An Alternative To Murdoch For Dow Jones

The Bancroft Family met today with Satan…er…Rupert Murdoch to discuss selling their soul…er…interest in Dow Jones. The meeting was a capitulation to an untrustworthy media baron whose word is about as reliable as a New York Post Page 6 columnist. At the meeting, Murdoch likely insisted that he has no intentions of interfering with editorial decisions at the Wall Street Journal, and he probably claimed that he has never done so with his other media properties. Of course, that would be a lie.

Representatives of the Bancrofts are wasting their time if they think that Murdoch will propose credible options for maintaining editorial independence. Even if he were to make a plausibly acceptable offer, he could hardly be counted on to uphold the agreement once the ink on the contract is dry.

The Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, the union representing Dow Jones, is joining with the Newspaper Guild and the Communications Workers of America to seek out alternative buyers for the company. They have obtained the services of Ownership Associates, the same firm that tried to help steer the sale of Knight Ridder to a group headed by Ron Burkle. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Burkle emerged as the buyer for Dow Jones, stealing the property out from under the Murdoch banner whose New York Post slandered him and led to the Page 6 extortion scandal?

If the Bancrofts and/or the unions are listening, I have a suggestion for them. Why not create a non-profit consortium to purchase the company? Such an owner would provide the media assets of Dow Jones an unprecedented measure of independence and free them from the short-term concerns of shareholders. This idea is not new and has been advocated in many circles as a superior model for media ownership for quite some time. There is even an example of success in this regard in the Poynter Institute, a Florida journalism school, which is also the owner of the St. Petersburg Times of Florida and the Congressional Quarterly.

There could not be a better candidate for advancing this concept than the parent of the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is more than a daily newspaper. For better or worse, it is the clarion for business news and information worldwide. CEOs, investment managers, pensioners, and other citizens use it shape the financial status of their enterprises and families. Removing it from the constraints of for-profit management could promote a dedication to journalistic integrity and impartiality.

There is already a non-profit cooperative in the media realm that might be worth a look as a potential suitor for Dow Jones. The Associated Press is owned by the 1,500 daily newspapers that comprise its membership. It already functions as a syndicator of news content, as does Dow Jones (which also owns the DowJones Newswires). Pair it with an academic institution like Annenberg, and perhaps a mogul like Burkle, and you may have the basis for a White Knight that could rescue the Bancrofts from the Murdochs and serve as a new model for the future of an industry that is presently in decline.

Ordinarily, I’m not an advocate of more consolidation in media, which is already rampant. Just last month, Dow Jones competitor, Reuters, was acquired by Thomson Corp., a Canadian legal and business information publisher. This may be part of the reason that the Bancrofts feel the need to scale up. The AP, which also competes with Reuters, would benefit from the addition of Dow Jones as well. But while I prefer a more diverse media marketplace, the prospect of a Murdoch-controlled Wall Street Journal, and his likely merging of that with his upcoming cable business channel, is far more troubling than the sort of partnership I’ve outlined above. If Dow Jones investors are determined to sell the company, then every practical measure must be considered to keep it out of Murdoch’s hands. And the potential benefits of a non-profit/academic partnership may even be preferable to staying with the Bancrofts.

Update: The union now says they have approached Ron Burkle (and Warren Buffet) to discuss the potential of an alternative bid. There is no indication that this would be a not-for-profit proposition, but it would still be better than Murdoch.

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The Fox Frame: Comrade Clinton

From Fox’s “Cashin’ In” – June 4, 2007. Note the presence of the infamous “Cavuto Mark” …


I wonder when we’ll see the captions for…
“Bush’s Iraq Legacy: Liberator or War Criminal?”


The Republican Scare: A Branding Nightmare

In 1982, potassium cyanide laced pain relievers killed 7 people in Chicago and led to the collapse of a popular consumer medication. The Tylenol Scare resulted in a market share drop from 35% to 8%. In the aftermath of this tragedy, a new standard for packaging was adopted to prevent product tampering. But Tylenol still needed to persuade the public that their product was safe to purchase and use. In pursuit of that goal, they embarked on an unprecedented marketing campaign to confront what may have been the most daunting public relations challenge in history.

This is precisely the position that the Republican Party finds itself in today. After six years of a toxic administration whose policies have led to a poisoning of public discourse; with corruption infecting Capital Hill, the Justice Department, the Pentagon, and the White House; and a president whose market share is dipping into historic lows; Republicans have concluded that they need to persuade the American people that their brand of politics is safe for our families and our country. In pursuit of that goal, the Republican Leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has embarked on a marketing campaign to repair the party’s brand.

GOP congressmen and lobbyists are holding meetings to gussy up a product that has lost the confidence of consumers. One participant, Rep. John Carter, views the initiative as an exercise in new age self-reflection:

“We’re trying to look into our conscience and define ourselves, and as we define ourselves, decide how we can best communicate that to the rest of the world.”

More accurately, they are trying to design new packaging without enhancing product safety or purpose. While some of them recognize that it will take more than a fresh coat of varnish to restore their credibility, many are convinced that they can improve their image in the eyes of the public if they can just spin some more wool to pull over said eyes. In that regard they may have an ally in the press. The Washington Post’s coverage of these meetings unfolds under the title, “Boehner Leads Effort to Polish GOP ‘Brand’,” and quotes Rep. Jeb Hensarling expressing support for such leadership:

“I would hope Leader Boehner lets his voice be heard loud and clear.”

At least for the moment, Hensarling’s hopes will go unfulfilled because, the story’s title notwithstanding, Boehner’s voice is nowhere to be heard in the article; not a single quote or attribution.

This nicely illustrates how Republicans plan to mount their comeback – with a shallow facade and a dearth of substance. It is a profoundly superficial approach that addresses only the PR aspects of the problem and does nothing to cleanse the party of contaminants or seal it to prevent further calamity. This is analogous to what would have occurred if Tylenol had launched their PR effort while leaving millions of bottles of possibly tainted medicine on the shelves of the nation’s pharmacies. Their rehabilitation would not have been particularly effective if new victims kept showing up in the morgue.

The Republican Party doesn’t appear to be concerned about the production of more victims. The practical result of their strategy insures that the deceptions that led to the war in Iraq, and the war itself, are going to persist into an indefinite future. The incompetent and compromised Alberto Gonzales will continue to lead the Travesty of Justice Department. Bribery and extortion will remain the keystones of legislative business in Washington. And secrecy and deceit will gain momentum as a means to conceal the scars on the body of American Democracy.

The Tylenol Scare was a sad milestone in our nation’s commercial history that devastated a handful of innocent families. The Republican Scare has proven far more destructive leaving thousands of families, in the U. S. and Iraq, forever ruined. And all they have to say for themselves is that they’re polishing their brand. Unfortunately for them, the Republican Scare is their brand now. Due to their incessant promotion of fear in pursuit of power, they are wedded to this new identity whether they like it or not. Even if they could stuff that genie back into the bottle, by today’s standards that would constitute product tampering and you can’t sell those sort of fouled wares in this country anymore…..I hope.


Media Gangs Up On John Edwards

In the past couple of weeks, the press has taken a decidedly negative turn on John Edwards. The ferocity of the attacks and the diversity of their origin is curious, to say the least. Their obsession with housing and haircuts and speaking fees has become all-consuming. This media phenomenon was apparent to media critic and author Jeff Cohen who wrote:

“The focus on these topics tells us two things about corporate media. One we’ve long known – that they elevate personal stuff above issues. The other is now becoming clear – that they have a special animosity toward Edwards.”

Edwards is receiving treatment that is generally reserved for front-runners like Clinton, Obama, or Giuliani. Here is a sampling of the assault:

Jonah Goldberg: “[Edwards] gives new meaning to the term “poverty pimp.”

USA Today: “Edwards, most prominently, has undermined his passionate advocacy for ordinary Americans by seeming to be anything but ordinary himself. Expensive haircuts reinforce the elitist image of a wealthy trial lawyer…”

Sean Hannity: “[Edwards isn’t] up to the task of understanding the nature in the battle in the war that’s being waged against us.”

Jim Cramer (on Hardball): “[Edwards is] public enemy #1.”

Bill O’Reilly: “The former vice presidential candidate has sold his soul to far left interests […] Edwards is running a preposterous campaign. He lives like a sultan in a 30,000 foot North Carolina house […] Talking Points tries to respect all of those who want to serve their country, but Edwards is an exception. I have no respect for him. He’s a phony and is in the tank for special interests to damage this country.”

As an added bonus, O’Reilly offers swag for sale at his web site about which he says, “remember, when you buy anything on BillOReilly.com, a good portion of what you spend goes to charities, send a lot of kids, poor kids to camp this summer.”

Is O’Reilly a hypocrite as well because he is a multi-millionaire advocating help for poor kids? I might have a little more sympathy for these arguments if any of Edwards’ critics placed even a fraction of the effort on behalf of America’s poor that Edwards does. Edwards himself posed this question in response to these criticisms:

“Would it have been better if I had done well and didn’t care?”

This whole line of attack seems preposterous to me. First of all it is implying that you cannot be wealthy and concerned about the poor at the same time. If that’s true, it exempts about 90% of Congress and every presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, except for Dennis Kucinich. Secondly, it is a rejection of the American Dream that holds that everyone can share in this nation’s prosperity; everyone except John Edwards, who is to be pilloried for the audacity of being born poor but achieving great wealth through hard work and determination.

You have to wonder why Edwards is getting hit so hard from so many directions. Jeff Cohen believes it has something to do with Edwards’ criticism of corporate-driven trade policies. Certainly that position would anger the captains of industry that wield so much influence in American government. And remember, many of those captains are at the helm of media conglomerates. It was probably not lost on those folks that Edwards was the first Democrat to refuse to participate in the Fox debate.

But I think that just brushes the surface of their objections. I think it goes much deeper into the matter of the class distinctions raised by Edwards’ “Two Americas” campaign. They are ultimately afraid that the populist appeal of a movement that truly seeks to bring economic opportunity to every citizen, instead of just the elite, could catch on. That’s why it has to be strangled in the cradle of a candidate who is running third in national polls. The risk extends beyond Edwards himself. If voters responded positively to the issue, the other candidates would adopt it. So even if Edwards does not become a contender, the issue stays on the table. This fear has already been articulated by Nina Easton of Fortune Magazine to Brit Hume on Fox:

“Well, I think the most interesting thing about these speeches was the extent to which both candidates borrowed from the No. 2 candidate we saw there, John Edwards […] to me it’s like they’re all joined at the hip on domestic policy”

It isn’t Edwards that they are all afraid of. It is economic populism, fair trade, and, in the end, the American Dream. That’s what the media and their mouthpieces in politics and punditry are trying to kill.


CIA Won’t Play Fair Game With Plame

The CIA is refusing to permit publication of a book by former covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Ms. Wilson’s cover was blown by Bush administration officials in retaliation for critical comments made by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, regarding trumped up evidence for the invasion of Iraq. I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby has already been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for giving false testimony in the investigation of this affair.

The agency is claiming that information in the book, “Fair Game,” is classified and prohibited from publication. That would seem to be a reasonable position had the Agency not already sent unclassified versions of the data to Wilson which was subsequently published in the Congressional Record. Wilson and her publisher, Simon & Shuster, are now suing the Agency to secure permission to publish her memoir.

This is a blatant example of prior restraint and a violation of free speech rights. The notion that data that has previously been publicly disclosed can be forced back into obscurity is absurd, especially in this Internet age when information is widely dispersed and recorded. The data in question regards Wilson’s dates of employment with the Agency, and those dates are even published in the newspaper accounts of this litigation. It’s not exactly top secret.

We need to remember that we are dealing with the most secrecy obsessed administration in history; an administration that has been busily RE-classifying thousands of documents that were previously de-classified, and taking many more steps to inhibit open government and free access to materials of interest to the public.

It is particularly ironic that the White House that cavalierly outed Wilson as part of a political vendetta is now pretending to be concerned about operational security. A spokesman for the CIA gave this explanation for why they were refusing Wilson’s request to publish:

“Official acknowledgment of certain matters could cause some on whom we rely to think that we do not take protecting sensitive equity seriously, or cause them to think twice about assisting us in the future, and that could have serious ramifications.”

If they were truly concerned about the ramifications of not protecting sensitive equity, maybe they shouldn’t have unveiled Wilson’s identity in the first place. And while they are now calling it a “mistake” to have released her dates of employment, there has still been no acknowledgement that blowing her cover might also have been an error. This hypocrisy only affirms that the obvious intent of the CIA, and their bosses in the White House, is to frustrate Wilson’s efforts to tell her story because it might embarrass a corrupt and dishonest administration. Let’s hope that the courts demonstrate more integrity and rule to uphold the First Amendment.


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MSNBC Growing Faster Than Fox, CNN

The all-important May ratings (PDF) period has produced what is becoming a predictably recurrent theme: MSNBC is growing faster than any of its cable news rivals.

Primetime M-F CNN FOX HLN MSNBC
Persons 2+ -13% -2% +14% +51%
Persons 25-54 +8% +14 +22 +40%

Total Day CNN FOX HLN MSNBC
Persons 2+ -2% -4% +12% +14%
Persons 25-54 +4% +6% +11% +19%

Both Fox and CNN declined in persons 2+ for the total day as well as for primetime. Their numbers for the 25-54 demo were better, but still far below the increases at MSNBC. Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” again set the pace for growth at the network, advancing 63% (P2+) and 35% (25-54) over May 2006. Compare that with the O’Reilly Factor’s tepid 12% (25-54) rise, and an actual drop in total viewers of 1%. Two years ago O’Reilly had 4 times the audience that Olbermann had. Today that is down to 2 times. That’s still a hefty lead, but it’s also a preciptious drop. And since Countdown’s ascendency has not abated over these years, it suggests that the programs could be tied two years from now.

Much of the news this month seems tailor made for a Fox resurgence – a lot of sensationalism and gossip. There was the New Jersey “terrorist” threat (which Fox hammered on), Alberto Gonzalez’ congressional testimony (which Fox almost ignored), tornadoes in Kansas, the war supplemental bill, Jerry Falwell’s death, and, as always, Rosie, Lindsay, and American Idol. Fox also hosted the first Republican presidential primary debate. But none of these things boosted Fox’s performance as one might expect. The Republican debate, in fact, only matched the numbers that O’Reilly gets as the regular program in that time slot.

A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that the story generating the most coverage in the first quarter of 2007 was Iraq. But while the rest of the media was reporting on Bush’s “surge” and what has become the deadliest month of the year to date in Iraq, Fox devoted less than half the airtime to these events than did MSNBC, who provided the most coverage. Could this be part of the reason that Fox viewership is tanking?

Results like these continue to show that there is an underserved market for news consumers who are tired of the antiquated stylings of CNN and repulsed by the scatological, fact-deficient fare that passes for news at Fox. It remains to be seen if the programming geniuses at any of these networks will recognize the obvious and bring back real news.


The Murdoch Family Resemblance

New York Post Kerry GephardtThis is just too much fun. Stroll with me down the serene avenues of yesteryear when the New York Post scooped out the still beating hearts of their media rivals by reporting that the newly minted Democratic nominee for president, John Kerry, had chosen Dick Gephardt to be his running mate. The headline bellowed the triumph of their proud accomplishment. Only one thing could mar this sweet moment of success – It wasn’t true. Kerry, of course, had selected John Edwards to share the ticket with him.

Now we learn that the bad tip may have come from the DNC and was swallowed whole by Rupert’s scion, Lachlan Murdoch, then publisher of the Post. According to former Post staffer, Ian Spiegelman, Lachlan bought the story wholesale and ordered his editorial team to run it. Says Spiegelman…

“Everyone at The Post, including [Editor in chief] Col Allan and his top deputies, knew the story had been planted with Lachlan by the Democratic National Committee to make him, and The Post, appear foolish on a national level.”

Everyone but Lachlan Murdoch. But that didn’t stop him from demanding that his more experienced underlings obey his tyrannical and ignorant decrees. Like father like son.


MySpace Seeks Peek Into Voting Booths

In another assault on personal privacy by News Corp. and its progeny, MySpace has announced that they will begin offering a “viral fundraising tool” to candidates for president. The stated purpose of the tool is to allow members to make contributions to the candidates of their choice. On the surface this may not seem worthy of outrage or objection. It might even be considered a public service. The problem with the tool as proposed is that it will also be able to track the donation histories of MySpace members. Do you really want Rupert Murdoch to know to whom you contribute and how much? Do you think that information would be safe in those massive archives that already contain mountains of data about you and your personal life; your buying habits; your professional affairs, etc.?

I would feel a bit nervous permitting an enterprise that has had such a sordid history of privacy violations to be in control of such data. This may be a good time to remind everyone that when MySpace was acquired it was actually as a subsidiary of Intermix, which is the company News Corp. had purchased. Just weeks before the acquisition, Intermix settled a lawsuit with the State of New York with the payment of 7.5 million dollars. They were accused of clandestinely distributing spyware with many of the software and services they provided. I’m sot so sure that the integrity of MySpace’s new owner is any more trustworthy than their previous owners.

This announcement is just the latest escalation of the risk to privacy with regard to voting issues and MySpace. Earlier this year MySpace revealed plans for presidential “Town Halls” and a “virtual primary” to be held on the site next January. These initiatives would provide additional elements of members’ electoral preferences with which to shape sophisticated profiles of MySpace users.

The questions arising from these projects are serious. There is a real threat of the loss of the concept of a secret ballot. This is especially worrisome when the caretaker of the former secrets is a less than reputable mega-corporation. In addition, funds raised via resources provided by MySpace could be construed as bundled contributions. The impact of this fundraising, if successful, might potentially influence candidates’ positions and voting on matters related to News Corp. Is it really worth potentially sacrificing personal privacy and political principle just to participate in a statistically irrelevant exercise in election handicapping? I think not.


CNN’s Non-Apology To Chavez

The shutdown of Venezuela’s RCTV has incited a heated debate amongst political activists and free speech advocates. On one hand, the station has been accused of promoting disobedience and lawlessness directed at President Hugo Chavez’ government and affiliating with organizations that participated in a 2002 coup attempt of Chavez. It is also part of a corporatist media clique that controls much of Venezuela’s press. On the other hand, state clampdowns on private media should not be tolerated and Reporters Without Borders has condemned the action as a serious violation of freedom of expression.

I believe there is merit to both sides of this debate, but there is another side that is much more clear cut. CNN’s reporting of affairs in Venezuela has included some blatantly partisan coverage. In one instance, CNN aired footage identified as a protest in Venezuela, but was actually from an unrelated protest in Mexico. On another occasion they aired images of Chavez and Osama bin Laden closely together although there was no story linking the two.

In response to complaints from Venezuela’s Information Minister, William Lara, CNN said that they had already issued a “detailed apology” for the Mexican footage and played down any significance of the bin Laden juxtaposition. Their overall stance was that they had not engaged in any coordinated attempt to discredit Chavez or Venezuela. That response amounts to a statement that, “We’re sorry for denigrating your country that we deny having denigrated.”

That certainly clears things up.