The Movie Theaters Of Battle

If you, like most Americans, are seeing fewer movies, now you have another reason to stay out of movie theaters. Your money may be being used to promote right-wing propaganda and religious fundamentalism.

Over the past few years, theatrical films have suffered a noticeable decline in attendance. This has been blamed on a variety of factors including quality, content, cable and DVDs, cost, and even competition from other forms of leisure activities like video games and the Internet. The real reason is certainly a combination of all of the above. I would add that the overall experience of seeing a movie in a theater is less satisfying and more burdensome than ever. After having to contend with traffic, parking, crowds, concessions, and then being forced to sit through 20 minutes or more of commercials, it better be a damn good movie. And in most cases, it is not.

Now, in addition to the aesthetic and practical motivations to see movies, Justin Clark at Nerve.com gives us a portrait of Citizen [Philip] Anschutz, the Christian conservative CEO of Regal Cinemas:

Named Fortune’s “greediest executive” in 1999, the Denver resident is a generous supporter of anti-gay-rights legislation, intelligent design, the Bush administration and efforts to sanitize television. With a net worth of $5 billion, he is Forbes ‘ thirty-fourth richest American, two spots above Revlon’s Ronald Perelman. Anschutz heads a vast media empire whose assets include the Examiner chain, twenty percent of the country’s movie screens, and a sizeable stake in Qwest Communications, the scandal-ridden telecom giant he formerly directed.

Anschutz’ empire includes the Regal chain as well as the United Artists and Edwards chains. He also runs National Cinemedia, the largest theatrical advertising firm, and Crusader Entertainment, the producer of the “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Through aggressive acquisitions, Anscutz has formed an exhibition network that wields considerable power in Hollywood. Studios need theaters to play their films, and a major operator can create anxiety for producers if it imposes content restrictions on what it will play. That can serve to suppress free expression as the studios surrender their creative jurisdiction to crusading exhibitors in order to gain access to the widest distribution possible.

What’s happening here is not free-market decision making, but proselytic blackmail. And Anschutz has made it clear that this is his intention. Perhaps it is time for those who care about movies and creative freedom to make their intentions clear with their dollars. You do not have to deprive yourself of movies to do this. Exhibitors make the vast majority of their income from concessions. Abstaining from popcorn and soda (for which they gouge you anyway), you will have a much bigger impact than by not showing up. But it’s important to let them know why their concessions sales are declining.

Tell the manager what’s on your mind. To make it easier, I have made this card that you can print and leave with the manager on your way out. If you’re particularly motivated, print bunches of them and hand them out to everyone in line. Taking back the country means taking back the media, and movies are an important part of that. We can have better, more diverse and more entertaining films, in an ad-free environment, if we’re willing to fight for it. And the result would bring more people back to the theaters. A real win/win proposition.

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The Bush Charm Offensive

With approval ratings mired in the low 30’s, and support for the war (and most of the rest of his agenda) in collapse, the president has embarked on a new initiative for American renewal. He is wooing the press.

This is a somewhat surprising development from an administration that consistently blames its problems on the press. This White House has never been able to admit a mistake, only that the media fails present a properly glowing image of its achievments.

However, in the past week the president has been inviting reporters to engage in “off-the-record” trysts where he hopes to seduce them into painting more flattering portraits of his adventures. The media, whores that they are, are lapping it up. With few exceptions, they have accepted the invitations and revelled in the attention showered on them.

Most journalists agree that conversations with the president constitute news and should never be off the record. But some of them just can’t help themselves when granted access to the corridors of power. Meetings like this are worrisome because the public doesn’t know what took place. We don’t know if there were promises made or favors agreed to. The risk that reporters can be influenced to color their reporting by the prospect of scoring future exclusives or leaks is too great to ignore. And even if that never takes place, the secrecy surrounding it chews off a chunk of their credibility because we’ll never know what went on.

Putting aside all suspicion and possibility of ethics breaches, there is another very simple reason to decline such meetings: They have no journalistic purpose. If the reporter cannot disclose what was said (and the White House wanted to keep secret the fact the the meetings even took place), then the only benefit to any party is to the president who is free to spin and/or bribe his guests. That alone makes it shameful for anyone in the media to accept such a tainted invitation.


Fake FEMA Director To Appear On Fake News Show

Michael Brown, the former director of FEMA, will be the guest of Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, March 28. This is comedy at its finest because what could be funnier than a jovial romp with the man that let tens of thousands of hurricane victims suffer in a crumbling sports arena because he wanted to have dinner before the traffic got bad.

There is probably no better venue for Brown because we don’t have to worry about taking him seriously. Plus, he will be able to delight us with the sartorial magic that earned him renown as a fashion god.

It will be interesting to see if Colbert’s character warms up to him for his service in the administration of his hero, George W. Bush, or if he turns on him for not being an obedient scapegoat. Either way, Colbert’s star is rising and he is entering a peculiar world that doesn’t know exactly what to make of him. He is travelling into territory that Jon Stewart has surveyed before, but is he benefitting Stewart’s experience?

I would not want to see him be exploited by cynical politicos that think they can polish their cool by going a couple of rounds with him. While Stewart remains properly aloof from the Washington party circuit, Colbert may be getting a little too cozy. He will be the featured speaker at the White House correspondents’ dinner next month. Now, that’s not so bad, but he also appeared at a blogging symposium organized by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), the Vice Chairman of the House GOP Conference. The purpose of the symposium was to educate Republican members and staffers on the benefits of blogging. After appearing on The Colbert Report himself, Kingston showed a clip of the show at a retreat of House Republicans to persuade them to book their own appearances.

Right now, I think Colbert is mostly interested in getting through the first season and being picked up for another. But he needs to be mindful that, with success, come the parasites that seek only to feast off of his blood. If he allows himself and his show to be exploited by the very people it was designed to skewer, he will lose the appeal that makes the show successful in the first place.


Dick Cheney’s Tour Rider

Rock stars and other celebrities commonly make special requests when on the road to satisfy their peculiar needs for comfort. Perhaps the most notorious of these was Van Halen’s request for a bowl of peanut M & M’s with all the brown ones removed.

Well, move over Dave. The Smoking Gun has obtained the Downtime Requirements for V.P. Eagle Eye Dick Cheney. Under an instruction that dictates that, “The items list below are required,” number six on the list demands particular attention:

“All Televisions tuned to FOX News.”

I have nothing to add.


Monopolies Kill Newspapers – Dead

The Columbia Journalism Review has offered an explanation for why the newspaper business is gasping for air. After a generation of acquisition, consolidation and cut-throat competition that left many markets with a single reportorial voice, the lone victor became bloated or cocky or lazy, or some combination of the three.

Competition is good, remember. It nourishes aggressive reporting and distinctive, creative approaches. With a lack of competition in the local news and information business, too many papers, even some of the more ambitious ones, allowed their voices and personalities to wither. Too many editorial pages toned it down and slid into the inoffensive and boring. Too few embarked on crusades. Corporate owners, too, encouraged a play-it-safe culture. Too many newspapers rounded off their ragged edges, but lost the spark. When the advertising and readership began to recede, so did resources, and those weak habits and attitudes began to reveal themselves like the fish on the beach before the tsunami.

Despite the wisdom in this analysis, I wouldn’t expect the industry or the regulatory agencies to correct their self-destructive behavior. In fact, the pattern is even now repeating as the FCC prepares to fast-track more media consolidation. The CJR holds out hope that competition will emerge from new venues, i.e. the Internet. But that is where I depart from their view. First, the Internet does not constitute competition if the the web sites are owned or controlled by the same media megaliths that run the conventional media. Second, whatever passes for competition on the net can’t fulfill the local function that a newspaper will.

In the end, the arrogance and greed of the corporations that run print journalism will almost certainly destroy it. The decline in quality will accomapany a decline in professionalism and ethics. We’ve already seen examples unfold in the form of plagiarists (Jayson Blair), fabricaters (Janet Cooke), propagandists (Armstrong Williams) and whatever Jeff Gannon was. The solution, as with all monopolies, is to break them up and re-introduce real competition and diversity. It’s a tall order but it’s the only straw available for grasping.


Time Warner & the UAE

In mid February it was announced that Dubai Ports World, a firm owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, was acquiring ownership of several U.S. ports. Within a few days of that annoucement another deal was also revealed by the same UAE parent company.

Istithmar’s purcahse of 109 million shares of Time Warner gave it control of 2.39% of the world’s largest media conglomerate. They also hired one of Carl Icahn’s entities as its advisor. Icahn led an unsuccessful attempt to force the break up of Time Warner into 4 seperate units.

Am I being to suspicious in wondering whether these events were related? Although it doesn’t appear that any advantage was achieved, the potential is a bit creepy. If I were attempting to buy critical U.S. assets with natioanl security implications, I might find it convenient to control a significant chunk of U.S. media. And affiliating with a figure (Icahn) who could hold the firms feet to the fire wouldn’t seem like such a bad idea either.

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Wrestling A Pig

The Dayton Daily News is rolling around in it with barnyard bully, Bill O’Reilly. DDN’s editor, Jeff Bruce, wrote an opinion column making the outrageous suggestion that a formal investigation should take place before removing a judge from the bench. The judge in question, John Connor, has been the target of O’Reilly’s wrath for imposing an admittedly too lenient sentence on a convicted child molester. But when O’Reilly turned his wrath on Bruce for believing in due process, he went completely off the cliff. O’Reilly accused Bruce and the paper of being friendly to child rapists and having sympathy for child rapists.

Bruce resisted to urge to respond saying, “They say only two things happen when you wrestle a pig: You get muddy and the pig enjoys it.” But he did respond, revealing that O’Reilly’s true motives may have had nothing to do with the Conner affair at all. Instead it was his own affair, wherein he was sued by his ex-producer for sexual harrassment, that he he was concerned about. The DDN made mention of it in their editorial and O’Reilly vowed to get revenge. He’s still at it. On today’s show he whined that the despicable Dayton Daily News had called him a pig.

That’s not exactly what happened, but to expect the truth from O’Reilly may be a bit much. I’d like to thank Billy for speaking out, though. Had he not done so, I would not have known about this farce.


DeadLines

Jon Stewart has been selected to host the 65th annual Peabody Awards.
An appropriate choice since he is also the recipient of 2 of them.

Dan Rather touts Jon Stewart as Andy Rooney’s successor.
I hope he’s wrong. That seems to me to be a demotion. But it must be flattering.

Stephen Colbert will be writing a book based on his Colbert Report.
Says Stephen: “This book will have the same noble goal as my television show: to change the world one factual error at a time.”

The FCC says they are ready to fast-track more media consolidation.
Apparrently the media isn’t satisfied that can’t own TV stations and newspapers in the same market.

A.P. Correspondent Ousted From Job in Vermont
Christopher Graff, a 27 year veteran of the A.P. was fired for posting an article by Sen. Patrick Leahy. The article was contributed as part of Sunshine Week, a media event meant to combat government secrecy and bring attention to the public’s right to know.


Washington Post Hearts Red America

The Washington Post says that they hired Ben Domenech to write the new blog, Red America, to provide balance to their editorial profile. Domenech is the co-founder of RedState.com and was a writer for the National Review Online. He also worked in Bush’s White House and for Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). While at uber-conservative publisher, Regnery Publishing, he worked with the likes of Hugh Hewitt and Michelle Malkin.

If the Post is shooting for balance, they must already have blogs by comparable liberals like, say, Al Franken, Robert Scheer, Michael Moore, or David Brock. Not surprisingly, that isn’t the case.

The Post just plunged ahead with a right-wing bomb thrower who lives up to his reputation in his first installment: Pachyderms in the Mist. This screed posits that the Red America of his imagination is actually in the majority, despite the fact that Bush is a miserably unpopular president:

“Yet even in a climate where Republicans hold command of every branch of government, and advocate views shared by a majority of voters, the mainstream media continues to treat red state Americans as pachyderms in the mist.”

Do the views to which he is referring include that two thirds of Americans disapprove of his handling of Iraq and nearly half say Democrats would do better? Or that his personal approval ratings remain mired in the low 30’s? Or that 53% say they would prefer Democrats to handle the economy? Or that he has hit a new low of 28% approval for both healthcare and energy policy? Or that the word most often associated with him is “incompetent”?

For this miscreant to complain that the media, which is dominated by right-wing pundits and corporate masters, is mistreating redstaters is as laughable as his assertion that his views are in the majority. And save a couple of guffaws for the Post’s assertion that they actually care about balance.


Lobbyists Scoff At Lobby Reform

In the wake of numerous Washington influence scandals (DeLay, Cunningham, Abramoff, etc.), Congress has busied itself debating, drafting, and ultimately neutering, legislative proposals to restore fairness and ethics to the troubled institution. However, the targets of these measures have had a rather benign reaction to them. In fact, they don’t seem to think that the new regulations will have any impact whatsoever on their activities.

An article in the Washington Post reports that…..lobbyists say they have already found scores of new ways to buy the attention of lawmakers through fundraising, charitable activities and industry-sponsored seminars. Indeed, the lobbyists themselves tell us as much.

  • “Between charitable events and fundraising events, there will still be lots of ways to get in front of members [of Congress].” – Dan Danner, executive vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business (National FIB?)
  • “Even if all lunches and sporting tickets are banned, legislation and regulations are so complex that the need for professional lobbyists will not diminish,”- Frederick H. Graefe, a Washington lawyer and lobbyist.
  • “If meals are heavily restricted, we’re likely to see executives from the home office picking up checks because they’re not lobbyists,” – J. Steven Hart of Williams & Jensen, a major lobbying firm.

Of particular concern to the netroots is the Post’s revelation that…Lobbyists are increasing their campaign contributions, widening their use of the Internet to stir voter activism, and donating large sums to think tanks and charities…..The Business Roundtable, which represents big-business chieftains, has embraced a new technique of advertising on Web sites for grass-roots advocates. There are those who have belittled the threat of corporations, and other deep-pocketed special interests, using the Internet in deceptive ways to enrich themselves at the people’s expense. But, clearly, the community of professional persuaders has not overlooked this potential goldmine for propaganda.

Did anyone really expect Congress to deal seriously with the 10 billion dollar industry that lines their pockets and campaign treasuries? When the best reform ideas they can muster include banning former members from the House gym, it should be apparent that their efforts are less than sincere. And the fact that lobbyists are greeting these efforts with a yawn tells us everything we need to know about the resolve of Congress to stem abuse and corruption.