Election Flawed: Rupert Murdoch Plays Politics For Profit

The present state of the American political process is in dire distress. In order to even contemplate running for any federal or statewide office, a potential candidate must have access to sums of money in amounts that either prevent participation or invite corruption. And if there’s one thing that Washington doesn’t need it’s invitations to be corrupt.

In a new wrinkle, unprecedented quantities of funds are being raised by independent advocacy groups whose donors are allowed to be kept secret, thus depriving voters of information critical to assessing the character and independence of the candidate. The recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United made the situation even worse by permitting corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money directly to candidates and causes with no transparency or oversight.

I’m not sure, however, that anyone anticipated the prospect of a media corporation turning their ability to make political contributions into a profit center and earning money on the funds they donated to candidates. It’s bad enough when media is simply acting out of greed and failing to serve the public interest. But leave it to News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch to discover a whole new vein to mine that yields results for both his greed and his megalomania.

The Nation just published an enlightening commentary co-written by media reform heroes John Nichols and Robert McChesney titled The Money & Media Election Complex. Their premise is that the confluence of media and wealthy partisans in politics is as dangerous as the military/industrial complex Pres. Eisenhower warned us about. And exacerbating the risk is the fact that, to the extent that independent reporting might once have uncovered suspicious relationships and activities, the press has been gutted in many respects and is incapable of playing their traditional role as watchdogs.

While there has long been a problem with massive infusions of cash polluting the electoral environment, the problems today are unique in the way that the media participates and benefits from the process. This past election cycle is estimated to bring in billions to the television networks airing campaign ads and hosting candidates. Thus they have a vested interest in provoking controversy and manufacturing volatility in order to stimulate more ad buying. Nichols and McChesney wrote that…

The most important yet least-recognized piece of the money-and-media election complex is the commercial broadcasting industry, which just had its best money-making election season ever. […and that…] We have to stop thinking about the crisis of our politics merely in terms of reforming the campaign finance system (though of course it’s important to fight for reforms). It’s a media ownership and responsibility issue as well.

After it was disclosed that Murdoch had contributed a million dollars each to the Republican Governor’s Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it was obvious that these ultra-partisan organizations would be using that money largely to advance the electoral prospects of conservatives and Republicans by producing and distributing television ads. And those ads would likely be placed on networks and stations specifically selected to reach a friendly audience – like maybe Fox.

Rupert Murdoch DonationsAn analysis of data obtained from Media Matters reveals that one of Murdoch’s beneficiaries, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, purchased over $20,000,000 in ads on local broadcast stations across the country. In five of those markets (three in the top ten) there are one or more stations owned by Fox Television. On those stations the Chamber bought $1,223,770 in ads. That means that News Corp earned $223,770 in profits on their million dollar donation to the Chamber.

Looking at this another way, News Corp gave the Chamber a million dollars to buy ads with. Then the Chamber gave the money right back to News Corp with 22% “interest.” So News Corp makes a healthy profit and the Chamber gets their ads broadcast for a 78% discount. And both get to further their shared political agenda. Remember also that the revenue on the analysis above is just from Fox-owned broadcast stations. It does not include ad buys on the cable Fox News Channel. Nor does it include revenue from any other recipient of Murdoch’s largesse, like the Republican Governor’s Association. So there may be millions more in earnings from these allegedly benevolent contributions flowing from the Murdoch media empire.

The fact that this is apparently legal is disturbing, to say the least. It is a thinly disguised kickback scheme. If any other company were to seek to inflate their balance sheet by covertly providing funds to a vendor so that the vendor could purchase that company’s products, somebody would be going to jail. How is this any different? In this scenario News Corp gets to book the revenue, the Chamber gets to air their ads, and the public is subjected to propaganda designed to sway the election. And because of the weakness of the press and the perversion of the current campaign finance legal landscape, the public is also precluded from learning about any of it.

There is the making of a crime syndicate in all of this. Murdoch is not the only media mogul who can employ this scheme. Throw in Richard Mellon Scaife and Philip Anshutz and a variety of other TV, radio, and newspaper barons, and there is potential for significant manipulation and deception through collusion between wealthy media corporations and powerful political operators.

The lesson here is that the media is in need of serious reform, along with campaign finance regulations. If these matters are not addressed adequately, we can expect to see more severe and more frequent corruption of our democratic processes. This is an issue that requires our nation’s immediate attention. And it’s an issue that should be pursued by a true nonpartisan alliance of Americans devoted to fair elections and a free press. The media and political bosses exploiting these loopholes think that the people are too lazy and/or stupid to notice and to challenge them. Are they right?

Is Rupert Murdoch Funding Al Qaeda?

A couple of recent revelations regarding the charitable proclivities of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp are now raising chilling questions for which there has been no answer to date.

It was widely reported a few weeks ago that News Corp made a $1 million donation to the Republican Governor’s Association. Reaction to that report was swift and damning. The notion that News Corp, parent company of Fox News, is bankrolling the campaigns of people they are also purporting to cover in their newspapers and on their TV networks, is appalling and unprecedented. To make matters worse, Fox continues to give positively biased coverage to GOP candidates without disclosing their contributions.

Last week another story emerged that revealed another $1 million contribution by News Corp, this time to the pro-GOP US Chamber of Commerce. This has the same potential for conflict of interest as the gift to the GOP governors and, again, Fox puts a muzzle on its reporters to suppress the story.

Now Ben Smith at Politico reports what may be the worst part of this scandal of all. Responding to a query as to why News Corp would make these donations that overtly contradict their claims to fairness and balance, and further damage their already mutilated journalistic credibility, Smith reports that…

“A person close to News Corp. told me this week the company didn’t realize its $1 million to the RGA would become public. And the $1 million to Chamber of Commerce was supposed to be secret as well.”

That explains a lot. If Murdoch never believed that these donations would become public he would have no reason to be concerned about the blowback. But what is even more troubling is this: If Murdoch made these donations with the expectation that they would be kept secret, what other donations might he have made whose secrecy has actually been preserved?

Could Murdoch have contributed to the Tea Party Express or other AstroTurfers like FreedomWorks? Could he be bankrolling the operations of Sarah Palin’s PAC or Glenn Beck’s Holy Rollover Revue? Since the Citizen’s United decision by the Supreme Court earlier this year, the ability of corporations to sink unlimited resources into politics has been greatly enhanced. It created an open door for multinational corporations to influence American elections

Murdoch’s business connections have deep roots in many financial and political matters around the world. He is closely tied with Saudi oil and media barons and billionaires like Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. Alwaleed is a backer of the Park51 project to build a Muslim community center a couple of blocks from ground zero in Lower Manhattan.

What other Muslim initiatives might Murdoch be connected to? Could he have an interest in the affairs of Al Qaeda? There is presently reporting on Fox News about the escalated terror alerts in Europe. Murdoch could be seen as being a beneficiary of this because it could reflect badly on President Obama’s national security policies. And Murdoch is always happy to see this President in decline. What contributions might he have made to bring about this or any other event that accrues to his benefit?

Seriously, the problem here is that we have no way of knowing what sort of enterprises Murdoch (or any other corporate baron) is financing. If we only find out by accident, there is a very real prospect that there are far worse things that have not yet been revealed. And the new legal interpretations make it harder, if not impossible, to acquire this information.

Is Rupert Murdoch funding Al Qaeda. Probably not. But that’s not the point. Who is he funding (besides the GOP governors and the Chamber of Commerce) that is still being kept secret from us? His scope of influence, due to his position and wealth, makes him a significant figure on the political landscape. The fact that he runs an international media empire makes his political contributions relevant to his readers and viewers. And the fact that he is making donations that he presumed would be secret suggests that he may have made others that still are.

Murdoch needs to either come clean about his political largesse or stop making contributions altogether. He cannot operate a media enterprise that he asserts is unbiased without greater transparency, especially in light of what has become known already. And the rest of the media must stop treating Fox News and other News Corp operations as if they were legitimate journalists. Fox News is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. Their partisan reporting has made that more than clear, and their financial activities prove it again and again.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Glenn Beck?

Glenn Beck has managed to elevate himself to a unique position in American demagoguery. He descends from a genetic family that includes Father Charles Coughlin, Morton Downey Jr., and Rev. Jim Jones, with a little of Tammy Faye Bakker’s trademarked tearyness thrown in. He has broadened his reach by virtue of his radio and television shows, his book publishing, and his Internet sites. He aims to rival the omnipotence of the Messiah he thinks he is becoming.

Unfortunately, Beck has also assumed a position that Mark Twain once ascribed to the weather: Everyone talks about Beck, but nobody does anything about him.

The problem is that there aren’t many avenues of attack available for Beck’s opponents. He cannot be exiled from the Internet. His books will be feverishly hoarded by his devotees. Radio is already hopelessly enshrouded in Dark Ages conservatism. And on television, the most sensitive medium to market forces, Beck has found a home where he is welcome despite a successful advertiser embargo.

It’s television that poses the greatest challenge. Beck’s presence has taken root at Fox News. His invulnerability to lack of revenue, and even ratings declines, is a revealing example of the problem faced by his critics as well as his bosses at Fox and/or News Corp. Not that Fox is interested in jettisoning their deluded prophet. But moving up the ladder there may be evidence that the patience of some News Corp honchos could be wearing thin. Members of Rupert Murdoch’s family, who will inherit his media empire, have not been shy about their distaste for the wild-eyed antics of Beck and his ilk. Murdoch’s son-in-law publicly said that he was ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes.

However, there is a dilemma that any Beck foe would encounter within or without Murdochia. And that is the cult-like devotion of Beck’s disciples. If Fox made an attempt to cancel his program, or even reschedule it to a less attractive time slot, the blow back from the BeckPods would be hurricane force. It wouldn’t make any difference if there was a legitimate reason for the move related to revenue or ratings. Beck’s Brigades would assert that it was censorship, oppression, tyranny. They would, of course, blame it on President Obama and his coterie of czars. And they would make Fox pay the consequences for caving in. This puts Fox at Beck’s mercy. The consequences of firing him, even with justification, would be too severe.

Consequently, the only way to liberate us from the cesspool of maniacal scare-mongering that is Glenn Beck, is for him to deliver the fuel for his own downfall. Only if he were to bitterly betray his carefully constructed persona would his disciples accept a rejection of him by his media masters. That means some sort of financial impropriety, inexcusable hypocrisy, or best of all, a sex scandal. Seeing as how the first two have occurred with some regularity, that leaves only the third option as plausible.

A couple of weeks ago a writer at the Huffington Post published an article wherein he offered $100,000 to anyone who could produce a sex tape of Beck (who would have the intestinal fortitude to watch?) or provide other evidence of misbehavior. The article was quickly deemed to be inappropriate and was removed from the site for violating its standards.

But when it comes to inappropriate publishing, The Globe Magazine has no such standards to constrain it.

The current cover features a teaser for an article that reveals the “Glenn Beck Sex Tape Scandal and the Mystery Woman Behind It.” [Spoiler Alert: The Mystery Woman is Michelle Obama.] The Globe’s “source” alleges some sort of plot by the First Lady to defend the President by getting rid of his chief critic. Leave it to the Globe to invent a phony sex tape myth that makes Beck the victim of a panicky White House.

While the Huffington Post and the Globe have both ventured into the inane, they have also recognized the most likely path to putting Beck on the fast track to has-been obscurity. Finding the ethical chink in Beck’s celestial armor is the only way to cast him off without arousing the ire of his congregation.

Let’s face it, Beck is no saint. There is almost certainly a closet in his estate(s) that is jam-packed with skeletons. And setting them loose would be a great service to America, to democracy, and to mankind. I’m not going to announce a bounty on Beck’s head as HuffPo did. I’m merely pointing out that the bar to removing Beck from the mediasphere is pretty high, even for the folks at News Corp. And I’m predicting that, if Beck does get canned (as he deserves), it will be because of some revelation that is too embarrassing to overcome, not because of a rational decision related to business or a renewed interest in honesty and journalistic ethics.

I can’t wait.

Rupert Murdoch’s Paywall Going Bust

In the latest in a long line of pinhead moves by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the plan to secure the content of their newspaper web sites behind paywalls is failing miserably. A report in The Independent reveals that…

“Faced with a collapse in traffic to thetimes.co.uk, some advertisers have simply abandoned the site.” and that “traffic to The Times site has fallen by 90 per cent since the introduction of charges.”

This was entirely predictable. When there is an abundance of news available online, why would anyone pay to receive information that is not distinguishable from the free information available elsewhere? Especially when consumers are already “paying” as a result of their presence being sold to advertisers. That’s traditionally how media produces revenue.

In addition to the traffic almost disappearing from the The Times site, reporters are anxious about having lost their voice and their reach into the community. What journalist would want to see their readership decline by 90%? What’s more, publicists are avoiding The Times because they know that their stories will not be seen by very many people.

It was reported last month that The Times lost 1.2 Million online readers since the paywall was erected. And that’s not all:

According to ComScore, the combined number of unique visitors to the two new sites has fallen to 1.61 million in July, from 2.22 million in June, and 2.79 million in May. […] The average number of minutes each user spent on the site was 7.6 in May, 5.8 in June and 4 in July. […] Page views have dropped from 29 million in May to 20 million in June and 9 million in July.

Some analysts insist that this is a long-term initiative. Maybe so. But by the time they might expect paywalls to pay off, the advertising market for online media will have matured and become profitable. However, anyone who follows Murdoch now into the paywall panic room will lose out in the ad market because they won’t have enough traffic to produce revenue.

Congratulations, Rupert.

Who Is Funding The NYC Mosque? Fox News!

Last week I reported that News Corp, the parent of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and more, made a donation of $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. It’s bad enough that a major media company is bankrolling GOP campaigns and still pretending to be fair and balanced when they report on those campaigns, but things just got even crazier.

For weeks there has been a raging battle over the proposed construction of an Islamic community and prayer center a couple of blocks away from the site of the former World Trade Center. One of the most frequently repeated criticisms by opponents of the Park51 project is that they wanted to know where the money was coming from. In the absence of that information they alleged, without proof, that the center was being funded by terrorists or groups sympathetic to terrorists.

Mosque at Ground ZeroWell now we know precisely where some that funding came from. It has now been revealed that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, News Corp’s largest shareholder outside of the Murdoch family, has donated over $300,000 to organizations run by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the principal planner of Park51. One of those organizations was the Park51 project itself.

So now that we know that a major shareholder of News Corp is providing funding to Imam Rauf to build the center, will the critics be satisfied and drop their complaints? Will they expand their attacks to include News Corp and Rupert Murdoch? Will they even hear about it on their favorite cable news network, Fox News (who never bothered to report on the million dollar gift to the GOP)?

If this center is such an affront to the victims and survivors of 9/11, then isn’t News Corp and Fox News partly responsible for it? I wouldn’t be too surprised if it was all part of a plot to generate a controversy that would advantage them politically as well as boost their ratings.

Furthermore, if the insult that critics allege is due to the mosque being “near” the site where thousands of Americans were killed, then shouldn’t they also oppose any mosques being built in Iraq? More Americans were killed there than at the WTC on 9/11. Doesn’t that make Iraq “hallowed ground” as well?

I really can’t fathom why a building that is nothing more than an Islamic YMCA is causing such a ruckus. I think it is far more insulting to exploit 9/11, and to use the painful images from that day in crass political advertising. That’s exactly what Republican Roy Blunt has done here, in an ad that takes his opponent, Robin Carnahan, to task for not opposing the center. The ad features a video of the smoking WTC ruin with a voiceover of Carnahan saying…

“I’m not gonna try to tell folks in New York what to do, and I don’t want them trying to tell us in Missouri what to do. So in the end it’s gonna have to be their decision. But, you know, I think this a time when we ought to be trying to get people of all faiths to come together, not divide them.”

If I didn’t know better I would think that’s an ad for Carnahan. What’s wrong with that statement? It’s an affirmation of Missourians interests and a call for peace and brotherhood. Apparently Blunt is against those things.

Another exploitative and disturbing ad was from New York Republican Rick Lazio. In fact he has two of them here and here. Both ads urge his opponent, Andrew Cuomo, to initiate an investigation into the Park51 project. Lazio is one of those who is seeking to ascertain the funding sources. Of course now we know that all he needs to do is ask his hosts the next time he appears on Fox News.

This Just In: Not only is Alwaleed, the News Corp shareholder, a financial backer of Imam Rauf, but Rupert Murdoch’s book division, HarperCollins, is the publisher of Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right With America. When will the right-wingers start to hold Murdoch & Co. accountable?

Fox News Must Hate Rupert Murdoch

As a network that has worked tirelessly to promote extreme right-wing views, Fox News has always relied on the fact that they had right-wing executives and owners signing off on their propaganda. Bill, Sammon, their Washington bureau chief, is a conservative author and alumni of the Moonie Washington Times. Roger Ailes, the network’s CEO, is a veteran of Republican politics and PR. And, of course, Rupert Murdoch, Grand Wizard of the News Corp empire, has been publishing and broadcasting rightist rhetoric and disinformation for decades.

But lately, Murdoch seems to be straying from his own pack. There are numerous issues on which he appears to have have sharp disagreements with the people he pays to set the conservative agenda. The most recent ideological departure occurred yesterday when he appeared on Fox and Friends with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In this interview he came out in favor of providing undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Or as Fox News usually describes it: Amnesty for illegals. He even advocate for using the media to achieve this goal.

Murdoch: Well you just gotta keep the pressure on the congressmen. You gotta do it on the press and on the television. It’s a political thing. […] I think we can show to the public the benefit of having migrants and the jobs that go with them.

Add this to Murdoch’s vocal support for reducing the harmful effects of Climate Change. Or as Fox News usually calls it: An environmental hoax. And on this occasion he also recognized the value of utilizing the media to advance this cause.

Murdoch: We want to help solve the climate problem. We’ll squeeze our own energy use down as much as we can. We’ll become carbon neutral for our own emissions within three years […] But that’s just a start. Our audience’s carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours, so clearly that’s where we can have the most influence.

And remember how Murdoch was dumbfounded when asked about Fox News’ promotion of the Tea Party? Or as Fox News usually calls it: True Americans fighting for God and honor.

Murdoch: No. I don’t think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party. But I’d like to investigate what you are saying before condemning anyone.

Rupert MurdochMurdoch’s position on these issues is so starkly divergent from the Fox News talking points that you have to wonder when the dam will burst. Can Murdoch continue to tolerate the distortions that his network is passing off as news when he seems to know that it isn’t? This cannot be dismissed as him keeping a distance from his editorial staff. He has previously asserted himself in the political process, and there is no reason to believe he is now disinclined to do so. Is he just in it for the money and the public interest be damned? Or is he afraid of the monster that he created?

If we were to believe the rantings of Fox News presenters like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, Bill O’Reilly, etc., then the only conclusion we could draw is that Murdoch is an evil secular-progressive, radical liberal, bent on destroying America, poisoning political discourse, and enriching himself through a phony global warming conspiracy.

Those are precisely the views articulated every day on Fox News. At what point will Murdoch realize that they are talking about him? And will he take offense or slither back into his villa and count his money? Has he been silenced by the fear of a backlash from the rabid congregation that his mouthpieces have assembled?

Take a look at the situation surrounding Glenn Beck. He has lost over 100 advertisers (he has zero advertisers in the UK). His audience has been cut in half since the beginning of this year. His conspiracy theories have gotten ever more absurd. He has insulted some of his remaining advertisers on the air. He even accused the largest shareholder of News Corp, outside of the Murdoch family, of being a terrorist.

Yet Murdoch keeps Beck on the air. Any other businessman would cancel a program that was bleeding viewers and fell short on revenue. Not to mention a program that spews seriously demented conspiracy theories. But imagine what would happen if Murdoch sent Beck packing. Beck’s disciples would descend on News Corp with a fierce vengeance. The Tea Baggers and the 9/12ers would make Fox News the target of their wrath and create a black hole in the network’s audience base. And they would come after Murdoch himself.

So when you hear reports of Murdoch saying relatively rational things with regard to the climate or immigration, remember that he still has the final say about what is broadcast and published by his properties. He is still the face of News Corp and Fox News. He can’t have it both ways. He can’t pretend to be concerned about the environment while he permits his network to trash the overwhelming scientific evidence for global warming. He can’t pretend to support immigration reform while paying people to demonize immigrants. And he can’t claim to be fair and balanced while providing a platform for right-wingers, Republicans, and Tea Baggers.

In short, he can’t claim to be sane while he is peddling insanity. And sooner or later it is going to be abundantly clear that these departures of opinion define Murdoch as just another enemy of America as perceived by the nutcases on Fox News. If they hate Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore and Barack Obama, then must hate Rupert Murdoch just as much. Can Murdoch live with that sort of sentiment flowing from his own network? I suppose it depends on how rich it makes him – or how frightened.

Glenn Beck Blames 9/11 On Major Fox News Shareholder

Glenn Beck BlackboardI wonder how this one is gonna go over at the next News Corp board meeting.

On his program yesterday, Glenn Beck embarked on another of his famously illogical rants. This one had something to do with the Israeli encounter with activists seeking to break the blockade in the Persian Gulf. Somehow Beck segued into a discussion of 9/11 and an offer made by a Saudi prince to help with restoration efforts.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal approached New York’s then-mayor Rudy Giuliani and offered $10 million to help the city recover. Giuliani, in a fit of intolerance, refused the money. In the retelling of these events, Beck hypothesized that the money was tainted and that the Saudi donor was aligned with the terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center towers:

“Do you remember what happened right after 9/11 with Rudy Giuliani? Do you remember Saudi Arabia came and said, we want to help. This guy [pointing at Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud] came over and said ‘I want to give you a $10 million dollar check.’ Rudy Giuliani said, ‘you see that over there? I don’t think we want your help. You already sent us help. And you flew that help into … the trade centers. The same prince later blamed the U.S. policy for the attacks. Giuliani said, take your check, we don’t want your money.”

I’m not sure how any of that related to the incident in the Persian Gulf. Beck is notorious for constructing incoherent scenarios that reflect nothing more than his hallucinatory imagination. But the real problem here is that the Saudi Prince who Beck explicitly accused of being part of the Al Qaeda gang who attacked Manhattan on 9/11, is actually the largest shareholder of Fox News’ parent, News Corp, other than Rupert Murdoch and members of his family. That makes him Beck’s boss. Prince Alwaleed is also a close friend of Murdoch and former President Bush.

Set aside for the moment that Alwaleed is an international financier who has never been implicated in terrorism or affiliated with terrorists. Thus, Beck’s accusation is the most vile sort of slander. It’s typical of Beck’s hypocrisy that he would fiercely reject the notion of taking any money from this person that he regards as a terrorist, yet Beck is taking money from him every day as an employee of the company that Alwaleed owns a significant portion of. It’s also typical that Beck’s appreciation for facts is so limited as to not even acknowledge this relationship.

So what consequences will there be for Beck calling Alwaleed a terrorist? Beck has survived calling President Obama a racist. He has survived the loss of millions of dollars due to an advertiser boycott. He has survived equating social justice to Marxism and telling his viewers to leave their churches if they practice it. He has survived hosting (and agreeing with) Michael Scheuer, who said that the only hope for America is for Bin Laden to attack us again with weapons of mass destruction. Can Beck survive calling the owner of his network a terrorist?

Murdoch and his henchman, Fox CEO Roger Ailes, are in a difficult position. If they do nothing they risk Alwaleed punishing them by dumping his stock. That would likely result in a plunging value for News Corp shares. If they fire Beck they could unleash a backlash from the Beck Confederacy of Dunces that could result in a massive exodus of their core viewers. Even more troublesome is the potential for violent responses from the aggrieved BeckPods.

If I were forced to make a prediction, I would lean toward everyone doing nothing. The past tells us that Fox News is disinclined to ever acknowledge flaws or wrongdoing. And the major players are all business people who may regard their financial prospects as their highest priority – even Alwaleed. Beck may get a stern talking to, and he may have to promise to be more careful in the future, but I think it is unlikely that he would be terminated over this if he wasn’t terminated over advocating more terrorist attacks on our country.

Perhaps the effect of Beck’s cumulative transgressions may lead to a more severe response, but there’s been no evidence of that in the past. It’s possible that Murdoch may be itching to ditch Beck. He has been attempting to polish his legacy as a serious newspaperman in his golden years. But he could easily be dissuaded from taking action by Ailes and by his fear of the Becklash.

If I’m wrong, and Beck is set adrift, it would be to the credit of News Corp’s management. Although why they didn’t act sooner will still remain a blot on their managerial record. But if I’m right, it would just further affirm Fox’s status as wholly unethical, utterly unprofessional, thoroughly dishonest, and blatantly self-serving. It would reinforce their position that disseminating propaganda is more important than respect for the truth or responsible journalism. Now, which side of that equation do you think Fox would come out on?

Neil Cavuto Romances Rupert Mudoch, Investors Get Screwed

The News Corporation released their quarterly earnings yesterday after the market closed. On the surface there was good news as News Corp beat the estimates of analysts. So Rupert Murdoch visited his own studio to be interviewed by his employee, Neil Cavuto.

Cavuto introduced the segment with a bootlicking recitation of the financial powerhouse that is News Corp. It was a gloating exercise that portrayed News Corp as the savior of the economy and even attempted to recruit viewers to some sort of News Corp pep squad, suggesting that they…

“…count yourself maybe a News Corp booster. The parent company of this fine network, 20th Century Fox, HarperCollins, and on and on, reporting much, much, much, better than expected earnings in the latest period that dwarf well past some of the estimates in there.”

The problem is that, in this eleven minute interview (25% of his program), Cavuto and Murdoch glossed over the most important part of the earnings announcement, so far as investors are concerned – the outlook going forward. As it turns out, News Corp actually issued a warning that they would fail to meet earnings expectations in the next quarter. This information was divulged in the conference call with analysts, but Fox News viewers wouldn’t hear it. Consequently, if you were relying Fox for accurate reporting on the News Corp earnings, you would have lost a pile of money this morning as their stock plummeted six percent.

Watching this spectacle of Cavuto and Murdoch grinning and lying to viewers about the prospects for News Corp’s stock you can’t help but wonder if they crossed a line into deliberately misleading shareholders. Why wouldn’t they? Misleading their viewers is their core competency. If it isn’t weapons of mass destruction or death panels, it’s their stock performance. And when Cavuto got around to asking Murdoch what was driving the company’s unparalleled “success,” Murdoch detoured entirely away from economics to his political obsession:

“Well, as far as Fox News goes it’s very simple. It’s very powerful, it’s very good, and it’s very balanced. And everybody else, every newspaper other than ours, it may be an over-generalization, but by far the most newspapers, and certainly the other television networks, are sort of all on one side, the liberal side of anything. I think the population of this country is pretty worried about its direction and, you know, they turn to Fox News.”

See that? News Corp is successful because of the liberal media. Not because they gouged cable operators for higher subscriber fees and favorable channel placement. Not because of the one-time phenomenon of a little movie called Avatar. Not because of the monopolistic domination they enforce in media markets around the world. But I will agree with Murdoch on his last point, that the population of this country is pretty worried. However, that isn’t why they turn to Fox News, it’s BECAUSE they turned to Fox News. Anyone who watches Fox, and is foolish enough to believe what the see, is a prime candidate for an anxiety attack or an aneurysm.

It is also interesting that Murdoch conducted his interview with Cavuto on the Fox News Channel. Cavuto is also the anchor and Senior VP for Murdoch’s struggling Fox Business Network. But when Murdoch decided to make a television appearance to discuss his company’s earnings, he chose not to visit his own financial news network. Cavuto was reduced to playing the FNC tape on his FBN show. Does that say something about Murdoch’s commitment to FBN?

It’s Official: Rupert Murdoch Is A Senile Old Coot

The chairman of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, has endured many decades as a right-wing purveyor of tabloid pseudo-news enterprises around the world. His power and influence has been felt in the halls of governments and the boardrooms of corporations. His opinions have been sought after and received with great deference. But that’s all over now.

In an appearance at a forum for the public affairs TV series, The Kalb Report, Murdoch exhibited clear signs that he has lost touch with reality. Sam Stein of the Huffington Post was there and reported some examples of Murdoch’s mental decline. It begins with the ludicrous assertion that the staff at his competitors MSNBC and CNN “tend to be Democrats” but that his own Fox News presenters “are not Republicans.” He did not, however, bother to identify a single Democrat at his rivals’ networks, and when pressed, he was also unable to name one on his own.

More importantly, Murdoch seems to have completely forgotten that he employs the most recent vice-presidential candidate of the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, as well as a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, Mike Huckabee. And let’s not forget other avowed Republican Fox Newsers Karl Rove, Rick Santorum, Dana Perino, Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, Laura Ingraham, John Bolton, Dan Senor, Linda Chavez, and Oliver North. Fox is lousy with Republicans, but in his diminished capacity Murdoch is so confused about the political affiliation of his crew that he can declare aloud and in public that there aren’t any such people working for him.

In another departure from reality, Murdoch was asked if it was ethical for Fox to promote the Tea Party movement. For anyone paying attention it is clear that Fox became a virtual publicity machine for the Tea Baggers.

They aired numerous interviews of Bagger spokespeople including their chief strategist and fundraiser, Dick Armey. They had reporter Griff Jenkins riding along on the Tea Party Express bus. They dispatched their top anchors, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren, and Neil Cavuto, to host Tea Party events across the nation. They even branded branded some of the events as “FNC Tea Parties.” But Murdoch’s response to the inquiry was rife with bewilderment:

“No. I don’t think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party. But I’d like to investigate what you are saying before condemning anyone.”

Either he never watches his own network or his memory and comprehension skills have utterly collapsed. He must also not be paying much attention to that Internet thing. For several months Murdoch has been promising to put all of his online news content behind a pay wall. He has spoken out harshly against what he deems theft by news aggregators like Google. Never mind that he can stop Google from indexing his web sites anytime he wants with just a few lines of code. At the Kalb forum he reiterated his opinion saying…

“We will be very happy if they just publish our headline or a sentence or two and that’s it. Followed by a subscription form.”

You would hope that someone on his staff (or his nurses) would advise him that that is exactly what they do now. If you search Google for news content, you will get only a headline and a couple of sentences. Then you can click the link to go to the full story on the content owner’s web site. Contrary to his misconception, this drives traffic to Murdoch’s site, it doesn’t steal anything. And what Murdoch doesn’t acknowledge (if he even remembers) is that he owns web sites that actually do steal content from other news sources. His Fox Nation, for example, is a news aggregator that does not pay for the articles it features, but reprints much more than a couple of sentences from them – sometimes the whole article.

The general tone of this interview ought to be disturbing to Murdoch’s family and doctors. He really appears to be suffering from an acute cognitive failure. These are not the sort of logical missteps made by someone who has built an international media empire. Murdoch is either profoundly distracted or is losing the mental acuity to perform his duties. It may be time for him to consider stepping aside and let his kids screw up the world for awhile.

Addendum: Additional reporting on the Kalb interview reveals that Murdoch…

  • …doesn’t consider Sarah Palin to be a journalist. (Duh!)
  • …believes that Greta Van Susteren is a Democrat. (Never mind her adoration of Sarah Palin for whom her husband is an advisor)
  • …thinks the iPad will save newspapers. (Right. A $600.00 device possessed by a fraction of American households, that will charge extra for subscriptions, is going to replace a news source that was delivered for pennies a day to any American doorstep)

Keep ‘em coming, Rupert.

Fox News Caught In Massive Nielsen Ratings Fraud

Update 4/2/2010: A major development occurred overnight.
It is now April 2, 2010! (no foolin).
Update 5/10/2010: See this new analysis and addendum.

This week saw the release of the quarterly ratings performance data for television programming. Much of the reporting on this story focused on the dominant position Fox News retains in the cable news sector. As has been the case for several years, Fox News smothered the competition and experienced rapid growth while other news programmers stagnated or declined.

While most industry insiders accept the routine pronouncements from the sole ratings provider, Nielsen Media Research, without question, some observers could not help but notice a certain incongruity in the results. How is it, they wonder, that Fox News can be so consistently in the lead despite their obvious niche programming focus on a narrow segment of the viewing audience. The decidedly right-of-center bias of Fox News corresponds to a rather small portion of the national electorate. Republican favorability has been hovering in the mid-twenties for years. So how does this negligible slice of the market translate into such a disproportionate ratings advantage?

The answer may be evident in new disclosures of business relationships that call into question the integrity of Nielsen’s data. With the rollout of its People Meter methodology in the early 2000’s, Nielsen entered the high-tech era of TV market research. It was heralded as a major advancement of data collection that would vastly improve the ability of producers, programmers and advertisers to evaluate the marketplace. But as with any upheaval in the status quo, there were skeptics and dissenters. Chief amongst them was Fox Broadcasting, who argued that the new system significantly under-counted African-Americans, a key component of their audience at the time. There was also a question as to the security of the new set-top boxes that would be recording viewer choices. With the introduction of technology comes the risk of miscalculations and tampering. But eventually the complaints receded or were resolved and the new service took its place as the signature survey product for television marketing.

It was during this time, subsequent to the implementation of People Meters, that Fox News began its rapid ascent to ratings dominance. A prudent observer might wonder how this new system came to report so much more favorably for a network that had fiercely opposed its adoption. What transpired that caused Fox News to withdraw their objections and become the biggest beneficiary of the change?

It has recently been discovered that the Wegener Corporation, the manufacturer of the set-top devices that Nielsen uses, has a long association with Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation, the parent of Fox News. Wegener was founded by the former management of Scientific-Atlanta, a producer of set-top boxes for cable access and other purposes. One of the other products in Scientific-Atlanta’s line was a device used by Gemstar to provide television program listings to cable operators and their subscribers. Gemstar was an affiliate of TV Guide, which in turn was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. So the executives who were responsible for developing and manufacturing Murdoch’s equipment for Gemstar became the principles of the company providing Nielsen with their ratings collection devices. And around that same time Fox News dropped their objections to the new People Meter service.

It would not be difficult to encode an electronic device so that it would purposefully miscalculate survey data. A simple algorithm to multiply a target by a fixed percentage could produce a result that would artificially inflate one set of figures while keeping it in proportion to a larger set, making it virtually impossible to detect. At present, their is no confirmation that such a deception has been contrived. It would require a thorough examination of Nielsen’s hardware and the ability to reverse engineer the chips inside of it. But for those who presume that it would be an outlandish notion, they would be well advised to study recent news events that uncovered similarly scandalous conduct on the part of News Corp.

One situation involves a digital recorder and satellite receiver made by NDS Group for Murdoch’s Sky network in Europe. Unlike TiVo, the Sky+ system records “personal viewing information,” which is information about your viewing practices that is tied to your contact information (i.e., it’s not kept anonymous, like TiVo’s).

In addition to that, NDS was also charged with using spies and hackers to steal Sky competitor Dish Network’s programming and make it available to viewers for free, thus undercutting Dish’s financial viability. As reported in Wired Magazine:

“The case involves a colorful cast of characters that includes former intelligence agents, Canadian TV pirates, Bulgarian and German hackers, stolen e-mails and the mysterious suicide of a Berlin hacker who had been courted by the Murdoch company not long before his death.

On the hot spot is NDS Group, a UK-Israeli firm that makes smartcards for pay-TV systems like DirecTV. The company is a majority-owned subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation. The charges stem from 1997 when NDS is accused of cracking the encryption of rival NagraStar, which makes access cards and systems for EchoStar’s Dish Network and other pay-TV services. Further, it’s alleged NDS then hired hackers to manufacture and distribute counterfeit NagraStar cards to pirates to steal Dish Network’s programming for free.”

On yet another occasion Murdoch’s news group engaged in some sleazy and illegal behavior to get stories about celebrities and politicians. The Guardian reported that Murdoch paid substantial sums of money to keep this scandal under wraps:

“Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers has paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories.

The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public ­figures as well as gaining unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private investigators.”

And if that’s not enough, check into the incestuous and disturbing web of connections Murdoch has to the communists in China. Glenn Beck tried to pull the veil off of this one but was censored by his own employer.

Given the history of sleazy conduct and nefarious associations, is it really that far-fetched to conclude that something similar has taken place with regard to Murdoch’s relationship to Nielsen and the firm that manufactures their ratings collection devices? It would explain how Fox News could wind up with such a dominate lead in the ratings despite catering to a relatively small potential audience. It would explain why Fox suddenly halted their objections to a new process that they previously considered inaccurate and biased against them.

It would also explain a deep discrepancy between the allegedly broad viewing of Fox News and their nearly invisible impact on the political landscape. If Fox were as ubiquitous as they (and the ratings) claim, then why, during the years of their strongest growth, did they fail to move the country to their positions. With a sustained 24/7 propaganda effort, Fox failed to stop the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress. They failed to stop the 2008 election of Barack Obama despite incessant and false allegations of him being a Muslim, a radical leftist, and a pal of terrorists. They failed to stop the 2010 passage of a health care bill despite charges of socialism, death panels, and national bankruptcy. Does this sound like a network that holds a commanding majority of America’s television viewers under its sway?

To be sure, I am not the first to question the legitimacy of Nielsen’s numbers. Many people in the industry quietly accept what they regard as a flawed methodology simply because there is no alternative – or because proposed alternatives are even less acceptable. When it suits their purpose, even Fox News complains about the ratings. And I’m not talking about simple complaints concerning minor numerical inconsistencies, but allegations of rampant fraud that warrant federal investigation. After basking in the glow of Nielsen’s data, Bill O’Reilly turns around and castigates them as having “major problems…that have benefited MSNBC,” and asserts that…

O’Reilly: “The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”

Of course the “feds” don’t have any jurisdiction over private market research firms. And it’s rather hypocritical for O’Reilly to suddenly advocate for big government intruding on the free market. But conservatives like O’Reilly are not averse to hypocrisy when it furthers their agenda. And in this case the agenda is to work the refs at Nielsen and suppress any notion that Fox is not the king of the television hill.

In conclusion, if we are to have any certainty as to who the real king of the hill is, we will need to get to the bottom of this lingering controversy surrounding Nielsen’s systems and procedures. The connection to Murdoch’s covert operations and his history of unlawful corporate espionage cannot be dismissed. Nielsen must investigate their equipment providers and perform intensive examinations of the devices they place in viewers’ homes. Anything short of this would leave them open to charges of complicity and render their survey data useless.

Is Neil Cavuto Stupid, Lying, Or A Stupid Liar?

Neil CavutoThe Carrot Top of Cable news, Neil Cavuto, is at it again. He has dragged out his steamer trunk of props to advance the moronic notion that Global Warming is a fraud because it’s colder in winter than summer.

Note to Neil:
Temperature does not equal Climate!

Cavuto is well known for contributing to the collapse of America’s collective IQ. He proudly hosts such respected policy analysts as Ted Nugent, Tommy Chong, John Ratzenberger, Mr. Handyman, Joe the Plumber, and any random Tea Bagger, to unravel our nation’s dilemmas. Cavuto has been continuing to disinform his already ignorant audience on climate matters that he clearly doesn’t understand, and wants to make sure that no one else understands either. In the video clip below he tells viewers that “it is freezing across the entire globe.” Needless to say, that is demonstrably false.

Had he done any research at all (and that’s a lot to ask someone on Fox), he would have learned that many places are experiencing record highs this winter. What’s more, climate experts agree that cold weather in places like Florida are, in fact, proof of Global Warming. It’s the result of altered atmospheric patterns that are pushing arctic conditions further south than would normally be seen. In the north there are higher temperatures, more melting of ice sheets and glaciers, and warmer oceans.

This is precisely the sort of deliberate deception that we should expect from Cavuto. He has a track record of mischaracterizing facts in pursuit of his rightist agenda. And he is not alone in the Fox family acting to deceive viewers on this issue. Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly frequently denounce Climate Change science as a hoax. Glenn Beck goes even further:

“…almost everyone who does believe in global warming is a socialist. I mean, believes in manmade global warming that now can be fixed and reversed or whatever. And we’ve got the tools to fix it. Almost everybody who says, ‘I’ve got a plan to fix it’ is a socialist.”

The presence of these Climate Crisis deniers on Fox puts Rupert Murdoch at the head of the denier class. This is his network, his people, and he regularly affirms his support of them. The reason this is notable is that Murdoch has publicly taken a position that Global Warning is a serious concern and that News Corp would work vigorously to reduce the carbon footprint of its businesses and to educate its viewers and readers.

Obviously that is a lie. It is nothing more than a veil of PR designed to give Murdoch cover and permit him to feign concern for the environment. It is entirely inconsistent to pretend to be working to reduce Global Warming while employing people who forthrightly deny that it exists. News Corp could reduce its carbon footprint to zero and not come close to offsetting the damage done by convincing millions to take no action whatsoever. Not to mention the pressure that Fox-tainted citizens would impose on public representatives to refrain from enacting common sense regulations to protect the planet.

The impact of the media on public policy can not be overstated. And when morons like Cavuto advance falsehoods that put our world at risk, Murdoch cannot escape responsibility. If the environment continues to decline, if there are catastrophic storms and floods, if there is famine and strife, it is very realistically and provably the fault of Rupert Murdoch. We will not allow him to evade responsibility for his deadly actions.

Ashamed And Sickened By Roger Ailes

Roger Ailes

Fox News CEO Roger Ailes has become a bit of a crimp in the Murdoch family’s harmony. The New York Times is reporting that Matthew Freud, the husband of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, Elisabeth, is not particularly fond of his in-laws.

Freud: I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.

Uh oh. That’s gotta make for some awkward holiday gatherings. Freud’s complaint isn’t a trivial personal incompatibility. He is aiming straight at the heart of a news enterprise’s most cherished asset: its journalistic standards. The charge of “horrendous and sustained disregard” is hardly an incidental difference of opinion. And the fact that there are others who share his shame doesn’t smooth things out for Ailes.

Freud is married to Elisabeth Murdoch, who left the family business to run her own UK-based enterprise, Shine Limited. Shine also has interests in the U.S., including Reveille, the company that produces “The Office” and “Ugly Betty.” Elisabeth was an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama and held a fundraiser for him in London. That contrasts significantly with the views of Ailes, whom the Times says threatened to quit if Murdoch permitted his New York Post to endorse Obama for president.

The Times notes that Ailes also played a part in Lachlan Murdoch’s decision to leave his father’s company in 2004 and return to Australia. Up until then Lachlan was considered Rupert’s heir apparent. The article goes on to hype Ailes’ mythic reputation as a political strategist and media guru. But what it doesn’t say is that while being successful at lining the pockets of the principles, Fox News was also killing the Republican Party.

It’s good to know that there are some reasonable members of the Murdoch clan who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions. It makes for some interesting speculation about the future of News Corp. when the Murdoch progeny assume control. While son James is still a high-ranking executive running Papa’s European satellite operations, siblings Elisabeth and Lachlan will inherit equal voting shares from their father’s estate.

Should any of this make Ailes nervous? Well, would you want to keep a division head that made you “ashamed and sickened” if you inherited a multinational media empire? Would you allow your news network to continue to have a “horrendous and sustained disregard” for journalistic standards? Would Ailes even want to remain at Fox with Obama supporters as his new bosses? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

[Update] News Corp responds: “Matthew Freud’s opinions are his own and in no way reflect the views of Rupert Murdoch, who is proud of Roger Ailes and Fox News.”

Rupert Murdoch’s pride in Ailes irrevocably ties him to the insults, lies, and journalistic disrepute that is the hallmark of Ailes and his stars like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly. Murdoch again chooses to align himself with the dregs of the television idiocracy. That will be his legacy.

Rupert Murdoch: We Did Not Start This Abuse

When News Corp released their quarterly earnings yesterday, analysts took the opportunity to address some issues that have plagued the company’s cable news division, Fox News. News Corp Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch, was characteristically combative – and dishonest.

The key question was from Brian Stelter of the New York Times:

“There was much talk in the past three months about an agreement between News Corporation and General Electric to limit the attacks between Fox and MSNBC. Is News Corporation continuing to seek to limit those attacks?”

Let’s just ignore the prejudicial framing of the question that implies that Fox has already been seeking to limit attacks. There has been absolutely no evidence of that, so it makes no sense to ask if it will continue. Murdoch, however, wasn’t going to complain about a such a propitiously delivered inquiry. He responded by whining that “they started it.”

“We did not start this abuse, which we thought went way beyond – it was personal and went way beyond – not on me, but on others, and it was finally we had to allow people to retaliate. And the moment they stop, we’ll stop.”

The truth, however, is a quite different from Murdoch’s representation. The hostility between Fox and it’s cable news colleagues was initiated by Fox from the day they launched in 1996. The utterly cynical “fair and balanced” slogan was an intentional slap at the other networks, whom they were accusing of bias. The meaning of the slogan was not that Fox would present the news with fairness or balance, but that they would serve to counter what they delusionally viewed as the imbalance of the rest of the media.

Since the ideological battle between the networks began on the day Fox debuted, Murdoch can hardly accuse the other networks of starting the abuse. But it didn’t stop there. In January of 2007, Fox ran an on-air promo that said they were “The only cable news channel that does not bring you the usual left wing bias.”

And that wasn’t all. They subsequently ran ads that accused CNN of being partisan and the Fox Nation promos declared that it was “time to say no to biased media.” More recently, they falsely claimed in a trade ad that CNN had failed to cover the Tea Bagger events that Fox itself was sponsoring. So much for fairness and balance. Murdoch himself admitted that his network’s slogan was a fraud in April of 2008 when he said…

“It’s very hard to be neutral. People laugh at us because we call ourselves ‘Fair and Balanced.’ Fact is, CNN, who’s always been extremely liberal, never had a Republican or conservative voice on it.”

People are laughing at you because you make such hysterically inane remarks like that one. Just a reminder – CNN’s lineup of conservatives: Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan, Mary Matalin, Tucker Carlson, Lynne Cheney, Lou Dobbs, etc. Fox’s lineup of liberals: Alan Colmes.

Not only was Murdoch wrong about who started this war, he also improperly asserted that it was made personal by his rivals. That doesn’t really square with the facts. How would he characterize this comment from Bill O’Reilly:

“[T]here is a huge problem in this country and I’m going to attack that problem. I’m going to attack it. These people aren’t getting away with this. I’m going to go right where they live. Every corrupt media person in this country is on notice, right now. I’m coming after you…I’m going to hunt you down […] if I could strangle these people and not go to hell and get executed…I would.”

Nah, that aint personal. And then there was the time that Roger Ailes threatened that he would “unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.” That was just after O’Reilly called GE chairman Jeffrey Immelt “a despicable human being” who was responsible for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. And Ailes kept his promise about unleashing the New York Post who published hit pieces on Keith Olbermann that included his home address. No, not personal at all.

Now Murdoch is misrepresenting the entire affair. It is demonstrably evident that Fox started the name-calling and bullying long before this current imbroglio began. And it was Fox who escalated it to bitter and personal insults. Now Murdoch says that “the moment they stop, we’ll stop.” That is almost exactly what Fox said in May of last year. But since then, Fox has only become more adversarial, showing no interest in anything but conflict and confrontation.

So contrary to Murdoch’s assertion, Fox not only started the abuse, they raised it to unprecedented levels. Now Murdoch complains that he doesn’t like it. Well, he’s saddled with it now. He invented it and promoted it. It is his legacy. Along with giving the world nutcases like Glenn Beck. That is how we remember Rupert Murdoch.

The Glenn Beck/Fox News Boycott Goes International

In the few weeks that have transpired since Glenn Beck called President Obama a racist, the campaign to persuade advertisers from patronizing his program has grown phenomenally. Today there are over 60 companies that have withdrawn from his show because they do not want their brands associated with the hatred and hostility for which Beck is known. And these are significant national advertisers like Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble. Color of Change, the group spearheading the action, is continuing to apply pressure.

But now the campaign has expanded into the international arena. The Guardian UK is reporting that Waitrose, Britain’s most upmarket supermarket chain, has pulled all of their advertising, not just from Beck, but from all of the Fox News Channel.

“We take the placement of our ads in individual programmes very seriously, ensuring the content of these programmes is deemed appropriate for a brand with our values,” said a customer services spokesman. “Since being notified of our presence within the Glenn Beck programme, we have withdrawn all Waitrose advertising from the Fox News channel with immediate effect and for all future TV advertising campaigns.”

Fox News airs in Europe on Sky satellite television. Sky itself is part of the international media empire owned by Rupert Murdoch who, of course, also owns Fox News. Sky’s chairman is Murdoch’s son James, who is the likely heir to the News Corp. throne.

Notable in this announcement is that Waitrose explicitly states that their ads will be withheld from all of Fox News. Previously, Fox has claimed that they were not suffering any revenue loss because ads removed from Beck were simply shifting to other programs. They can no longer make that claim.

I have maintained that Fox’s claim regarding their revenue never held water because advertisers shifting to other programs would only displace the ads those programs already had. There is only so much inventory (i.e. air time) in TV. Therefore, at best it would neutral, assuming that Beck brought in replacement ads, which he didn’t. He was left with low-paying direct marketers and locals that can’t possibly raise the same revenue as Geico and Best Buy. What’s more, a recent study revealed that Beck’s show is losing about $500,000 a week. So even with his ratings increasing, Fox is incapable of converting them into dollars.

At some point Fox will have to decide whether covering for Beck is worth it. Eventually the taint will rub off on the network (more so than presently). There will be more Waitrose’s. Does Fox want to be regarded as so committed to promoting Beck’s beastly behavior that they will do so no matter how much money or reputation they lose?

Rupert Murdoch’s Anti-Competitive Internet News Cartel

The newspaper industry’s woes are nothing new. They have been suffering declining revenues in both subscriptions and advertising for a couple of years. Some portion of that decline is attributable to the economy, but there is no question that the Internet has had an impact as well.

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of news behemoth News Corporation, has been grumbling about what he regards as theft of his content for some time. Earlier this month he addressed a shareholder’s meeting and announced that News Corp would soon be charging for all of its Internet news properties. That, in my opinion, would fail to produce the results Murdoch desires. There is an abundance of news available online for free and there is little evidence that people would pay for access to Fox News or the New York Post.

Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Murdoch is seeking to assemble the most powerful families in the news business to create a syndicate that would extort money from the news consuming public:

“As newspapers across the country struggle with declining readership and advertising revenue, News Corp. executives have been meeting in recent weeks with publishers about forming a consortium that would charge for news distributed online and on portable devices — and potentially stem the rising tide of red ink.”

The participating companies include the New York Times, Washington Post, Hearst Corp. and Tribune Co. With a roster like that it is difficult to imagine that they could get very far without being questioned by the Justice Department. The appearance of collusion and anti-trust activity could not be more conspicuous. There is no plausible justification for these enterprises to collectively plot a pay scheme for their individual services. It is blatantly anti-competitive and disadvantageous to consumers.

In the end, Murdoch’s proposals would not even resolve the problems the industry is facing. Any revenue that would be generated in this fashion would be a tiny percentage of the earnings these companies produce. And if they are presently losing customers who are willing to pay for subscriptions, what makes them think that these same customers would pay for the same product online?

The prospective members of Murdoch’s cartel should think long and hard about whether his counsel has any value. His own business just reported a loss of $3.4 billion. He personally was forced to take a 28% pay cut. His stewardship of MySpace is notable for his having turned it into a has-been, anti-social network that has been eclipsed by Facebook and Twitter. The New York Post has lost about $50 million annually for the past ten years. His track record on the Internet is abysmal. He is yesterday’s baron of dead-tree media whose only success has been with a cable “news” network that traffics in sensationalism and propaganda. Is this really someone whose advice should be taken seriously?

To sum up, Murdoch has a record of incompetence with regard to new media. The online pay model has failed spectacularly in all but a few non-representative cases. There is little money to be made by charging online news consumers. The availability of free news online is not only not receding, it is advancing. When the residue of the old world media is cleared from the landscape, and the economy regains some stability and vibrancy, then advertising will resume its customary place for funding news services online just like it has on every other platform it has ever employed.

The last thing the industry needs is to listen to a washed up, ink stained, relic who advocates strong-arming newspapers and consumers into an unlawful strategy that is bound to fail.

GE And News Corp: The Saga Continues

As previously reported, executives at GE and News Corp have been attempting to broker a deal that would end the bickering between the networks and, mostly, Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. I continue to maintain that it would be a violation of journalistic ethics for the execs to interfere with the judgment of their commentators. But the brass at GE and News Corp don’t seem to agree with me.

The first attempt at a truce was broken within 48 hours by Olbermann who, on returning from vacation, skewered O’Reilly royally, just like the good old days. O’Reilly took up the gauntlet and, as per his routine, ignored Olbermann and went straight after his boss at GE, Jeffrey Immelt. The tactic of bypassing Olbermann and aiming at Immelt is said to have been personally suggested by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. With the war on again, the combatants began to reveal some of their innermost thoughts – particularly Ailes who, according to the Washington Post, summarized the situation thusly:

Ailes offered a blunt, if slightly jocular, diagnosis of the problem. He could control his nutcases, Ailes said, but Immelt couldn’t control his.

That says so much. First, Ailes is acknowledging that his people are nutcases (as if we didn’t already know). And second, Ailes is admitting that he has the power to manipulate the content and views of the nutcases who host Fox programs.

GE has issued a statement saying that they haven’t “told anyone at NBC News or MSNBC how to report the news.” But the New York Times claims to have sources who said that, not only was there a deal that covered Olbermann and O’Reilly, but also…

“Employees of daytime programs on MSNBC were specifically told by executives not to mention Fox hosts in segments critical of conservative media figures.”

What I want to know is, how can you produce a segment critical of conservative media figures without mentioning Fox hosts?

Olbermann (and anyone in his position) deserves respect for standing up to interference from the suits in the suites. It is the ethical thing to do in the news business. You simply do not let them intrude on your news judgment, especially if your job is to provide analysis and opinion. Unless, of course, you’re Bill O’Reilly, who is a coward, and a puppet for Ailes, who has previously admitted that he has the ability to direct what is said by Murdoch-owned pundits on TV and in print (over which he has no executive authority):

“Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

This was basically extortion on the part of Ailes who literally served notice on GE saying that, “If you stop, we’ll stop.” The objective by both the GE and News Corp executives has nothing to do with the pursuit of news. Rather, it is a self-serving plot to tamp down any criticism of the parent companies. They are looking after their corporate interest, not the public interest.

This whole affair is a near perfect illustration of why monolithic corporations, with vested interests in far flung business and government affairs, should not be permitted to own news enterprises.

Would You Pay To Read Fox News?

Rupert Murdoch announced today that he intends to convert all of News Corp’s online news assets to subscription services. This news was released along with the quarterly earnings for News Corp that revealed a full year net loss of $3.4 billion, down from a profit of $5.4 billion.

If he thinks that he is going to recoup his losses by shutting the gates to his web properties, and sending that traffic to his competitors, he will be bitterly disappointed. News is not the sort of product that maintains exclusivity for very long. If there’s an earthquake in Peru or a celebrity dies, that information cannot be copyrighted and doled out by a privileged owner. And even when a reporter uncovers a major story after weeks of diligent and skillful research, as soon as it hits the streets it’s just more news and everyone else can pass it on to their audience.

The inherent value of a news enterprise is its credibility, its relationship with the customer, and its advertising reach. By erecting a wall between the publisher and the customer, both of the latter two items are severely squeezed. And if no one is consuming your product, credibility is hardly a concern. Nevertheless, Murdoch seems intent on his strategy for wringing revenue from his web visitors, but his arguments make little sense.

MURDOCH: The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive methods of distribution but it has not made content free. Accordingly we intend to charge for all our news websites.

Of course the truth is that it has made content free – at lease the majority of it, including most of what Murdoch publishes. Part of the reason it is free is due to the many new and inexpensive methods of distribution. If you remove costly production items like paper and presses and warehouses and trucks, you ought to be able to publish with significantly lower overhead. That means that advertising alone should be sufficient to be profitable. Television networks do it, and they have far greater overhead in production costs and celebrity salaries.

MURDOCH: Quality journalism is not cheap and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalizing its ability to produce good reporting.

Again, the media is a unique marketplace that has always given away its content in exchange for eyeballs that can be peddled to advertisers. And with regard to quality journalism not being cheap, that is something that Murdoch has never had to worry about since he doesn’t deal in quality journalism.

Murdoch has been a vocal critic of Google and other news aggregators who he says are stealing his product. He accuses them of benefiting from his company’s hard work without paying for it. But his Fox Nation is doing precisely the same thing by posting links to other news sites without offering them any payment either. So I wonder if he intends to start compensating those sites after he commences to charge for his own.

I still can’t see much of a market for online subscriptions to Fox News, Fox Nation, the New York Post, etc. Murdoch says that the fees charged by the Wall Street Journal are proof that the subscription model will work. But the differential between a subscription to the Journal and the Journal online is only forty cents a week. I suspect that that is not much of a barrier for Journal readers. Consequently, that may account for any success seen in that marketplace (although we don’t even know if there is any success because Murdoch will not release data on the Journal’s online only subscriber base).

In the end, Murdoch will just be doing a favor for all the other online news sites who learn to operate profitably without subscription fees. As the market matures there will be more and more of them. Advertisers will migrate to the web as it increasingly provides a superior return to fading newspapers. And since Murdoch is overweighted in dead-tree media, and his online acumen has been notoriously sub par (witness MySpace), this is just good news all around – the kind even I’d be willing to pay for (but don’t tell Rupert).

GE And FOX Agree To Censor Their News Divisions

In a report in the New York Times, the corporate parents of NBC and Fox News were brought together at a summit for CEO’s in an attempt to settle a long-simmering feud. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, and Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp, sat down to try to work things out.

What they were striving to resolve was the eternal and bitter competition between MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. This affair has been a rancorous, and often humorous, battle wherein Olbermann frequently awarded O’Reilly his “Worst Person in the World,” trophy, and O’Reilly countered by slandering NBC, GE, and Immelt personally (O’Reilly would never utter Olbermann’s name). According to the Times’ Brian Stelter…

“It was a media cage fight, televised every weeknight at 8 p.m. But the match was halted when the blood started to spray executives in the high-priced seats.”

There are two things that are immensely disturbing about this backroom handshake. First and foremost, the corporate parents of news enterprises ought not to be dictating the content of their news divisions, or the opinions of their commentators. That is especially true if the reason for the ivory tower interference is to dampen any blowback on the parent company’s business or executives resulting from controversial positions. This is about the best example of why it is unwise for corporations with vested interests in broader business and government affairs to own news publishers to begin with.

Secondly, the result of this inter-cable warfare is precisely what Fox News wanted. MSNBC is caving in to a deliberate tactic designed to halt criticism of Fox and its personnel. It is a one-sided victory for Fox that comes at the expense of MSNBC’s best interests and dignity. It was less than four months ago that Fox News CEO, Roger Ailes, laid down the threat from which they are now reaping the harvest. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post reported the tantrum Ailes threw in response to the escalating on-air debate:

“Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

That’s precisely what happened, and it didn’t even take two weeks for Fox to follow through on its threat. Now we see this truce in effect at least partly because Immelt doesn’t like being called “a despicable human being” by O’Reilly. And the worst part is that Fox’s blatant bullying is being rewarded with a complete capitulation by MSNBC.

For these networks to enforce this agreement is nothing short of censorship. Olbermann responded with an email that said that he was not a party to any agreement, but he also seems to have halted his once routine attacks on O’Reilly and Fox News. As for Fox, their position now is that it is appropriate to direct their commentators to steer clear of certain topics. But that appears to apply only to topics that negatively impact the company brass. Just last week, after Glenn Beck called President Obama a racist, Fox released a statement that said that beck had merely…

“…expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.”

That freedom, of course, has limitations. From the Fox News point of view, it is alright for one of their hosts to comment disparagingly on the President of the United States, but it is not OK to comment on the president of the company. The company, after all, is sacrosanct and its interests are superior to those of the nation.

It is disheartening to see this sort of corporate thuggery imposed on what should be independent news divisions. One can only hope that the truce will fail and free expression will prevail.

Update: Olbermann returned from vacation and struck down any notion that the network brass would dictate the content of his program. To prove it, he returned Bill O’Reilly to the “World’s Worst” list and reprised his old “Bill-O the Clown” routine. Apparently, news of a network truce were exaggerated. That’s good news.

Rupert Murdoch Running Criminal News Enterprise?

The Guardian has a story that simply must be read:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers has paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories.

The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures and to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private investigators.

Today, the Guardian reveals details of the suppressed evidence which may open the door to hundreds more legal actions by victims of News Group, the Murdoch company that publishes the News of the World and the Sun, as well as provoking police inquiries into reporters who were involved and the senior executives responsible for them.

The rest of the story just gets more lurid. This is a shocking look into the way that Murdoch and his accomplices operate.

[Update 7/9/09] Rupert Murdoch appeared on his own Fox Business Network today where Stuart Varney, who is notorious for aggressively challenging (i.e. interrupting) liberals, attempted to ask him a question:

Varney: The story that is really buzzing all around the country, and certainly right here in New York, is that the News of the World, a News Corporation newspaper in Britain…
Murdoch: No, I’m not talking about that issue at all today.
Varney: OK. No worries, Mr. Chairman. That’s fine with me.

That’s fine with you? Way to suck up to your boss, Stuart.

Murdoch Pawns Off Weekly Standard To Anschutz

Rupert Mudoch’s News Corp. has been bleeding badly financially. They have lost 49% of their stock value in the past 52 weeks. And acquiring the Wall Street Journal for $5 billion just as the newspaper business was collapsing couldn’t have helped matters.

Now News Corp. is reporting that they are unloading the Weekly Standard, the uber-rightist magazine founded by neo-icon, William Kristal. No reason or sale price was given in the announcement, but it is fairly evident that Murdoch needs to raise some cash and cut costs to service his massive debt.

The buyer is Clarity Media Group, a part of Phillip Anschutz’s billion dollar media and entertainment conglomerate. Clarity is the publisher of the Washington Examiner, a conservative freebie tabloid in D.C.

Don’t expect much to change at the Standard. Kristal will likely stay aboard, along with executive editor Fred Barnes. Both will also remain Fox News contributors. If anything, the magazine may begin to feature more stories dealing with Anschutz’s obsession for Dark Ages Christian Fundamentalism. He is a major backer of the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank. He also finances anti-gay and pro-censorship organizations and initiatives.

In other words…more of the same.