 in 4 watched news on television, and just over half listened to it on the radio.” [API.org]

While the expressed hope that social media will help resolve messaging issues for younger voters who lean Democratic, it’s still important to incorporate a media strategy which includes a more robust use of cable television broadcasting.

The Messaging Issue

The Republicans have made a conscious decision not to play the role of a minority party in the traditional sense of the term.  Where Democrats played significant roles in the adoption of “no child left behind” and the Bush tax reforms, that dinner at the Washington D.C. restaurant the night President Obama was Inaugurated in 2009 left no doubt about GOP strategy:

“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” said Keven McCarthy, quoted by Draper. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.” [VF]

The call to Gridlock was as clear as Great Paul in London.  The strategy was simplicity itself.  Create gridlock, guarantee nothing important was done for Middle Class Americans, veterans, the infrastructure, employment, etc. and then blame the President “He won’t schmooze with us,” when nothing was accomplished.   The DC Press Corps dutifully picked up the narrative and ran with it, ignoring the fact that Boehner and the GOP were “frequent no-shows” at White House events.  Republicans refused to attend the “Lincoln Screening,” and turned down invitations to state dinners for Great Britain, South Korea, Germany, Mexico, and India. Senator McConnell even turned down an invitation to a White House event celebrating Kentucky and the UK NCAA basketball championship. [NJ]   So, of course, the DC Pundits declared the President to be “aloof.”

If the analysis of the media situation demonstrates it’s difficult to get the Democratic message out, then perhaps some adjustment needs to be made in the message itself.  For the sake of easy examples we might explore two possibilities.

Adjusted Messages

Democrats are for the Middle Class.  This should be easy because it’s true. Democrats are for increasing the minimum wage. Democrats are for organized labor. Democrats are for limiting corporate powers and for the regulation of banking institutions.  Perhaps not to the extent some on the left might require, but they are certainly more supportive of these issues than the Republicans of the Business Roundtable.   If the Republicans can attach the word “feckless” to every comment about the President, then why not have Democrats attach the term “economic elitist” to every comment about the GOP agenda?

Only an “economic elitist” would oppose the increase in the minimum wage. Only an “economic elitist” would oppose regulating the banks. Only an “economic elitist” would support repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Republicans have expended every energy defining the Democrats as a coalition of minorities – there’s nothing that says they can’t be defined, in turn, as supporters of a truly small minority in American life – the 1%.

Democrats aren’t afraid.   Democrats elected the man who got Osama Bin Ladin. Democrats aren’t afraid of a virus which really hasn’t done much in the U.S. Democrats aren’t scared of a few fanatical terrorists in the Middle East. Democrats aren’t afraid of spending some money on veterans, on our infrastructure, and on jobs for Americans.   Republicans are so busy being afraid of their own shadows – The Deficit (down) The Debt (down) The Terrorists (confined to the Middle East), Muslims (the bogeyman du jour) and every other issue – why not include “fear” in the running commentary.

Only a true Wet Pants Dancer is afraid of ISIL?  Only an obvious coward would be scared into a Hazmat suit over Ebola? Only the truly squeamish would be so frightened of The Debt that he couldn’t support more services for veterans, and only one so terrified of his own shadow couldn’t vote for more funding for infrastructure – want to be afraid of a real problem – think about most of the bridges in this country that are more than 60 years old. Our parents and grandparents weren’t afraid of spending for infrastructure, what’s the matter with us?

Another element which has been commented upon by those much wiser than I is that Democrats have allowed the Republicans to create the narrative, and the Democrats have acceded to the position of playing Defense.  There’s nothing wrong with going on offense, indeed, it would be helpful in sending the Not Afraid message.  For example, we KNOW the deficit has been reduced. However, how many Democrats talked about deficit and debt reduction in the last election?  Not enough.  But why was it a major topic in the first place? Because the Republicans decided it would be. 

Pew described “major” issues in the 2014 elections as: Terrorist Threat, Budget Deficit, Economy, Immigration, and Health Care.  We couldn’t make a list more in tune with GOP manufactured issues.   What was missed was the polling which showed 54% agreed with the statement: “The Democrats are more concerned about needs of people like me.”  What was also interesting is that the news organizations which sponsored polling also selected those issues to investigate. [TPP]   What would happen if some Democratic leaning organizations, not tied to the corporate media, would commission polling on the state of veterans’ services? Infrastructure projects? Civil rights? Banking reforms?  In short, the Democrats need to create their issues – not merely wait for the GOP to set the public agenda.

Or, to put it less elegantly – the Democrats can stop tying themselves in Gordian Knots trying to respond to the Republican obstructionist/fear based agenda and concentrate on what George H.W. Bush once called the Vision Thing.

Comments Off

Filed under media, media ownership, Politics, Republicans

Who Are We?

Sorrow So, we have the usual post mid-term election gnashing of teeth and rending of fabrics, and while I’ve assiduously avoided the Pundits, there are some ordinary types who  have some insights which deserve a mention and more.

Messages and Media

For example, there’s this excerpt from the comments section of the previous post:

“It isn’t so hard to realize what we need to do — but I’ve been saying this for five years straight. We need to run against REPUBLICANS, not the one Republican that is our opponent. We need to put Republicans on the defensive, instead of letting them define the situations so we are too bust defending ourselves.”

There are two kernels of useful insight illustrated here. First, that Democrats have to define their agenda more clearly and succinctly for public consumption.  The first element leads to the second: Democrats need to adopt the time honored rule of election campaigning – define your opponent before he or she defines you.

What ARE we for?

Economically speaking we’re FOR increasing the prosperity of the 99% of the citizens in this nation; those who are not members of the exclusive set of 1%’ers  whose income is primarily obtained by investment.  Or, in a shorter version – we’re the party for Middle Class Americans.

Socially speaking we’re FOR liberty and opportunity for all. We respect the rights of every single citizen in this nation – white, black, young, old, male and female, gay and straight.

Politically speaking we embrace diversity.  There are fiscally conservative Democrats who are socially liberal.  Socially liberal Democrats who are economically more conservative,  and we want every one of them to believe that the right to vote is essential for one and all.

We can distill this down even more finely: We are the party for the vast majority of Americans, and those who want everyone to participate in our democracy.

Who ARE they?

The Republicans are the party of the 1%, a party which embraces the interests of Wall Street and the financial sector.  They oppose increasing the minimum wage; they oppose equal pay for equal work; they oppose any proposition to make health insurance more affordable, and any plan to allow students to refinance student loans at more affordable rates.  They oppose any regulation of the financial sector, in the face of the Enrons, World Coms, Lehman Brothers and similar debacles.  Ye shall know them by their works.

The Republicans are the party of exclusion.  “Some people” ought not to be included in ‘their America;’  while they speak of divisive politics in sneering tones,  it was their idea to peddle the notion that both white and black Americans receiving social services were ‘stealing from the pockets’ of hard working people.  While they speak of the politics of division, it is their adherence to the idea that America is a Christian Nation – in spite of large numbers of non-believers, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and non-evangelicals among us.    The only way their Politics of Complaint works is via the ideological buttress that they are a Persecuted Majority – a more illogical concept is difficult to imagine.

The Republicans are the party of Big Daddy Government.   Hey, African American citizen or Hispanic American citizen – know your place, and it’s not at the precinct polling station.   Hallo, Little Lady – Father knows best. You should have that transvaginal ultrasound procedure, whether you want it or not.  Your employer will decide if you can get affordable contraceptive prescriptions.  Hello, little man – we’ll tell you all those things of which you should be afraid.  Don’t fret, while you’re worried about your job being off-shored to some Asian manufacturing base, Big Daddy will protect you from ISIS, Ebola, the IRS, the Homosexual Agenda (whatever that might be?) and Big Government.

We’ve seen Big Daddy on the silver screen, he was Burl Ives in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.  He’s white, he’s rich, he’s large. He’s a fetishist of the first water.  He will have what he wants when he wants it.  He’s Entitled to what he wants when he wants it.  Not a very appealing character – but he was never meant to be; he’s beyond caring about being acceptable, he’d rather simply be obeyed.

Media and Messages

Forget about seeing the corporate media independently reveal the elitism, or the exclusionism, or the innate authoritarianism of the Right.  Corporations are people, with shareholder value to consider, ratings to gain and advertising to sell.   Witness the disdain with which the chatterati observed the Occupy Movement.   Witness the decline in the popularity of broadcast and print media as sources of news.  It’s in the interstitial  spaces where opportunity lies.

There’s room in the use of one of the oldest axioms of political life: All politics is local.   However, in this world there are two kinds of local: Your neighbors, friends, and physical community; and your social media friends and followers.   Thus far both parties seem to be clutching  a rather old fashioned view of social media – both my e-mail inbox, and the inbox of a Republican friend were overflowing with Send Money Messages (attached to precious little substance) during the last campaign – who’s going to be the first to fully capitalize on the power of social media to DEFINE the opposing party? The opposing party’s candidates?

There are spaces in and among interest groups.  During the recent election I received three glossy mailers opposing a tax increase to support the Nevada Distributive School Fund – all three contained massive misinformation, and all three came from the same source – a combine of Real Estate Interests.  There was precious little tie-in between candidates and the tax issue on display in this little segment of the world.  There should have been. Who should have told me that a combination of corporate interests and Republican allies were opposing more money for schools?

Big Money groups, a product of the highly unfortunate but ultimately predictable decision in Citizens United,  can only drive a message so far. And their range can be constrained by defining them as antithetical to local interests.  For example, a pro-NRA candidate won the Arkansas election for Senator, BUT Washington state voters overwhelmingly passed I-594, an initiative requiring background checks for firearm sales. [MMA]

“[Washington voters] showed that while the gun lobby can intimidate politicians in Washington, it’s a lot harder to intimidate America’s voters,” former US Representative Gabby Giffords said in a statement last night. “This victory for responsibility in Washington State sends a clear message to the other Washington that if Congress is not ready to act to reduce gun violence, voters in states around the country can and will take the matter into their own hands.” [The Nation, 11/5/14]

There’s a message here.  The Big Money NRA took a position antithetical to local interests.

There’s also another space into which the message can be inserted: All politics is national.   There are some newly elected Republicans who could come to symbolize the state of the party. Do your friends and neighbors, physical and social media, relate to this comment from Joni Ernst (R-IA)

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere. But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”  [HuffPo]

Then there’s newly elected Representative Crescent Hardy (R-NV4) opining on the situation with the standoff between Federal officials and the ‘sovereign citizen’ domestic terrorists on the Bundy Ranch:

“But Hardy also claimed that the BLM and federal park rangers had no right to enforce laws on the property in question. Asked about that odd statement, Hardy cited the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, which he said were ‘part of the Constitution,’ although he acknowledged he couldn’t immediately identify a passage to support his contention.”  [LVRJ]

And who could forget Senator Ted Cruz and his government shutdown, except that he’d very much like to have everyone forget he was for it before he was against it. Remember the headline, “House Republicans Credit Ted Cruz As Government Shutdown Looms?”   He’d very much like for us to forget this, unfortunately for Cruz and the Republicans – it’s still out there.  Who would like to be associated with these three? Some will, and the rock bottom base of the GOP will cling to these characters like quagga on a row boat – the great American middle?  Perhaps not so much, especially if Democrats are capable of defining their opponents before the opponents define them.

A modest example: What might happen if some party activists, or some interest group, or just a small group of independent citizens, put together a Top Ten List of Great Republican Quotes periodically, and sent them to everyone on their “mailing” list – to be forwarded to everyone on the recipient’s “mailing” lists… Or how about a nice Viral Video?  These activities are relatively cheap and depend more on relationships than money – things could get interesting? If a single person shipped off a Famous GOP Quote to everyone on their e-mail list even if it’s a modest five person collection and each recipient forwarded the message to another five … it doesn’t take long to get to some 625 people, 3125 people….

Here’s hoping the Democratic Party in Nevada, and elsewhere, is not depending on the Big Draw of  a Presidential election to create an atmosphere conducive to the Democratic agenda for 2016.  I hope that the candidate recruitment process is going on NOW. That the messaging process is being calculated NOW. And that the penultimate strategy is we have nothing to fear from Republican candidates other than fear itself.

Democrats have a party the leadership of which: Produced 63 consecutive months of economic growth; we have 54 straight months of increased private sector employment; the unemployment rate has dropped from 10.1% in October 2009 to 5.9%; the federal deficit has been reduced by 66% since October 2009; the rate of federal spending increases is the lowest (1.4%) since the Eisenhower administration; 95% of Americans pay lower taxes than at any time in the last fifty years; 7 million Americans have health insurance they could not have afforded before the ACA; and the rate of health care spending increases has been less (1.3%) than any year since 1965. [pdf]

Cutting through the Crap from the Noise Machine

No regular viewer of the Faux News Machine is going to believe anything in the previous paragraph.  There is a non-productive tendency to want to answer everything tossed out by the Noise Machine when in fact it may better serve Democrats to let them indulge in their regular tantrums and merely enjoy the ludicrous irrationality.

Perhaps we’d be better served by a narrative about fear – as in we’re tired of being afraid.  When did this nation become such a country filled with shrinking violets that we can become frightened of ONE case of Ebola infection in our entire territory?

When did this nation become so afraid of our own neighbors that we must arm ourselves to the gunwales and tremble before the prospect – highly unlikely – of a home invasion?  (the rate is about 0.42%)  When did we become such a troupe of Wet Pants Dancers that we, all 319,000,000 of us,  don’t think we can stand up to 33,000 wacky terrorists in Iraq and Syria?

When did we become so afraid of “debt” that we can’t even consider improving our physical infrastructure, building schools and libraries, expanding our parks, employing more high school counselors, increasing the capacity of our community colleges and technical schools, improving medical and social services for veterans, investing in medical and scientific research….   There are issues here. Positive, practical issues.  We could use some new voices – voices that aren’t afraid – voices telling us we are the strongest, most productive, richest, and most vibrant nation on the face of this planet – and it’s high time we acted like it.

2 Comments

Filed under Nevada politics, Politics

Curmudgeon Junction: Short Term Thinking Long Term Losses

Halloween Pumpkin Want something to be afraid of this Halloween week?  No, it’s not Ebola, nor is it ISIS, nor is it that some undocumented person will cast an “impersonation ballot” at some polling station… it’s Short Term Thinking.  Today’s rant from Curmudgeon Junction is a general grouse about the lack of foresight intrinsic in our economic and political institutions. 

The Economics of Myopia

The whole artificial edifice of Shareholder Value would collapse in a heap if the Management Interests would take a longer view of their corporate health.  When one’s interests are aligned with quarterly earnings reports, and the effect on stock market prices, then what we will get are executives who place cost cutting measures above the long term interests of the corporation.  It will be necessarily more important to lay off expensive workers than to promote long term corporate loyalty.  It will be necessarily more important to engage in stock buy backs than to allocate resources to research and development.  It will be necessarily more important to invent ever more exotic tax treatments and financial products than to invest in corporate expansion.  It will be necessarily more important to conflate the interests of trade with the interests of financial markets.  It will necessarily be more important to accumulate a profitable financial product revenue stream than to invest in modern plants and equipment.  And, this is a recipe for a witch’s brew for short term “results” and long term losses.

What U.S. steel industry?  Yes, U.S. Steel is still in business, but it’s no longer producing 67% of this country’s steel. [USX] Did anyone notice when U.S. Steel was removed from the Standard and Poor 500 Index? [NYT] Yes, the company has diversified, but it also moved in and out of some very risky propositions in the process, and simply surviving isn’t a particularly impressive item in comparison to actually thriving. 

VWonder Bread is back on the shelves, but why did the process have to be such a mess?  Let’s start with what financial writers are pleased to call a “highly leveraged capital structure with little room for error.” [Forbes]  And, we can add in an obsolete line of products – where was the investment in product research and development? And,  we can add in relatively high labor costs – which were cut in return for a promise (unkept) that the management would allocate resources into more efficient plants and equipment… So, the Twinkies got the axe, (rather later than perhaps that product line should have in the face of changing consumer trends), and the whole jerry-built private equity backed operation couldn’t take the strain of having to turn a mismanaged company around in the face of immediate capital needs.

Chevron made much of its prowess in developing alternative energy, it even created a renewable power group (CVX) and then shut the lights down.

“In January, employees of Chevron’s (CVX) renewable power group, whose mission was to launch large, profitable clean-energy projects, dined at San Francisco’s trendy Sens restaurant as managers applauded them for nearly doubling their projected profit in 2013, the group’s first full year of operations. But the mood quickly turned somber. Despite the financial results and the team’s role in helping launch more than a half-dozen solar and geothermal projects capable of powering at least 65,000 homes, managers told the group that funding for the effort would dry up and encouraged staffers to find jobs elsewhere, say four people who attended the dinner.” [Bloomberg]

The renewable power group created a net profit of $27 million in 2013, well above the $15 million target, so why did Chevron pull the plug? 

“When you have a very successful and profitable core oil and gas business, it can be quite difficult to justify investing in renewables,” says Robert Redlinger, who ran a previous effort at Chevron to develop large renewable-energy projects before he left in 2010. “It requires significant commitment at the most senior levels of management. I didn’t perceive that kind of commitment from Chevron during my time with the firm.” [Bloomberg]

Translation: OK, the renewables were making money just not enough money to get the attention of top management.  More translation: the Renewables group wasn’t making enough money in the short term to get management support in the long run.

How many investments banks are there in the United States? If you guessed Zero you got it right.  None, zilch, zip. We now have Bank Holding Companies, as the former high flyers on Wall Street sought the protection of the Federal Reserve to avoid financial oblivion in September 2008. [MotleyFool]  After running, ever so willingly, into the arms of the government in their debacle of 1002-2008, the bankers now want to revert to playing by their own rules – Repeal Dodd Frank – and re-engage in the same short term behaviors which brought on the collapse of the financial sector in 2007 and 2008.

The Politics of Myopia

There’s never been a shortage of self-serving myopia in politics. Ever.  Nor has there been a surfeit of times in which there was less costuming going on in political campaigns than there were little goblins out seeking confectionary items to put in their pillow cases.  However, turning the politics of fear into an art form, is to emphasize the fear and trivialize the long term prospects of hope.

So, we have politicians ginning up fear of a virus – of which we now have ONE case in the entire country  of 330 million people – to secure short term votes based on “Did the administration do enough?” Has the administration been strong enough?”  Probably – given that we have ONE case in a population of 330 million.   Notice, we’re not talking about (1) What should U.S. funding priorities be for the research and development of vaccines for relatively rare viral diseases which occur primarily in third world nations? or, (2) What should be the U.S. contribution to world wide efforts to eradicate viral infections?  Those would be long term questions – and we seem to have the attention span of fruit flies when it comes to politics.

The Media and Myopia

While we’re on the topic of viral diseases – has it occurred to anyone in the management end of public media that Wolf! is not to be carried to extremes, or have we missed that point from the kindergarten reading list?  How many times have we been told that Swine Flu!  Avian Flu! West Nile Virus! MERS! SARS! was going to be the End of Humanity! Or, close to it.   Now, it’s Ebola – and the media circus begins once more.  Has it not taken hold in the imaginations of media management that there may come a time when something like the Spanish Flu – a real pandemic – may creep up on us and because the “Wolf!” cry has been offered up so often and in such a dramatic way, that health care professionals will have trouble convincing the public that “This time it’s REAL?”  Are the monthly, or weekly, ratings really so important in the short run that we’d take this risk in the long run?

How many editors across the nation are assigning people to cover stories for which the reporter is simply unqualified?  That’s not ‘on’ the reporter.  If a reporter turns in a story about race relations in a mid-western city based on impressions made during a few nights of protest, with little or no background knowledge of the historic context, do we blame the superficiality of the reporting on the writer – or on the management which decided to cut back on the number of writers in order to “increase shareholder value?”  How many media outlets retain the services of several persons with a background in economics or finance to craft articles about our economy?  How many media outlets hire individuals with a background in history/sociology to write about race and ethnic relations?   How many can afford to?

It’s one thing to blast the banality of much political reporting – and another to remember that national pundits aren’t reporters.  The pundits are time fillers.  It’s expensive to send reporters to New Hampshire, Colorado, or Nevada. It’s more expensive to send them to Ukraine,  Burkina Faso, and China.  It’s cheaper to keep a pool of reporters in central locations and send “teams” out to cover events – whether or not the team members have any expertise in the regions to which they are sent.

In return for short term economies we get a long term prospect of sensationalized reporting on the dramatic and very little contextual information about subjects of greater long term impact ( such as, the efforts of Middle Eastern nations to come to terms with the historic impact of post World War I boundaries).  Are we hearing about what mega-studies of student learning models tell us about how children actually learn, or are we getting packaged news about how children in one city measure up against children in another on a high stakes standardized test?

Are we hearing about how most bridges in the United States are designed to last 50 years, and the average age of bridges in this country is 43?  Do we know that in just ten years one out of every four bridges in this country will be over 65 years of age, that would be some 170,000 of them. [BridgeReport pdf] Or, do we wait until another one collapses and more lives are lost? 

And so it goes. We’ll shove more and more eye-catching events with less and less context into the great maw of 24 hour news cycles until the information is granulized into particles about which the Time Fillers will offer interminable speculation because that’s what they’re paid to do – speculate. In the short term it’s entertaining – in the long run it isn’t conducive to a well informed electorate.

Worse still, we’ll probably keep doing this until the old song lyrics are true: “I get all the news I need from the weather report.”

Comments Off

Filed under ecology, Economy, Infrastructure, media, Politics

Before You See The Sunday Shows: Thoughts on Broadcast News

Television Set AntiqueEvery time there’s a rumor about replacing hosts on the Sunday morning political shows, or when the dismal ratings are released, we can easily project another gazillion tweets, posts, emails, etc. about the demise of the broadcast media and it’s lack of imagination, depth, and ‘truthiness.’  Before declaring we live in the Worst Times Ever, or that the corporate media is an accessory to the diminishment of ‘real news,’ there are a few things to consider.

Advertisers in the Wasteland

We, the viewing public, aren’t the real consumers of television broadcasting — or the newspapers for that matter.  The people who pay for the productions are the advertisers.  Always have been.  And who is paying the freight?

In 2013 AdAge reported that “Meet The Press” had about 3 million viewers, and that approximately 55% of them had annual incomes above $100,000.  Who would want to speak to that audience?

“Boeing Co., targeting an audience of military executives, is the exclusive sponsor of the show’s online content as well as its apps; it is also a major broadcast sponsor. Other advertisers include the American Petroleum Institute, Citigroup, General Electric Co. and Xerox. “It’s a gray audience and exceedingly affluent,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media. “These people are interested in politics and decision-making, and how that can impact business.” [AdAge]

A gray, affluent, audience.  Does this help explain why Meet the Press rounded up all the usual neo-conservative suspects for its discussions about the renewed violence in Iraq?  [MMFA]  When you target “an audience of military executives” what might the preferred guests want to express?  A gray, affluent, (read: Republican) audience doesn’t particularly want to watch the debunking of the various and sundry myths about Benghazi, so Meet the Press didn’t have that exercise on offer.  [MMFA]  This is an audience which wants to hear about politics, so that’s what they get — politics, not policy. They want to hear about decision making — especially people making decisions which relate to their (oil, energy, financial, banking, military weapons and supplies) businesses.

NBC has done some tinkering with the Meet the Press format, smaller segments, more interviews, but when the target audience is ‘gray and affluent’ and ‘military executives’  the network shouldn’t be surprised that it’s still running third in the 25-54 year old (people who spend money) demographic. [MediaBistro]

Progressives, liberals, independents, and others of a more centrist bent may watch the program — but they’re well advised that they’re the minority in the statistical universe of the Meet The Press audience.

Where’s the audience who is not ‘gray, affluent, and a business executive?’  Remember this chart from the Pew Research publications in 2012?

Where Get News ChartThey’re more likely to get their news from digital sources than from print or radio.

Getting news from television broadcasters? That percentage has dropped from 68% in 1991 to 55% in 2012.

It’s not that journalism is necessarily dead, or dying, but it’s increasingly digital.  In 2011 about 8.6% of newspapers were digital, a number which increased to 14.2% only a year later. By 2012, the digital readership of the New York Times was greater than its print readership.  [SMH]  And it’s not just newspapers and major networks:

“…the regular audience for cable news also has aged. In 2006 and 2008, there were only modest age differences in regular cable news viewership. But in the current survey, more than twice as many of those 65 and older as those younger than 30 say they regularly watch cable news (51% vs. 23%).” [Pew]

Rather more than tinkering with the ‘product,’ NBC, and perhaps the other Sunday Morning Shows, may want to consider this analysis from two years ago, and at the same time give some thought to another question:  In your eagerness to please a specific set of deep pocketed advertisers have you already written off efforts to connect with, and grow, a wider spectrum of audience members?

The Perils of Partisanship

Red ChannelsWe’ve seen this movie before.  The power of some advertisers can be a hazard to our public health.  There are fewer people now who remember Red Channels.  Most people have some familiarity with McCarthyism, or with the activities of House UnAmerican Affairs Committee, but the pressure on major networks to cancel programs because of the political beliefs of the participants was boosted in June 1950 by the publishing of Red Channels.

“…the process (of Black Listing)  became public in June 1950 with the publication of Red Channels, a 213-page compilation of the alleged Communist affiliations of 151 actors, writers, musicians, and other radio and television entertainers. The book, which appeared three days before the start of the Korean War, was published by American Business Consultants, an outfit established in 1947 by a trio of former FBI agents who wanted to make the public aware of the information about communism that the bureau had collected. Initially funded by Alfred Kohlberg and the Catholic Church, the group became one of the anti-Communist network’s main enterprises, offering its services in exposing and eliminating Communists to corporations, foundations, and government agencies. Red Channels was a special show business supplement to the exposes of individuals and organizations that appeared in the group’s regular newsletter, Counterattack.” [Schrecker UPenn]

The pamphlet had enough clout with advertisers and networks that as prominent a celebrity as George Burns dropped a cast member from his show in 1951 because his name appeared in the list.  [NPR]  Film and television actress Marsha Hunt was offer shows by three networks, all of whom backed out when her name appeared in the Black List. [NPR]  There is more complexity to the Case of Sam Spade. Was the famous detective, voiced by Howard Duff, taken off the air by NBC in 1950 because Duff’s name was among those in Red Channels? Or, was the main problem due to continued litigation by Warner Brothers who clutched the Maltese Falcon, and the rights thereto, with an iron grip? [Wik] [ROKradioRadio Spirits concludes that the program staggered to an end when the sponsor, Wildroot (hair product) refused to renew its support if Duff remained associated with the program.

Even a Syracuse, NY supermarket chain owner, Laurence Johnson, made an impact.

“Johnson, an owner of six supermarkets in central New York, pressured CBS to stop employing comedian Jack Gilford and any other “‘subversive’” (p. 124). With the war against the Communists in Korea heating up, Johnson sent telegrams to network sponsors, in which he wrote: “‘Why are you helping to kill our friends in Korea?’”  Small-city radio stations resisted Johnson’s strong-arm tactics, but the national networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors often capitulated.” [HNetRev]

One of the obvious lessons of the Red Channels/McCarthy Era is that pressure on commercial broadcasting networks can work to exclude both participants and their ideas from public  news and entertainment.  The more participants and perspectives are excluded the more narrow the range of the discussion.  If the advertisers prefer, as in the case of Mr. Johnson, that no views other than that which appeals to the gray, affluent, and 100% American, then how does a network hope to attract a wider audience?  If the networks have to please such advertisers, while alternately insulting, misinforming, or dismissing the views of those not aligned with them, then how do they cope with this modern incarnation of McCarthyism?

It may be physically impossible for a person to manually strangle himself, but it might just be possible for network executives to accomplish this in a corporate context.

The Financial Stakes Race

The struggles of CNN may be a case in point.

On May 1, 2014 CNN announced another round of layoffs across several divisions. [TheWrap] In January 2001, the network laid off about 10% of its workforce.  There were to be smaller news-gathering teams.  They would be emphasizing “breaking news.” [LATimes]  Neither of these announcements, 13 years apart, should come as any surprise to those who have been following the corporate career of Time Warner.  It’s not enough to merely provide the best news coverage, or even the latest — it must be done with an eye toward the old and familiar Blunt Instrument, shareholder value.

None of the networks are immune.

The restructuring of news gathering, be it streamlining, pooling, or team creation, has meant there are fewer reporters in fewer places covering fewer stories. The unintended consequences of all this paring and scraping is fewer experts, covering fewer stories, in less depth.  Little wonder opinion and speculation are winning the competition for news and context during broadcasts.

Nor does it seem as though “Creativity” is running well on the inside rail in this race.  Television can all too often be a derivative medium.  Is there a successful comedy show — then expect spin offs — not really new.  Is there a successful news magazine, a 60 Minutes for example, then expect the competitors to launch their own — not necessarily a new form of show. If it is necessary to sell commercial time, then there’s a coterminous pressure to tell the advertiser: Look how successful “Party Time in Los Angeles” is! We can replicate that with “Party Time in Pensacola!” It would be nice if all new shows, both news and entertainment, were truly new — but that would be to ignore decades of derivative programming.

We Interrupt this broadcast…

To tell you what you already know.  We have a commercial broadcast news structure which is dependent on advertising for its existence.  The dependency on advertising means that those who purchase commercial air time have a profound effect on the type of fare served to the public.  In the best of times this can produce a wide range of diversified views, in the worst it can stifle the production and the producers casting them into an ever narrowing range of acceptable perspectives.  And, given the need to ‘sell’ advertisers on the safety of their investment in commercial time, the past will always have  a heavy hand on the present.

The ‘kids’ may already have the answer to this problematic situation; as long as they have their fingers (and thumbs) clutching their mobile devices — Surfing, Googling, and Networking their way into more information than any old time newspaper could put into print.  Meanwhile, the Gray & Affluent will attend to the comfort of their convictions, secure in their recliners that they will hear from their sympathetic advertisers the message they meant to receive before they even hit the power switch.

 

Comments Off

Filed under media, media ownership

The Real and the Unreal: Bergdahl and the Boo Birds

I’m not usually put off by neologisms or phrases, but it wouldn’t disturb my soul one bit to wake to the day when “alternative reality” wasn’t in the popular lexicon.  It has its place in fiction, in science fiction, and in interactive narratives, but it’s been worked to death in political scripts.  There’s REAL and there’s fiction.

Reality

The United States has secured the release of a POW in Afghanistan.  I don’t really much care how Army Sgt. Bergdahl came to be a prisoner, anymore than I cared about the details of pilots shot down and captured over Vietnam some 45 years ago, or about members of units captured and held hostage by the Viet Cong.  It didn’t matter to me then, and it doesn’t matter now, if the pilot was off course, or the unit trekked into unnecessary risk, or whatever. We negotiated with the North Vietnamese, we got soldiers and airmen back, and all the Rambo movies to the contrary we didn’t leave members of our military behind when there was any possible way to retrieve them.

I have to admit I’ve never been much of an ally for those who complained about the deals made to secure the release of American diplomatic corps members in January of 1981. They were Americans, members of our diplomacy team, and if there were ways to secure their release (like gold from Federal Reserve vaults) then fine.

Fast forward to 2014, and in the parallel universe of Republican thinking (1) it’s wrong to secure the release of a hostage because … he might not be a perfect guy? Or, (2) it’s wrong to secure the release of a hostage because… we don’t negotiate with terrorists, as if the Iranians weren’t behaving that way in 1980? Or, (3) it’s wrong because … there’s an African American Democrat in the White House and some people can’t seem to stomach that fact?

And then there’s Sore Loser Senator John McCain, “concerned” about swapping high risk prisoners? [CBS] McCain — who was released by the North Vietnamese in March 1973 — and how was that negotiated?   Just for the record, if the five prisoners from Guantanamo are so “high risk” then why were they never officially charged with criminal activity, put on trial, convicted, and sentenced to appropriate terms?

U.S. negotiations weren’t even close to the numbers in the Gilad Shalit Exchange during which the Israeli government freed 1,027 Palestinian (and other) prisoners in exchange for the return of Corporal Gilad Shalit in 2011. [WaPo]  And, we do support the Israelis, right?  We didn’t become semi-hysterical when the Israelis negotiated this hostage release, did we?

Downright Unreal

None of this makes much difference to the Republican Poutrage Machine.  This latest temper tantrum requires that its audience ignore hostage negotiation positions since time out of mind, and indulge in the favorite game of conservative punditry — What IF all the forces in the universe converge to create a reaction we might have imagined in a novel in order to support a narrative of which we might approve — i.e. the President was wrong?

That isn’t an “alternative reality” it’s just downright fiction.  Worse still, it’s the easy fiction of hack writers and lazier editors who think they need “conflict” to sell print and commercial time, and will continue to interview the uniformed about the uncontested for the benefit of the unconcerned.

Reporting, especially on the cable news channels, has devolved into the interviewing of Frequent Flyers who can be relied upon to criticize any and all actions in any and all instances; the context, the content, and the repercussions be damned.

But that’s ever so much easier than, say … offering in-depth reporting on climate change, on unemployment insurance benefit legislation, on infrastructure needs, on global trade policy, on anti-discrimination legislation, on voting rights and civil rights, on income inequality trends, on comprehensive immigration policy reform…

You know… those things that make a difference in the REAL world?

Comments Off

Filed under Politics, Republicans

A Thought For the Day from Edward R. Murrow

Murrow QuoteEnough said.

Comments Off

Filed under media, media ownership

The Perils of Hyperbole

Hyperbole Sign

Hy-per-bol-e (n) A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. [FD]

Hyperbole is handy in conversation and public speaking, I can tell you that I am so tired I could sleep for a week.  Well, no I can’t really do that, but you’ll get the message and I don’t have to tell you how much or how little sleep I’ve had in the past 48 hours.  I can offer an opinion that you packed too many clothes for a week’s vacation by saying this suitcase weighs a ton.  OK, it doesn’t…it’s just inconveniently heavy.  Hyperbole can be a useful shorthand, but it should come with some cautionary stickers attached.

Hyperbole can distort conversation and discussion.   Suppose our hypothetical Senator Sludgepump has voted to eliminate the Food and Drug Administration, to abolish the Federal Reserve, to allow 10 year old children to work in coal mines, and to let the FBI investigate the records of public libraries.  This record isn’t going to endear him to me.  However, if I were to describe him as The Worst Congressman  Since Preston Brooks does my hyperbole obfuscate my more serious point — that a person who supports egregious labor practices and encourages the endangerment of personal privacy isn’t someone I would recommend, and that his philosophy is detrimental to good governance?  It does, especially  if we start comparing Sludgepump to Brooks, or to Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall and lose sight of the policy issues involved. * See some excellent nominees in the comments section!

Hyperbole tends to dramatize issues beyond their rational level of importance.   Conservatives are beginning to suffer some ridicule for their espousal of the notion that the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi is a huge issue.  [RMM audio] One of the obvious problems with hyperbole in political discussion is that as in the situation above, comparisons are required, and even if the conversation doesn’t get bogged down in comparative issues of little utility we still have to slog through historical references and evaluations which may (and often may not) have much historical relevance.  Was the attack one of the worst incidents I can recall? (former vice president Cheney)

The next logical step would be to find out what other items might be contained on that Worst Ever list?  Again, instead of discussing the issues related to diplomatic security, the conversation is shifted to comparative analyses of attacks on U.S. missions in the modern era. [List since 1958]

Hyperbole imposes the use of inappropriate superlatives.  Rhetorical shorthand which distorts or dramatizes issues and events nearly always relies on terms like Best, Worst, Greatest, Most, etc.  No, the Affordable Care Act probably isn’t the best law ever enacted, nor is it likely the worst.  Superlatives ought to send up flags that what we are hearing is someone’s opinion.   If something surpasses or is alleged to be superior to all other items in a category of things, we are in opinion territory.   A person may hold that the Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison was among the best ever rendered by that institution, others have argued that it significantly altered the course of U.S. history, and not in a good way.  Opinion should be noticed for what it is — opinion, not necessarily demonstrable fact.

Hyperbole may be useful for directing attention, but not for responsible discourse.   Hyperbole makes an excellent tease for cable news outlets, especially those seeking to prevent viewers from channel surfing during commercial breaks.  “Will Senator Sludgepump lose his seat??” teases the broadcaster, “stay tuned for our next segment…”  The next segment all too often pulls the curtain up revealing the hyperbole.  Sludgepump, it is revealed, has no credible opposition, holds a 52% favorable rating in his state, and has the backing of key donors.

Hyperbole also makes for some “high” drama during the Dueling Political Strategists’ segment of most cable offerings.  “The Dog Food  Ingredient Bill is the worst form of government over-reach imaginable,” squeals one of the participants. Meanwhile the opponent is eye-rolling and over-talking, repeating the mantra “But think of the valued family pets and distraught children…”  Neither one in this hypothetical is making much sense.

Would not a better format be to discuss how much information is needed by consumers in order to make judicious selections at the supermarket?  Must all ingredients be specified, or should consumers merely be informed of all ingredients?  Should some potentially dangerous ingredients be banned?  Should some ingredients be preferred over others?  Consumers might find this discussion more informative than a debate about whether Senator Sludgepump will face backlash at the polls over his support of or opposition to the Dog Food Ingredients Bill.  There’s at least one more reason to be careful with hyperbole.

There are people who will believe hyperbole in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  A young man walked into a terminal at LAX last week, with a Smith and Wesson M&P 15, caliber .556 purchased in Van Nuys.   He used it to shoot TSA employees:

“The gunman was carrying a signed, handwritten note in his duffel bag that said he wanted to “instill fear into their traitorous minds,” said David Bowdich, special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Division in the FBI‘s Los Angeles office.

“His intent was very clear in his note,” Bowdich told reporters Saturday. “In that note he indicated his anger and his malice toward the TSA officers.” [LAT]

Relatives weren’t sure where he got the ideas.  I think we can make some intelligent conjectures, most of which will have something to do with right wing hyperbole.  Unfortunately, they might also connect to the hyperbole that drove Timothy McVeigh, Anders Behring Breivik, James Adkisson, Richard Poplawski, and James W. von Brunn to assault their fellow human beings.

Hyperbole is a rhetorical device, our responsibility is to exercise enough restraint so that it doesn’t inform the actions of those who decide to transform rhetoric into horrific reality.

Updated: with corrections on 11/07/13

1 Comment

Filed under media, Politics