Junk News Gets FCC Seal Of Approval

Junk NewsTelevision news has taken criticism from every direction imaginable. It is accused of being too far left, or too far right, or too shallow, or too consumed with profit, etc.

Now the Federal Communications Commission has settled the argument. Television news is too newsy. The FCC’s latest satire-defying ruling has declared that the gossip-mongers at TMZ, and the God-casters at Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, are “bona fide” news providers. In arriving at that ruling, the Commissioners had to conclude that there would be no overt political partisanship in the news content from these parties.

The significance of this ruling is that the broadcast licensees of these programs will not have to comply with political equal-time requirements. In the case of TMZ, the licensees are the stations in the Fox Television Station group owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The 700 Club, of course, is openly partisan and is controlled and hosted by a former Republican candidate for president. So obviously the FCC found that there was no risk of political favoritism from these notorious right-wing entities.

Perhaps the most embarrassing revelation in this story is that the FCC justified the ruling by citing Entertainment Tonight as a precedent. Apparently the standard for newscaster bona fides is that they cover:

“…some area of current events, in a manner similar to more traditional newscasts.”

More traditional newscasts like Entertainment Tonight? This is the modern media measure for newsworthiness. And this why the legacy news networks have all taken to emulating ET. It is why Lindsay Lohan leads the evening news broadcast even when soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq. It is why Rev. Wright dominates the news cycle even when the economy falters and thousands of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure.

It may seem ludicrous that the FCC would grant newscaster status to TMZ and the 700 Club, but the real joke is that, by contemporary standards, they deserve it.


17 thoughts on “Junk News Gets FCC Seal Of Approval

  1. Josh Silver of FreePress wrote an article on this subject for the Huffington Post. A commenter, DDike88, responded saying:

    Josh, in the future, when lamenting about the state of journalism, it will suit you well to get your facts straight. TMZ is part of Time Warner, not News Corp, not Rupert Murdoch. Not only are you opening yourself up to ridicule, you are advancing a falsehood on the public. While TMZ represents all that is wrong with celebrity media, this sort of laziness on your part represents everything that is wrong with what you might call “real journalism”. You’ve effectively shot your argument in the foot. Fix it.

    • This is my reply to DDike88:

      It is you who is opening himself up for ridicule.

      Josh never says in this article that TMZ is owned by Murdoch. He cites only, “Rupert Murdoch’s broadcast of TMZ…”

      TMZ has a multi-year contract to air on Fox’s owned and operated TV station group. And since any equal access regulations apply to the broadcaster, not the producer, it’s irrelevant who owns the program.

      So it’s your laziness that is more representative of journalism’s problems.

      • Then HuffPo blogger Jeff Norman sent me this email:

        Your silly semantic quibbling overlooks the fact that TMZ is syndicated on many non-Fox stations – including several CBS and ABC affiliates. Therefore, it’s inappropriate for Josh to refer to TMZ as “Rupert Murdoch’s broadcast,” and inappropriate for you to criticize DDike88 as you have. You’re correct that equal access regulations apply to the broadcaster, but they apply to ALL broadcasters, not just Fox. Josh certainly gave readers the impression that Rupert Murdoch’s involvement is more significant than it really is, and DDike88 deserves to be applauded for pointing it out. Furthermore, your analysis is schizophrenic. On one hand, you acknowledge TMZ and the 700 Club are no different than other news programs, while on the other hand, you claim the FCC’s decision is faulty. On your blog you write: “In arriving at that ruling, the Commissioners had to conclude that there would be no overt political partisanship in the news content from these parties.” That’s not true. Actually, the FCC indicated it considers partisanship a very real possibility when it included in its ruling this line: “The licensees of the stations on which the subject program airs remain ultimately responsible for a determination to air a particular program and should not do so for the political advantage of a candidate for public office.” So it seems you are the one who is lazy, as you failed to unearth a point that destroys your flimsy argument.

        Accurately yours,

        Jeff Norman

        • And here is my reply to Jeff:

          I defer to your obvious expertise on semantic quibbling.

          For the record, however, TMZ was specifically developed by TelePictures as a Fox Station Group property. Of its 217 stations, 103 are Fox affiliates. Most of the others are either signatories to the MyFox syndicated program lineup, or CW affils (owned by the same parent corp as TelePictures). So I don’t think it’s inappropriate for Josh or me to refer to Murdoch in a way that properly illuminates his “significance.” And, by the way, CBS and ABC affiliates are free to schedule MyFox, or any other syndicated programming, in their off-net time slots – and they do so.

          As for my schizophrenia, I think you’re really just experiencing the symptoms of your own irony-ectomy. My point was that the FCC’s standards for what constitutes news are embarrassingly low, and that is why TMZ and the 700 Club are able to meet them. But thanks for your concern.

          My argument as to the political content of programming would seem less flimsy if you bothered to comprehend it. The line you cite from the ruling actually affirms my position, which is that the Commission’s rules direct broadcasters not to provide “political advantage.” All I was saying was that it seems reasonable that the commissioners, when making their ruling, would have some expectation that the broadcasters intend to follow the rules.

          Lazily yours…

        • Mark:

          You wrote: “In the case of TMZ, the licensees are the stations in the Fox Television Station group owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.” That depiction does not accurately describe all the stations, only some. Your belated effort (in response to my email) to explain Murdoch’s limited involvement, is more obfuscation than illumination at this point, because it is extended for the purpose of evading responsibility for having given readers the same false impression Josh did.

          If your schizophrenia were not imposing itself, it would not “seem ludicrous [to you] that the FCC would grant newscaster status to TMZ and the 700 Club.” The ruling you and Josh are lamenting as if it represents some new low, is really perfectly consistent with prior rulings, and is barely worth mentioning. It is based on rational and well-established criteria you haven’t bothered to challenge, except in the vaguest of ways.

          Your point about expecting a licensee to follow the rules, skirts a more salient point: Equal time determinations are made on a case-by-case basis, whereas the classification of a program as a newscast, is determined by what elements are contained in a program on an ongoing basis.

          You and Josh both seem to believe the FCC’s ruling is somehow faulty, but neither of you have supported this contention with any specifics. People with a history of partisanship are not and should not be prohibited from producing newscasts. Predictions and hunches concerning possible future partisanship are irrelevant.


        • “Murdoch’s limited involvement…” ???

          Oh c’mon. You say that I did not “accurately describe all the stations, only some…” Well, only most – by far!

          Again, you’ve mis-read my remarks. I did not say that the ruling was faulty. In fact, I explicitly stated that, based on prior rulings, it was deserved. My point being that the FCC’s standards are too low, and have been for some time.

          It all comes down to how the FCC defines a newscaster. If you think that a program centered on celebrity gossip, innuendo, titillating speculation, and paid-for promotion, is news; if you think that overtly partisan political hucksterism and religious proselytizing, is news, than you and I have very different ideas about the practice of journalism.

        • As you correctly pointed out in your immediately preceding post, the majority of the stations that carry TMZ are NOT Fox stations. But now you inexplicably claim that “most – by far” of the stations that carry TMZ are “stations in the Fox Television Station group owned by Rupert Murdoch’s New Corp.” Which is it, Mark?

          I realize you acknowledged “that, based on prior rulings, [the FCC decision] was deserved.” But you also – in the HuffPo comments section, and on your own blog – criticized the ruling. That’s why I described your analysis as schizophrenic.

          If your main point really is that the FCC’s standards are too low, you might consider making an argument about that issue, instead of merely stating a conclusion. Do you, or do you not, have something to say?

          News, in the context we’re discussing, is only the name of a category that refers to criteria which triggers (or doesn’t trigger) equal time requirements. Your idealized view of journalism is a separate matter.

        • Huh??? This is getting weird.

          1) I said that 103 of TMZ’s 217 clearances are Fox stations and most of the remaining stations were MyFox syndication affils. That’s a majority, and I have been consistent on that.

          2) I criticized the ruling because it’s based on standards so ridiculous that TMZ and the 700 Club meet them. The ruling is only “deserved” because the standards are so low. I’m running out of ways to restate this. Do you really not get it?

          Do I have something to say??? Ummm…I’ve been saying it. Perhaps you’re not hearing it because my “idealized” view of journalism has triggering criteria that is too finely pitched for your ears. Seriously, these things don’t register on your list of criteria: celebrity gossip, innuendo, titillating speculation, paid-for promotion, political hucksterism and religious proselytizing. Those are appropriately in the news “category” in your view?

        • Our exchange really isn’t all that weird; it’s just that you have problems with continuity. You need to follow the flow of the conversation. The text is sitting there for you to review, but I’ll help you:

          Referring to what you had written (“In the case of TMZ, the licensees are the stations in the Fox Television Station group owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.”), I wrote: “That depiction does not accurately describe all the stations, only some.” You then replied: “Oh c’mon. You say that I did not ‘accurately describe all the stations, only some…’ Well, only most – by far!” I then reminded you that less than half the stations that carry TMZ are “owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.” Now you’re patting yourself on the back for your supposed consistency, even though you’re guilty – as the record clearly indicates – of confusing “MyFox syndication affils” with “stations in the Fox Television Station group owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.”

          What exactly are “MyFox syndication affils,” and how do the airings of TMZ on such non-Fox stations qualify as Rupert Murdoch broadcasts? Can you point us to anywhere on the web that identifies these stations, and describes their relationship to Murdoch or Fox?

          My criteria for defining news (which you reference devoid of context) matter less than yours at this point, because you are the one who has chosen to publicly denounce the FCC’s criteria. The problem is, you haven’t bothered to explain what criteria would be better and why. That’s why I question whether or not you have anything to say. As with Josh, you seem to believe it is somehow enlightening to merely express disapproval. It is not.

        • First it was weird, now it’s just tiresome. I’m not going to explain – again – how Murdoch is affiliated with TMZ’s broadcasts through both station ownership and syndication. I’m not going to tutor you on TV programming and marketing. Do your own homework.

          You’re right, I didn’t say what criteria I would include, but I clearly stated what I would exclude. I’m not going to draft regulations for the FCC. That doesn’t invalidate my opinion on the regs that exist.

          The most tiresome part of this is your obsession with the level of Murdoch’s involvement. Setting aside the syndication part of this that you don’t understand, at least you can see that there are more Fox clearances than any other station group. So at the very least it’s a plurality. But in the end, my interest in this was more about the FCC than Murdoch. And while this did start with my response to an anonymous and insignificant comment at HuffPo about Murdoch, that was never my primary concern.

          Stop copping out, Jeff. Are you satisfied with the FCC’s criteria for news? You don’t have to submit an alternative policy paper to answer that question.

        • You think I’m copping out? That’s funny. I already told you the FCC’s ruling is “based on rational and well-established criteria,” so yes, I’m satisfied.

          Regardless of how you wish to characterize my level of familiarity with the TV syndication business, it’s a fact that you incorrectly described more than half the stations that carry TMZ when you wrote: “In the case of TMZ, the licensees are the stations in the Fox Television Station group owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.” Your belated and vague argument about some sort of a secret syndication deal has nothing to do with who owns the stations.

          You are the one who is copping out, because you are the one who publicly denounced the FCC’s criteria. To say gossip isn’t news, is tantamount to saying nothing at all.

          You are also copping out in reference to the secret syndication deal upon which your absurd argument depends. If the relationship between Murdoch and all the non-Fox stations that carry TMZ really exists as you claim it does, there would certainly be evidence of this purported relationship that could easily be found on the internet. It would take you MUCH less time to simply provide a link to such evidence, than it has taken you to write and defend your falsities and obfuscations. Could it be that no such evidence exists on the internet, because the relationship you claim exists, is actually nonexistent?

        • “…secret syndication deal…” ??? Tin foil a little tight, is it?

          This is now officially pathetic. Here’s the link you couldn’t find on your own. Now I’m through doing your work for you.

          As I said before, I don’t even really care about this issue. I’m more concerned with the larger FCC matters. Now that you’ve reiterated your position approving of the FCC’s criteria, I think I know all I need to know. If you think that crap like TMZ and the 700 Club ought to be considered bona fide news programs, you’re entitled to your opinion. God help us if there are many more who share that opinion. I hope and expect that Obama’s FCC will look very different than the one we have now.

        • I agree this is pathetic. Seldom have I encountered anyone who is as wrong so consistently and in so many ways, and is so oblivious to it, as you. Do you ever get ANYTHING right?

          You claimed the name of the syndication service is MyFox. The press release that supposedly supports your contention, however, touts a service known by another name (originally My Network TV, now MyNetworkTV). For you, that’s a relatively minor error. The more egregious blunder concerns your insistence that TMZ is part of this service. The press release – issued more than two years ago – makes no mention of TMZ, and the list of current shows on the MyNetworkTV website, does not include TMZ. So you have utterly failed to substantiate your allegation that a relationship exists between Rupert Murdoch and TMZ that is so significant, it warrants referring to TMZ as a Rupert Murdoch broadcast, or anything similar. Indeed, you have failed so miserably that your “evidence” contains no indication of even a MINOR relationship between the entities.

          How sad you can’t bring yourself to concede that you inaccurately described more than half the stations that carry TMZ when you wrote: “In the case of TMZ, the licensees are the stations in the Fox Television Station group owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.”

          It’s laughable that you are trying to weasel out of your self-made hell by downplaying the importance of your now disproved assertion, which was important enough for you to make and defend until I exposed your fraudulence. Now you unconvincingly say you “don’t even really care about this issue.” Apparently, you possess no sense of shame.

          As for the “larger FCC matters” that concern you, it appears you have nothing meaningful to say. It’s true that TMZ and the 700 Club don’t produce anything resembling a quality newscast, but so what? How would we be better off if these programs weren’t defined as bona fide news programs under the equal time rule?

        • “Do you ever get ANYTHING right?”

          Well, I was right about you being pathetic!

          You are further demonstrating your utter lack of any ability to research your arguments re: MyNetworkTV and MyFox. Like I said, I’m not doing your work for you anymore. And just because you keep saying that I’ve failed, doesn’t make it true. It just makes you more annoying.

          What’s sad is that you persist with this obsession about something that is a mere side issue. Even if I gave up trying to get you to understand (which I do), the difference between “most” of the affils being Fox stations or not (counting only Fox network affils – no syndication) is a paltry 6 stations (out of 217). THAT’S what you’re arguing about!?!

          What’s laughable is your accusation that I’m trying to weasel out of anything. If you read my original article above, it is clear that the FCC was my primary concern from the beginning (there is only one sentence about Fox).

          And if your only response to the FCC certifying Junk TV as bona fide news is “So what?” then you’re the one who should be ashamed.

        • And further more, your tone is repulsive. From the very beginning you insulted me by calling me “silly” and “schizophrenic.” You eventually escalated that to “weasel” and “fraudulent.” Now you even have me doing it, which I regret. I normally try to maintain a civil discourse. Look what you’ve done!

          This is my blog, I have to be here. Haven’t you got anything better to do? 🙂

        • On HuffPo, you accused someone of laziness. That person had merely expressed an opinion you don’t like. So your record of civility is less than stellar.

          Yes, I have something better to do. I’m done kicking a cripple.

  2. The 700 Club? Do we laugh or do we cry?

    Pat Robertson says God talks to him and he uses his tv show to “heal” and to speak “words of knowledge” and to of course, ask for money. He gives money to the needy, yes, but he is also padding his pockets and the pockets of his family members. He exploits his position for personal and political power. He said that Katrina was God’s discipline and the terrorists were from God as discipline too. He was a Y2K expert and told us to stock up on bottled water and candles! He talks about who should be “taken out” and tells his viewers to “touch their tv screens for a miracle.” Pat Robertson says he is a prophet, a descendent of royalty, a patriot and can leg press two thousand pounds. His fake holyman adulterer son is now in charge of the con games, continuing in his hate-filled daddy’s footprints, feigning holiness on tv for the purpose of bringing in money. I watched recently as Gordon told about how he healed a crippled boy and then healed the boy’s mute sister. These people are frauds and so much worse. They exploit the most trusting souls and nobody gives a damn. They have a license to lie and to cheat and to steal and to claim that God blesses them.

    Pat Robertson hires former beauty queens and actresses to work with him on that “legitimate” news program.

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