Category Archives: media ownership

And Now Back To Our Regular Program: Post Kavanaugh Infrastructure Week

Senatorial candidate/incumbent Dean Heller (R-NV) was pleased to tweet Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed.  Not that the confirmation was a major surprise.  The Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans didn’t want to investigate his background, the White House didn’t want to investigate his background, the Chief Justice sat on complaints arising from his background [WaPo] and the pundit class was ever so pleased to have a “dramatic” confirmation to cover.  There were other elements which should have come as no surprise either.

The newspapers and broadcast media played along with the “controversy.”  Was it “he said, she said?”  What were women thinking? What were Trump-Women thinking?  Was he going to be the swing vote on challenges to Roe v. Wade?  Not too much ink and precious few pixels were expended describing his position on workers’ rights, on environmental regulations, on human rights, on much of anything other than the abortion issue.  Yawn.  Those more complex issues require deeper reporting and far more depth in explication and they don’t sell advertising.   Once more we’re reminded that the general public is not the first audience for television and print media business operations — it’s the advertisers.

Therefore, why would anyone be surprised the media aired and printed GOP bombast about “paid protesters,” and “mobs” of angry people?  There has always been a double standard at work in this realm.  The Status Quo is male, business ownership oriented, quaffs its scotch and water or sipping whiskey beside polished bars and inside elegant doors, and buys advertising — or knows someone who does.  The cameras will follow the freest spirit clad in the most outrageous costuming for a protest occasion, while those dressed more conservatively aren’t often in the frame because they don’t “tell the story.”  Or, at least not the story the advertisers want to tell.

Women have known since the era of the suffragettes that men are “passionate,” while women are “hysterical and emotional.”  If a person isn’t sure about this take another look at Serena Williams’ protest of an official’s call which may very well have cost her a championship match.  Women have known all along theirs is not the story the Status Quo wants in the headlines above the fold, or leading the broadcast.  The numbers of women who remember a time when all the ‘shelter’ magazines advised them to give up their jobs so returning soldiers could be assured of employment and a comfortable ‘nest’ at home are dwindling, but the memory is still within a life span.

Viewers watch marching neo-nazis with tiki torches, chanting “Blood and Soil,” while sporting their tidy white polo shirts and khaki trousers.  Gee, they don’t give the general impression of an “angry mob.”  It’s only when the cameras move closer to the faces that the hate is visible.  Compare the visual to the preferred camera target in a contemporary protest.  Once the march leaders are shown the cameras seek out the most eye-catching characters.  They usually don’t have that white-washed polo shirt look.  They are often students who don’t own more than one suit, if that, and certainly don’t want to risk getting really good clothing messed up during the inevitable police action which could ensue.  So, it’s jeans and T-shirts/jackets compared on screen to polo shirts and khakis.  No matter the jeans and T’s are defending 1st Amendment rights by exercising them, as the khaki klan seeks to impose white supremacy on a diverse country.  But, what about “the men?”

Once more the media allows the big players to frame the game.  If the #MeToo movement has gathered support and seems to be adding adherents and allies, then what might the Status Quo do to counter?  This week was a classic.  Elite, rich, elderly white males stood before us crying (and whining) about men being the victims of modernity.  However, this whine has been boiling for a long time.  Consider the continuous complaints of the Rush Limbaugh’s of the airwaves with their moaning about ‘feminazis” and how a real American guy can’t swat Mary Jane’s fanny when she steps into the garage — how a real man can’t wolf whistle at all the Mary Jane’s who have to walk past a construction site — how real men can’t catch a break because of all the women in the workplace who stifle the man’s competitive spirit.  Of course, real men don’t feel the need to swat Mary Jane’s fanny in the garage; they don’t need to wolf whistle; and they control most of the management positions in corporate America.  This isn’t news.

When all else fails the right can be assured the old anti-Semitic ploys will work.  If all the canned ham look-a-likes (Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, etc)  don’t manage to put a major dent in the image of protesters who don’t care for sexism and misogyny, there’s always the “paid protester” line… in this case George Soros who makes a convenient stand-in for the old anti-Rothchild propaganda of an earlier era.  The old double standard works here as well.  The Tea Partiers were “Real America.”  The Occupy Wall Street protesters must have been paid.  The contemporary protesters, mostly women last week, must surely have been paid — according to the elite, rich, white, males who celebrated ignoring them.

Will this, the press asked, cause a closer horse race in the mid-terms?  There is absolutely nothing the press seems to like more than a horse race, a sporting event, anything which will allow the punditry to pontificate on sports cliches like “momentum.”  Spare me. All the press has to work with are general, national or statewide, polling.  It does not have access to internal, private, number crunching performed on behalf of the campaigns themselves.  Most individuals who have been “in politics” for more than a school committee race know the truth of the O’Neill Maxim: All politics is local. 

Besides the “big” stuff the cable channels like to cover, there are better questions which they can’t answer because they just flat out don’t have the resources to do so. For example, they don’t have much of a handle on “candidate fit,” or how the specific candidate fits the local electorate.  They don’t have access to local politically active organizations which do phone banks, walks, and other services for campaigns. Nor do they have a way to gauge the effectiveness of local politically related leadership in social and other organizations.  The “media” may have a 35K view of a national issue, but there’s plenty of cloud cover before it sees what is going on in Ward 4 of Congressional District 3’s race. Not that we should ignore the media reportage, but we do need to be cognizant of how limited it is.

There’s the post hoc ergo procter hoc problem.  Even after an election the media may proclaim that some national issue had “an effect,” while underneath that “effect” may very well be the fact that Candidate X launched a full throat-ed ad buy, along with a deluge of phone bankers, combined with a legion of precinct walkers in the last week.

Thus,  for those who have survived another Infrastructure Week of the divisive, deflective, dumpster disaster which is the Trump Era,  there are mid-term elections which will be determined by who votes for whom.

Who has the best get out the vote plan? Who executes that plan best?

Who has the better candidate who best fits the district or state? Who executes the campaign best?

Who just flat out works harder to get in office or stay that way?  Who didn’t let the Outrage du Jour distract them from campaigning on issues near and dear to their constituents hearts — regardless of the media tendencies, press proclivities, and advertisers demands.  Who kept their eyes on the prize when others were distracted by double standards and double vision?

When we vote we win. That’s all there is to it.

 

Comments Off on And Now Back To Our Regular Program: Post Kavanaugh Infrastructure Week

Filed under Heller, Judicial, media, media ownership, Nevada politics, Politics

Independents Day: A Call For Critical Thinking

James Madison wrote, in the popular Federalist #10:

“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

Insert “party” for “faction” and Madison’s fear takes on a more modern face.  However, his analysis holds today for those who place the interests of the party over the interests of the country:

“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”

Yes, we’ve gotten there. Not that political parties are without  redeeming features.  Parties allow us a framework for political activity; recruiting candidates, establishing a nominating process, organizing candidacies, and promoting a platform of policies and principles.   It’s when we arrive at the “disposed to vex” station that our train is off the rails.

If a portion of the 39% who believe the current President is doing a good job [Al.com] are motivated by satisfaction that the incumbent is vexing to “liberals,” then we’ve met one of the elements which caused Madison to argue against “faction.”  It’s when one group is “adversed” to the rights of others, when we create permanent aggregates of interest, when we are more interested in vexing the opposition than in areas of mutual needs — then we’ve reached Madison’s critical mass.  What is necessary is a bit of Independent’s Thinking.

An independent person may self identify as a member of a political party, but is not defined by that categorization.   A lack of independent thinking yields little but self absorbed partisanship, a feature not conducive to problem solving — or even to identifying the problems in the first place.  There are several sources which purport to define and explain critical thinking, among these the University of Michigan provides a succinct statement. Critical thinking requires analyzing, applying standards, discriminating, seeking additional information, logical reasoning,  predicting, and transforming knowledge into positions or proposals.  Another way to approach critical thinking skills is in the form of a ‘cheatsheet’ illustrating the kinds of questions an independent thinker might apply toward an issue.

If we would diminish the effects of authoritarianism and the less fortuitous elements of partisanship then we’d be well advised to promote critical thinking — which requires more than sound bite sloganeering and the exhortations of televised spin doctors.

For the sake of argument let’s adopt the premise that neither American political party will develop the perfect solution to providing health care insurance to everyone in this country.  What we can, and should do, in this instance is to ask some critical questions,  considering a current proposal: Who benefits? Who is harmed? Who will be the most directly affected?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal? What are the alternatives?  What actions of policies would create a positive change? What would provide the ‘greatest good for the greatest number?’ Where can more information be obtained?

Why is this a relevant problem? Why is there a felt need to make policy changes?  When will we know if a proposal or plan has succeeded?  When is the appropriate time to measure success?

It is equally efficacious to ask these questions of proposals regarding financial sector regulation,  voting rights issues, and climate change policies… indeed, any prospective issue.

We also need to take a more informed view of the way we categorize partisanship and non-partisanship.  One need not be a political independent, in the sense of registering as non-partisan, in order to be an independent political person.  Too often we tend to conflate the terms “independent” and “nonpartisan.”  It is entirely possible to be an independent thinker while identifying with a political party.  All that’s required is a sense that all proposals should be analyzed and evaluated for the purpose of perfecting them, not necessarily for the exercise of opposing them.

It’s easy to assign some responsibility to broadcast media for a lack of examples of critical thinking, and its application to contemporary issues.  Fifteen minute segments are hardly conducive to asking all the pertinent questions.  Having a biased perspective from the onset isn’t helpful whether it is coming from the Fox News Network or the Sinclair corporation.  Having the “adversarial” format in which CNN or MSNBC broadcast two or more ‘analysts’ launching verbal grenades at one another isn’t all that helpful either.  However, these outlets will continue their present formats until their ratings drop, and drop precipitously enough to convince sponsors that the public wants more information and less entertainment.

It’s also rather too easy to argue that the Schools Should Be Doing More.  Granted the current testing craze isn’t conducive to imparting practice in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation; but, it’s equally true that most education occurs in the home.  If parents and other significant people in the household ask each other to differentiate between facts and opinions, and further to require each other to substantiate his or her statements with facts, then Little Ears will pick up the process — everyone succeeds in this scenario.

Independence Day would be as good a time as any for us to declare ourselves Independents, as in independent thinkers, no matter our political affiliation.

Comments Off on Independents Day: A Call For Critical Thinking

Filed under media, media ownership, Politics

How The Networks Lost Me on Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning Shows

It didn’t happen all at once, but my “appointment” for Sunday morning with the network press shows was broken, and it’s probably irrevocable.  Once it was a habit: Get the coffee; Turn on the TV; Grab the crossword to play with during the commercials; and Listen to the broadcasters… no longer.  The appointment was broken for the reasons Jonathan Bernstein set forth in his piece for Bloomberg News last March.

“In the era of three-network television, the Sunday shows were useful because there were few other venues to hear the parties talk about important issues. And politicians didn’t have many ways to send up trial balloons, or to engage in public, high-profile bargaining.” [BloombergNews]

No longer.  Jason Linkins expanded on the problem:

In short, the subtle work of partisan dealmaking was served. But those days are over. Now, the Sunday shows simply serve as a venue for prestige arbitrage, where having regular access to deemed-to-be-important people is an end in itself. And so these shows have slowly morphed into salons for the powerful, where one can only get so adversarial before a plum booking is put at risk. [HuffPo]

Did Chuck Todd admit the sad and sorry truth?  If those seeking to increase their prestige are annoyed, then the bookings are over?

“We all sit there because we know the first time we bark is the last time we do the show,” Todd explained. “There’s something where all of the sudden nobody will come on your show.” [RS]

It looks like it. And there was the admission affirming my distaste for the Sunday morning fare.  Worse still, merely serving as a venue for “prestige arbitrage,” the shows have become formulaic.  That’s been in evidence for some time now. Not so long ago the formula was (1) present an issue (2) the “guest” would answer questions, and (3) during the other Sunday shows other “guests” would answer the same questions… over and over again.  Nothing so improves a person’s performance on cross word puzzles as a television show which is profoundly derivative, utterly unoriginal, and all but devoid of actual news.  But the cross word puzzles couldn’t mask the predictable boredom for long.

What could a show, in which the “guests” are determined to make their talking points without challenge, be if not boring?  The Sunday morning offerings descended into a morass of selectable sound bites suitable mostly for derision on comedy shows later in the week. Why be bored silly with the original broadcasts when I can catch the comedy show later – getting the same inane talking points served up with a side of reality, challenge, and context?

Thus, what is the point of getting up to watch a Sunday morning show if it will be nothing more than the recitation of talking points, and the fulminations of pundits?  When the object isn’t “deal making” or even the launching of “trial balloons,” then we’re left with the politics of personalities, not usually a very interesting affair.  This transformation yielded another formula, no more informative than the old repeated questions format.

Our host introduces a topic such as the President issued an executive order to _____(fill this in with whatever might be at hand). The “guest” from the opposition is invited to comment _____ (fill this in with the opposition talking point of the day.)  The background of the issue is rarely if ever explained in any detail, the nature of the problem is assumed, and the discussion devolves into the political ramifications of the action and the perfectly expected opposition.  There is, at this point, very little difference between the scripted prime time melodramas and the scripted Sunday morning chatterati speculation.  I prefer my shows with members of Actors Equity playing their roles, the writing is generally better and the presentations more professional.

Now that the appointment has been broken I am free to find other channels and other forms of entertainment.  And, I have — evidently there are others who are now finding news from other sources than the networks.  However, it may be a sorry thing to admit that even a news junkie can be lured away from a news program by cable broadcasts of FA Cup soccer on Sunday morning – who would have guessed that Manchester United defeating Yeovil Town 2-0 could be more interesting than “Meet The Face Of The Nation This Week?”

Comments Off on How The Networks Lost Me on Sunday Morning

Filed under media, media ownership

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 on The Gordian Knot of Democratic Politics

Filed under media, media ownership, Politics, Republicans

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 on Before You See The Sunday Shows: Thoughts on Broadcast News

Filed under media, media ownership

A Thought For the Day from Edward R. Murrow

Murrow QuoteEnough said.

Comments Off on A Thought For the Day from Edward R. Murrow

Filed under media, media ownership

>Broadcast Journalism, Ethics, And My Cable Free Zone

>This is the second week of DB’s venture into the totally Cable-News-Free Zone, and to mark this mini-milestone I looked up the American Society of Newspaper Editors statement of principles. By shutting off the cable news shows have I missed anything important?

For example, did I miss anything representative of the First Principle?Responsibility. The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinion is to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time. Newspapermen and women who abuse the power of their professional role for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to that public trust. The American press was made free not just to inform or just to serve as a forum for debate but also to bring an independent scrutiny to bear on the forces of power in the society, including the conduct of official power at all levels of government.”

So, whose idea was it that the Not-Really-A-Mosque at Not-Really-Ground-Zero was an “issue of the time?” Whose executive producers decided that broadcast time should really be expended on this local zoning issue in lower Manhattan? How much more mis-information was disseminated than information? There appears to be a number of citizens who believe the community center is a mosque (it’s a community center with a prayer room), and that it is in close proximity (rather than a full city block away) from the site of the WTC. The first principle calls for the press to inform, not misinform people. Therefore, what do we make of the “talent” who allow commentators to make unsubstantiated and inaccurate allegations and assertions?

Did I miss any sterling instances of personal integrity? “Newspapermen and women who abuse the power of their professional role for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to that public trust. Or did I merely avoid more attention seeking, ratings groveling, tirades and bloviation from the likes of Hannity, or Glenn Beck?

Have I missed examples of the Second Principle?Freedom of the Press. Freedom of the press belongs to the people. It must be defended against encroachment or assault from any quarter, public or private. Journalists must be constantly alert to see that the public’s business is conducted in public. They must be vigilant against all who would exploit the press for selfish purposes.”

And, then I read that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has made a $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association. [MMFA] If exploitation of the press for selfish purposes is an offense, how much more offensive is it when a news outlet offers itself up for exploitation?

How about the Third Principle?Independence. Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict. They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity.”

Might this include invitations to various and sundry cocktail parties and dinners within the Beltway climes? What some reporters and commentators may call “access” could just as easily be referred to by a slightly older term: “Wining and Dining.” But there was CNN’s Ed Henry, ebullient about having attended a party given by the Bidens. [Salon] And there was Marc Ambiner, and David Sanger at the same session. Once upon a time not so long ago David Gregory accepted the hospitality of the Cheney Family, as did Glenn Kessler. [Salon] If a reporter were to “bring scrutiny to bear on the forces of power,” and not compromise his or her integrity would they lose “access,” or is “access” just another term defining invitations to the Beltway Gossip Gabfests with a bit of wine and cheese?

Did I miss the implementation of the Fourth Principle?Truth and Accuracy. Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism. Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly. Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently.”

If the news content had been “accurate, free from bias, and in context” would Shirley Sherrod still have her position at the USDA? Would we have known sooner that the so-called “ACORN tapes,” were edited so that the organization was presented in the worst possible light, and were so misleading that the cooperation between one of the ACORN employees in National City, CA with local law enforcement was misrepresented as collusion with the ‘pranksters?” [MMFA]

All sides are to be represented fairly, but that doesn’t mean that both sides are necessarily accurate. The principle is called “truth and accuracy” not “acceptable to both sides.” Too many broadcasters have forgotten to whom they are supposed to be “fair,” the inference in this principle is that the audience, the readership, the viewers are to be treated fairly; and treated so by being given the most truthful and most accurate information available to the producers. This doesn’t mean that both “guests” in an on-air Spin Contest get equal time or equal treatment. It doesn’t mean that the accurate representation of facts by one side must confront a thundering assault of mis-information, dis-information, and outright lies from the other. There is plenty of room to discuss and analyze the trends, meaning, and import of a set of facts — but the underlying principle requires that both sides agree to the facts of the issue.

Perhaps no portion of the canons as been so abysmally abused as the part admonishing editors to be as concerned with the content of editorials and opinion pieces as with the content of standard news reporting. The situation on Sunday morning political shows became so fact-free that there were serious calls for Fact Checking either in real time, or during a mid-week program. [Rosen] Meet the Press and Face the Nation decided that viewers should do their own fact checking and “let us know about it.” [HuffPo] Thus much for accurate, free from bias, and in context.” Now the reporters would have the audience do their own reporting. If a person did his or her own reporting, then what is the purpose of the broadcast in the first place?

Are we being treated to examples of the Fifth Principle?Impartiality. To be impartial does not require the press to be unquestioning or to refrain from editorial expression. Sound practice, however, demands a clear distinction for the reader between news reports and opinion. Articles that contain opinion or personal interpretation should be clearly identified.”

Are we getting sound and clear distinction between fact and opinion are are we, as in the instance of the Fourth Principle, to be left on our own to do our own reporting? In a classic case of 5th Principle amnesia, CNN anchor Don Lemon conducted what one observer categorized under the heading “How Not To Conduct An Interview” with Eboo Patel. I might have classified it as “How To Demonstrate A Total Lack Of Homework.” Whatever the opinions about categorization, the interview was an example of what can happen on broadcast television when the facts get muddled with an anchor’s opinions.

What have we seen in terms of the Sixth Principle?Fair Play. Journalists should respect the rights of people involved in the news, observe the common standards of decency and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their news reports. Persons publicly accused should be given the earliest opportunity to respond. Pledges of confidentiality to news sources must be honored at all costs, and therefore should not be given lightly. Unless there is clear and pressing need to maintain confidences, sources of information should be identified.”

Once again we should return to the egregious behavior of the American press in regard to the Shirley Sherrod case. By what standard of decency and accountability was her unfortunate moment of fame judged? Who gave her “the earliest opportunity to respond” before airing the highly edited and completely misleading tape? Who checked to confirm the accuracy and fairness of the stories circulating about her speech?

Who bothered to find out that the “New Black Panthers” have no connection to the other Black Panthers? Who bothered to notice that the Bush Administration downgraded the charges against three members of this fringe group 11 days before the Obama Administration came into being? Who checked to confirm that the so-called Whistleblower (J. Christian Adams) had no personal knowledge of any of the discussions surrounding the case, by his own admission? [AJC]

The Bottom Line

If cable news broadcasts seek to be nothing more than talk radio with pictures then the advertisers must excuse me while I seek my information elsewhere. If you demand that I do my own fact checking, I will. This means, of course, that I’ll be spending my time with Fact Check.Org, or Meet The Facts, or with Politifact. The more time I spend with those sites obviously the less time I will spend watching broadcasts. By extension, the more violations of the Canons of the profession, the less likely I will be to believe anything I see on the broadcasts. The less I’m likely to believe, the less I’m likely to watch. Perhaps at some point the advertisers will notice that I am not alone.

Comments Off on >Broadcast Journalism, Ethics, And My Cable Free Zone

Filed under media, media ownership