Fox Gives You The Business

Not two weeks after Rupert Murdoch confesses to propagandizing in support of the war in Iraq, he visits the confessional again, this time with regard to his new Fox Business Channel. At a media summit sponsored by McGraw-Hill, Murdoch promised the gathered conferees that:

How can any viewer take seriously what they will see on a Fox Business report?

“…a Fox channel would be ‘more business-friendly than CNBC.’ That channel ‘leap[s] on every scandal, or what they think is a scandal,’ he said.”

This admission squares nicely with his previous one. It’s obvious he thinks nothing of manipulating news coverage to achieve his ends. Now he feels that the captains of industry, beleaguered by their own corruption, require his defense. The notion that a news network, business or otherwise, should be “friendly” with the subjects they are covering violates every precept of journalism. After making this announcement, how can any viewer take seriously what they will see on a Fox Business report? How will we know if their chumminess leads to deceptively positive stories? How will we know whether they are neglecting signs of budding scandals to protect their buddies? Had they been around when Enron was imploding, FBC would have reported on the tantalizing fare in the company commissary. I, for one, wouldn’t want to invest based on information that came from such a network.

Murdoch’s accusation that CNBC is somehow hostile to business can only be regarded as a paranoid hallucination. Even Business Week derides that viewpoint as:

“a conclusion almost any observer of the channel will find difficult to support.”

Financial news broadcasting is not an easy business to throw together. In 1991, FNN, the Financial News Network, went out of business, selling its assets to CNBC. More recently, Time, Inc.’s CNNfn couldn’t even get off the ground. New York mayor/billionaire, Michael Bloomberg’s network has about half the subscriber base of CNBC. Murdoch will launch with even less than that.

Despite the obstacles, it’s clear why News Corp. would want to enter this market. Although CNBC’s ratings are low, they can charge more for their ads because they deliver an affluent and influential audience that is highly desirable and difficult to obtain. Fox covets both that audience and those advertisers. Their vertical business structure makes it easy for them to package ad campaigns so that they would benefit other Fox properties like their news network, broadcast network, station group, magazines, and newspapers. And since Fox doesn’t care if their reporting is accurate, so long as it’s “friendly,” corporate advertisers might be inclined to favor Fox with their ad dollars. Remember that the cable companies that would carry FBC, and the media companies that might report on them, are also corporations that may want to take advantage of the pro-business slant that Murdoch is offering.

All of this produces some troubling scenarios. A business news network that promises to be friendly with its subjects is essentially serving as the PR arm of the corporations it covers. Consequently, those corporations that want to enjoy this coverage can show their appreciation by buying more ads. Conversely, the ad sales division of the network could pressure advertisers to pony up if they wanted good news to be included in the next broadcast. This sort of relationship is poisonous from the start, yet it is exactly what Murdoch is proposing.

Another problem is that the existing business channels are going to be nervous about the impending competition with Fox. If they keep their heads about them, focus on the quality of their own product, and exhibit some measure of respect for journalistic ethics, then things should work out. But that isn’t how it’s gone down in the past. As Fox News began to challenge its predecessors, they folded like origami sheep. They concluded that the way to compete with Fox was to be more like Fox. That was a disastrous strategy that landed them squarely in Fox’ shadow.

If Murdoch is allowed to pollute this new market with the aberrent philosophy he stated above, it will be a serious blow to the goals of honest, independent journalism. It will mean that they would control the perceptions of our politics, our culture, and our economy. If we want to preserve a free society that values a thoughtful and informed citizenry, we must be relentlessly vigilant. We must keep close company with our representatives and with the agencies that govern the media. We must take steps to be certain that we are knowledgeable and prepared, because…

…this is serious business!

Update from Forbes: [2/18/07] CNBC hasn’t sat back. Spokesman Kevin Goldman answered the criticism coming from Fox Business Channel: “It doesn’t surprise me that our alleged competition is already starting with its usual lies and propaganda.”

Under the threat of competition, they are starting to, finally, tell it like it is.

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Broken News: Anna Nicole Smith Edition

The sad discovery of a deceased celebrity is certainly worthy of mention in the press. The real sadness, however, is a private matter shared by family and friends. That privacy is intruded upon when media clowns turn the event into a circus. That’s what happened yesterday (and continues today) to Anna Nicole’s family.

If being dignified and respectful isn’t enough reason for reporters to refrain from being exploitive vultures, maybe journalistic professionalism and pride should be considered. The wall-to-wall coverage of Anna Nicole’s passing was entirely out of proportion to its imapct on the lives of news consumers. ThinkProgress compared the handling of this story with another important topic that has far more relevence to the American public.

References to Anna Nicole and Iraq on Cable Networks After 3PM ET:

CNN 141 27
FOX NEWS 112 33
MSNBC 170 24

That’s a pretty heavy overweighting of a tabloid bereavement, especially knowing that dozens of deaths occurred in Iraq the same day, including seven American soldiers.

NBC, though, surpasses all competition for shamelessness by devoting 3 minutes and 13 seconds (14% of their program) on Anna Nicole, and only 14 seconds on Iraq.

The PEP Squad: Perpetually Erroneous Pundits

The American model of mass media is laden with an abundance of notorious flaws. One of the most pernicious is the clubby environment that embraces the fraternity of professional opiners. Amongst the benefits of membership in the PEP Squad (Perpetually Erroneous Pundits) is that, no matter how much you screw up, you never lose your seat at the table. Commentators who have been wrong for a half dozen years or more, are consistently invited back to deliver more of their bad advice. The problem is that, when your job is to influence public opinion and policy, the consequences of being wrong can be tragic.

For example, there is a dust-up in the bloggerhood that has pit the NRO‘s Jonah Goldberg against Juan Cole. It seems that a couple of years ago, Goldberg challenged Cole’s analysis of the travesty in Iraq saying:

“I do think my judgment is superior to his when it comes to the big picture. So, I have an idea: Since he doesn’t want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let’s make a bet. I predict that Iraq won’t have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it.”

That was two years ago and Goldberg’s predictions are so far off the mark that even he can’t deny it:

“I’ve admitted that Cole would have won. I’ve written that the Iraq War was a mistake. … I join a long list of people whose expectations about the war and its handling turned out to be wrong in whole or in part.”

Goldberg has admitted that he was wrong, but stubbornly insists that he has nothing for which to apologize. Nothing. Not for cheering on the martinets of war. Not for justifying the hostilities of a dishonest administration. Not for misleading his audience with discredited drivel. Not for the misery that has befallen the countless victims of his ignorance. But at least he is able to find comfort in joining “a long list of people” who were as dreadfully wrong as was he. He may also be comforted by his membership in the PEP Squad, knowing that his mistakes will cost him nothing.

The real danger emerges when PEP Squaders are allowed to continue peddling their distortions with impunity. The absence of accountability turns the notion of merit on its head. Thus we have Pulitzer winners like Robert Scheer being thrown over for hacks like Goldberg.

In his latest display of hackery, Goldberg argues that global warming is an equitable trade for economic gains. In fact he calls it “an amazing bargain:”

“The Earth got about 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer in the 20th century while it increased its GDP by 1,800%, by one estimate. […] Given the option of getting another 1,800% richer in exchange for another 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer, I’d take the heat in a heartbeat.”

Unfortunately, if he wins that bet, 100 million other hearts might have to stop beating. That’s the estimate of the population that would be impacted by rising sea levels if the Earth’s temperature were to rise in the amounts he proposes. By making irresponsible claims without the support of science, Goldberg is again substituting his imagination for the wise council of experts. He is engaging in a wager that, should he lose, will result in massive human suffering on a global scale. But look at the bright side. It probably won’t affect him or anyone he cares about, and Jonah and his pals will probably be a little richer. So it hardly matters whether he is right or wrong. We’ve seen how he behaves when he loses a bet; when he’s looking back on his fatally poor judgement. I can almost hear it now:

“I’ve admitted that Gore would have won. I’ve written that global warming was a mistake. … I join a long list of people whose expectations about climate change and its handling turned out to be wrong in whole or in part.”

Thanks Jonah. That makes everything better. The truth is, things won’t actually get any better until the media casts out the Perpetually Erroneous Pundits that are littering the TV and newspapers; until they start to reward superior analysis and intellect; until those who correctly predicted the sad outcome of Bush’s misadventures in Iraq replace the PEP Squad losers who got it so terribly wrong. By rewarding the PEP Squad for their failures, we can be virtually assured that they will continue to saddle the world with their toxic misperceptions. I’m not sure the world can stand it much longer.

Olbermann Runs With Murdoch Confession

Thanks to Newshounds for this video wherein Olbermann brilliantly juxtaposes Murdoch’s rare moment of honesty with the instructions William Randolph Hearst gave to an illustrator who couldn’t find any evidence of the war in Cuba that Hearst was jonesing for:

“You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war.”

What Part Of NO…

As yesterday’s debate in the Senate stumbled aimlessly for hours without conclusion, there were moments of clarity from unexpected sources:

“If you believe that this new strategy is flawed or that our cause is hopeless, then vote to stop it. Vote to cut off funds. Vote for a binding timeline for U.S. withdrawal.” ~ Joe Lieberman (I)

Here, here. Of course Joe was making a completely different point than what this soundbite implies. The rest of his mutterings affirmed his well known affection for the Bush Doctrine and his purpose was to help Republicans in the senate quash an open and substantive debate.

The debate that Democrats are attempting to hold in the senate has already been held in the rest of the country. Though you wouldn’t know it by the news reports, the American people have made an overwhelming and durable decision that the war in Iraq does not serve the interests of our soldiers, our security, or our country. Poll after poll bears this out. And yet Congress still feels a need to have a debate. They are so far behind the people they purport to serve that they can’t even see us in the distance.

This representational disconnect is all the more perplexing when you consider that our representatives have just emerged from a campaign that was utterly devoid of ambiguity. November 7, 2006, was a rebuke of the Bush administration due almost entirely to their stubborn insistence on prosecuting this unnecessary, unpopular, and counter-productive war in Iraq. The Republican Party lost both chambers of Congress because the people were sick and tired of suffering the loss of human life and national honor. But now, with the Democratic victors in Washington, the people are still waiting for leadership.

The Democratic Party would be wise to heed Sen. Lieberman’s advice. We need a vote NOW to STOP the war. The people have made their decision and it is time for our servants in Washington to pay attention to US. Ignore the pundits and the liars who have been wrong for four years running. Ignore the media that continues to promulgate myths from decades past. Ending the war does not mean we don’t support the troops. Ending the war does not make us weak on defense. To the contrary, it strengthens our defensive position by allowing us to deploy the troops in the real war against terrorism for which Iraq was never the central front.

If the newly minted Democratic Congress is not able to follow the instructions we gave a mere three months ago, then it is not just the war in Iraq that is hopeless. We need to start worrying about the viability of Democracy. How much louder do we need to shout? It isn’t that they can’t hear us, it’s that they don’t want to. But they know we can hear them. Even Sen. Lieberman knows that:

“…we are being heard across America by our constituents, who are wondering if their Congress is capable of serious action, not just hollow posturing.”

But, sadly, Jon Stewart makes the most cogent observation in response:

“Turns out they weren’t even capable of hollow posturing.”

Vote to STOP the war!

Murdoch’s Senior Moment In Davos

Since Saturday, when I first posted this article, Murdoch Confesses To Propaganda On Iraq, the news has been defying Mark Twain’s axiom that “A lie can make it half way around the world before the truth has time to put its boots on.”

The truth’s boots are on and it is logging miles like crazy. Rupert Murdoch’s admission that he tried to use his media empire to shape the agenda on Iraq is spreading like wildfire. Newshounds, Crooks and Liars, Huffington Post, Carpetbagger, Juan Cole, Raw Story, and scads of lesser known but just as dedicated bloggers are trumpeting this surprising shard of honesty that escaped from Rupert’s lips.

I’m still trying to figure out how such an unguarded comment could have occurred. Is he just so brazenly arrogant now that he thinks he can come clean without repercussions? Is it a coded appeal to his neo-con audience for help to reverse the downward ratings spiral he’s engulfed in? Was it a run of the mill slip of the tongue by a 77 year old with weakening cognition skills?

While I can’t explain what was going through his diabolical mind, I can point to the reason that this story is getting so much play. And, ironically, it’s also something that Murdoch said in Davos. Referring to the Internet, he said that:

…traditional media are also “put right immediately” these days when making mistakes. […] Similarly, Murdoch said “government now has to be much more open” because of the Web

Indeed, the Internet has proven to be the conventional media’s fact-checker. And it isn’t just government whose openness has to be reaffirmed. It’s getting more difficult to use the propagandistic arts because there now exists a public forum over which the message controllers have not yet imposed their domination. I emphasize “not yet.”

The Internet is a powerful medium and the most significant contribution to a democratized media since Gutenburg. But it is not impervious to attack or capture. There is a reason that the Big Media megaliths want to kill network neutrality. There is a reason they want to remove ownership caps for television and newspapers. There is a reason the right wing elements at the FCC, the FEC, and other government agencies relentlessly push for deregulation. These are all ways of transferring the brute force of the Internet into the hands of corporatist elites who will lower its volume and polish its edges. When they are done it will no longer be fit for discourse or dissent. But it will serve nicely for comfort and commerce.

The manner by which this story has been propelled by bloggers and citizen journalists should serve as a reminder that the people still have a voice. But we, the people, must not get complacent either. Events like this will surely stir the media bears, and they are still the most dangerous beast in the forest. Be vigilant and be active because, if you are not, this medium will be lost to us – like all other media before it. Think about that.

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Murdoch Confesses To Propaganda On Iraq

Last Friday, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Rupert Murdoch sat on a panel where he lamented what he described as a “loss of power” due to the ascension of the Internet and other new media. The notion that this captain of one of the most dominant media conglomerates in the world is trembling in the shadow of bloggers is simply absurd. Especially when you consider the fact that his company is also a dominant player on the Internet with an aggressive acquisitiveness that includes MySpace, the world’s largest online social networking site.

But there was a more shocking exchange that took place that ought to have caused more of a stir amongst professional journalists and all freedom loving people. It was an exchange that revealed something that most conscious beings knew, but which I have never seen explicitly articulated.

Murdoch was asked if News Corp. had managed to shape the agenda on the war in Iraq. His answer?

“No, I don’t think so. We tried.” Asked by Rose for further comment, he said: “We basically supported the Bush policy in the Middle East…but we have been very critical of his execution.”

Let me repeat this: “We Tried!”

Rupert Murdoch in DavosSetting aside the nonsense that they had ever been critical of Bush’s adventures in Baghdad, having confessed to being deliberatly deceitful raises some questions. For instance, how can anyone ever again take seriously Fox News or any of Murdoch’s other instruments of bias? How can News Corp. continue to pretend that they are “fair and balanced?” How can any other media company exhibit the slightest expression of respect or patronization?

And speaking of other media companies, where are they now? The Chairman and CEO of a media empire that includes the number one rated cable news network, and numerous newspapers around the world, has just admitted that he tried to use that empire to “shape the agenda” in support of a partisan political goal with consequences of life, death, and global destabilization. Why has the media, who you might think would have some interest in this subject, virtually ignored these remarks? We know they were there because, on the very same day, there was a media tempest over remarks by John Kerry on whether Bush had turned the U. S. into an international pariah. That trumped up commotion was led, of course, by Fox News. Even the Hollywood Reporter downplayed the most startling portion of Murdoch’s presentation by headlining their story: “Big media has less sway on Internet.” They apparently felt that that was a more weighty revelation than the attempted thought-control exposed by Murdoch.

Where is the outrage? Where are the calls to disband this mammoth and unlawful propaganda machine? Murdoch, who was made an American citizen by an act of Congress because, otherwise, he could not own an American television network, should have his citizenship revoked and be deported back to Australia. Think of the precedent this sets for any other wealthy and ambitious ideologue that seeks to manipulate public opinion. There are plenty of wealthy and ambitious ideologues in the Middle East and elsewhere who may view Murdoch as a role model.

At the very least, it needs to be broadcast far and wide that News Corp. and Fox News are nothing but a tool of the neo-con operatives in government. You might say we already knew that, but this is different. We are not merely accusing them of this stance, they have now admitted it. And it can not be tolerated! Not by any standard of journalistic ethics. Not by a nation that values a free press so much that it incorporated that freedom into its Constitution.

Update (8/22/07): Here’s the video:

Artists Terrorize America With Toys

You really have to wonder who the enemy is in the War On Terror™ when the battle is waged against innocent Americans whose only offense is a desire to publicize their cartoon show.

The terrorist’s arsenal.

The city of Boston screeched to a halt Wednesday because somebody felt threatened by a child’s toy that was altered to advertise the new season of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force. These “improvised promotion devices” (IPDs) were scattered around the city where they surreptitiously stalked unsuspecting consumers.

The alert law enforcement authorities of Boston leapt into action to protect the citizenry. In a matter of hours they had identified 10 of the IPDs that were deployed up to two weeks earlier. They quickly moved to shut down traffic, bridges and even evacuated a hospital. Despite the fact that the guerrilla PR campaign had invaded 10 American cities, Boston was the only one to mobilize its Homeland Security forces in response to the threat.

The media played a critical role in performing its public safety duties by rushing incomplete and uninformed reports on to the air. The rapid succession of substanceless Breaking News updates may have saved countless lives by creating just the right environment for needless panic.

Once again we are reminded of the ever-present danger posed to society by artists. The free exercise of creative expression continues to be amongst the more serious threats to an ordered and manageable population. No wonder responsible governments spend so much of their time and resources suppressing such subversions. Without such efforts we would be forever vulnerable to the horrors of independent thought and action.

It’s gratifying to know that the terrorists have not won. We are still a proud and free people. Our enemies will not see us cower. Sure, they’ve seen the passage of the Patriot Act that limits long-held freedoms. They’ve seen our government listening in on our phone calls and monitoring our financial transactions. They see us lining up at airport terminals shoeless and forced to surrender our shampoo and Evian water. They see us resort to preemptive war and torture and submission to imperial, undemocratic leaders. And now they see us fearful and frantic in the presence of toys. But they will never have the satisfaction of seeing us recoil from militarism or the comforting imposition of martial law.

Obama Snubs Fox

Mary Ann Akers reports from behind the scenes in Washington:

Sources tell The Sleuth that the Obama camp has “frozen out” Fox News reporters and producers in the wake of the network’s major screw-up in running with the erroneous Obama-the-jihadist story reported by Insight magazine.

Finally, a public figure with the sense to make Fox’s fiction factory pay a price for broadcasting fake news. If more politicians applied this model to their press relations, Fox would be forced to think twice about running with unverified hit pieces. Or else they would have to be satisfied with exclusively Republican guests and subjects (that’s not too steep a fall).

The Fox reaction is to whine about reporters who are being punished for something they had no part in. What a load of disingenuous, denial-laden hogwash. It was not just the Barbie’s and Ken’s on the Fox morning show that spewed this trash. Several of the anchors of other programs delighted in pushing it along. And none of the on-air talking heads had the journalistic integrity to acknowledge the fraud in this story. There are no innocent parties at Fox. Anyone who didn’t report the debunking of the piece is as guilty as those who fanned the flames. And they certainly won’t make any points with the use of threats, as expressed by one courageous, anonymous source at Fox:

“Obama and his staff are in for a rude awakening if they think they can write off Fox News. If a candidate is serious about running for president, he or she is going to need a network like Fox to reach out to all those voters in the red and purple states.”

Another anonymous Fox spokesperson (even their spokespersons are afraid to go on record) said in response to questions of a Fox “freeze-out”:

“If true, perhaps Mr. [Robert] Gibbs [an Obama campaign manager] should reconsider that ill-advised strategy given his candidate is trailing by 20 points in the polls.”

I’m not sure what polls Mr. [Fo]X is referring to, but most polls show Obama at the top of the pack in the Democratic primaries. He is even competitive with the top Republican candidates. So apparently Fox’s defense after having been shown to be a purveyor of lies is to manufacture more lies.

Senator Obama made the right decision. Here’s hoping others follow.

Fox News Slump Spurs Desperation

Fox News appears to be caught in a downward spiral from which there is no relief. Ratings just released comparing January 2007 with January 2006, have more bad news for the “Only Cable News Channel That Does Not Bring You The Usual Left Wing Bias.”

Jan. #’s: Total Viewers vs. Jan. 2006:

Jan. 07: 874 521 332 234 225
Jan.’06: 898 460 238 234 138
% change: -3% +13% +39 0% +63
Jan. ’07: 1,605 809 530 343 290
Jan. ’06: 1,483 724 349 343 155
% change: +8% +12 +52% 0% +87%

Jan. #’s: 25-54 Demo vs. Jan. 2006:

Jan. 07: 262 186 138 98 95
Jan. ’06: 235 145 91 96 45
% change: +11% +28% +52% +2% +111%
Jan. ’07: 389 260 217 139 121
Jan. ’06: 319 202 150 114 76
% change: +22% +29% +45% +22% +59%

In Total Viewers, Fox is, again, the only network that posted a decline. Where they showed increases, they were second only to Headline News for the smallest gain. For some perspective, it must be remembered that comparisons for Fox are much easier because they had already declined so much. Therefore, it doesn’t take much of a boost to register higher percentages. Conversely, the performance of CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC, deserve respect for achieving substantial gains even in comparison to numbers that were already improving a year ago.

Fox will undoubtedly spin the these numbers as positive in their press releases. But their behavior toward insiders is much more revealing. They recently published this trade ad slamming Anderson Cooper:

“Meet the Paris Hilton of Television News”

What the ad neglects to mention is that CNN, prior to Cooper’s tenure, was trailing Fox by 174% in the time slot. Now CNN is only behind 18%. That’s a considerable distance to make up. Fox also forgot to point out that they tried to hire Cooper a few years ago. Charlie Reina, the former Fox producer who tells the story about Fox courting Cooper, makes the astute (and hilarious) observation that:

“for Cooper, whose talents and instincts were in actual news, coming to Fox would be a huge step down professionally.”

And Reina knows what he’s talking about. It’s reminiscent of NBC’s David Shuster, another Fox alum, who said after ankling:

“…there wasn’t a tradition or track record of honoring journalistic integrity. I found some reporters at Fox would cut corners or steal information from other sources or in some cases, just make things up. Management would either look the other way or just wouldn’t care to take a closer look.”

Is it any surprise that Fox would cheerfully devour and regurgitate unverified reports, from disreputable and anonymous sources, about Barack Obama’s childhood schooling? And is it any surprise that the American people are increasingly repelled by this brand of tabloid propagandizing?

LATE BREAKING: O’Reilly did a piece on Katie Couric this evening, saying…

“When you get a 10.5 debut and you’re down to to 7.5 in six months, that’s not going in the right direction.”

He didn’t bother to admit that his own ratings have declined even more on a percentage basis (30%). One of his guests tried to slip it in, but he just plowed through it.