The Fox Meltdown Accelerates

Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes was on the warpath back in June because of his network’s poor performance. Says Ailes:

“Anyone who displays launch-type intensity will continue to have a job at Fox News. Those who don’t will not. And that includes talent.”

Seems like an empty threat in as much as there is no talent at Fox. Be that as it may, Ailes must be firing up the nukes right about now. The August ratings (PDF) are out and, of the top 3 cable news networks, Fox alone has lost viewers. And not just an incremental loss, they are cratering.

Primetime – Persons 2+:

  CNN FOX MSNBC
August ’06: 902 1511 371
August ’05: 748 2093 349
% change: +21% -28% +6%

Primetime – 25-54:

  CNN FOX MSNBC
August ’06: 294 432 157
August ’05: 236 541 145
% change: +25% -20 +8%

What’s worse is that in at least eight consecutive months of year-to-year comparisons, Fox has shown declines and, again, is the only network to have accomplished that feat. The standout contributors to this debacle in August are Greta Van Susteren (-31%), Hannity & Colmes (-21%), and our boy O’Reilly (-15%). For those of you keeping score, Olberman’s Countdown increased 55% over it’s year ago number. So far this year, Olberman’s comparisons have been positive every month while O’Reilly’s have been negative.

As I’ve pointed out in previous analyses, we need to view these figures in context. Fox is still the runaway leader in cable news, but trends are not insignificant. And as CNN’s special on bin Laden last week demonstrated, there is an audience for quality news programming. That’s got to be bad news for Fox.

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The Los Angeles Times Hears Its Master’s Voice

In an editorial published Friday, August 25, the L. A. Times took a courageous stand in favor of propping up its parent corporation, The Tribune Company. By supporting the latest power-grab being proposed by the FCC, the Times/Tribune are really just supporting their own economic interests at the expense of the public.

In 2003, the FCC attempted to ram through a new set of ownership rules that would allow the already too big media empires to consolidate even more. They did this with little concern for the public’s interest or input. What transpired was an unprecedented uproar from citizens who persuaded their representatives to pass a bill repealing the FCC’s measure. Subsequently, a federal Court of Appeals struck down the rest of the regulation calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” So how does the Times characterize these events?

It starts by portraying the FCC as the embattled servant of goodness, seeking only to liberate the well-meaning media companies from, “unreasonable government restrictions on their activities.” But they are foiled by the sinister court system and the Senate, which was, “prodded by a motley alliance of anti-corporate zealots and conservative activists.” Unmentioned in this mythologizing is that the prodding actually came from a record 3 million complaints from the people to the FCC. The Senate responded, not to some motley alliance, but to their constituents. It’s called Democracy and someone should tell Tribune about it. The editorial goes on to make some shockingly untrue assessments of the modern media landscape:

“…what the FCC tried to do three years ago was too modest. In an age of cable and satellite TV – not to mention an age of YouTube.com – it’s no longer justifiable for the government to impose any limits on how many affiliates broadcast networks can own, given that CBS, NBC and ABC no longer control the distribution of their programming the way they did when American families gathered around their sets to watch “I Love Lucy.”

The Internet itself is at risk of becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the Media/Telecom Complex…

Too modest? That requires a massive dose of hubris to lay down. Something the Times neglected to mention was that in this age, the cable, satellite, and broadcast networks, to which they refer, are owned largely by the same handful of corporate megaliths. And since they brought up YouTube, it should be noted that the Internet phenom is currently the subject of persistent rumors that it is about to acquired by, you guessed it, a major media corporation. The Internet itself is at risk of becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the Media/Telecom Complex who oppose Net Neutrality and favor monopolistic convergence. Already, 9 of the top 11 Internet news sites are owned by Big Media.

It is true, though, that the broadcast networks no longer control the distribution of their programming the way they once did. They now have more control. With the repeal of the financial/syndication rules a few years ago, they can now fully own the programming that they broadcast. Now independent producers are getting shut out by the networks who would rather schedule programs that they own because they make more money that way – particularly in syndication.

And then there’s this Orwellian pearl…

“More cities might still have a competitive newspaper market if more broadcasters had been allowed to buy newspapers in the past.”

It’s impossible to fathom how they define competition. If more broadcasters (who are buying each other) were allowed to buy more newspapers (who are buying each other), you eventually end up with little or no competition at all. And that’s exactly the way they like it.

This editorial reveals a self-serving media empire that reflects the industry overall. In the past 25 years, the number of companies that controlled the majority of media output plunged from 50 to 5. If they have their way, they will continue to purge every voice of independence and diversity from the public arena.

Your voice is needed now to persuade Washington’s regulators and legislators that competition is not enhanced by consolidation. Use this form provided by Stop Big Media (a project of FreePress.net) to send your thoughts to the FCC. There is much more information available at that site. And let your representatives know how feel as well.


Bin Laden Presents…

The jokes are flying across the tubes of the Internets: Osama bin Laden is the next Anderson Cooper.

Last Wednesday’s edition of CNN Presents offered the documentary, “In The Footsteps of bin Laden.” The program handed CNN some of its best ratings all year. It was number one in the time period for both total viewers and the 25-54 demographic.

It will be interesting to see what lesson is learned from this success. CNN has trailed Fox badly for several years. Every attempt to makeover the network has failed to raise its competitive standings. Granted, Fox is not actually a news network. Its menu of propaganda and Jerry Springer-style DC-trash rumbles is less info and more tainment. But still CNN has vainly battled on to return to its perch in the cable news jungle.



So this week, with the news poodle herd chasing John Mark’s Karr down the street, CNN posts a program of substance and social relevance and it kills in the ratings. What are the odds that the editors at CNN will correctly analyze what happened here? Will they conclude that Christiane Amanpour should get a daily primetime talk show? Or will they figure out that there is a news vacuum in America that is crying out to be filled?

Or will the the jokes become reality as the announcement is made that Larry King – Live will be replaced by Osama bin Laden – Alive?


The News Corpse Film Salon

As a public service, News Corpse has compiled a selection of progressive-themed films that are scheduled to be released between now and election day in November. These films all have themes that could potentially impact a voter’s perspective on important issues of the day. There truly is something for everyone – documentaries, dramas, comedies and music. So feast on these cinematic treats and, while there is no talking allowed in the theater, it is encouraged everywhere else.

The Ground Truth
The terrible conflict in Iraq, depicted with ferocious honesty in the film, is a prelude for the even more challenging battles fought by the soldiers returning home.


My Country, My Country
My Country, My Country follows the agonizing predicament and the gradual descent of one man caught in the tragic contradictions of the U. S. occupation of Iraq and its project to spread democracy in the Middle East.


American Hardcore
Hardcore was more than music-it was a social movement created by Reagan-era misfit kids. The participants constituted a tribe unto themselves-some finding a voice, others an escape in the hard-edged music. And while some sought a better world, others were just angry and wanted to raise hell.


The U. S. vs John Lennon
Exploring Vietnam-era struggles that remain relevant today, The U. S. vs John Lennon tells the true story of the U. S. government’s attempts to silence John Lennon, the beloved musician and iconic advocate for peace.


Sicko
Like [Michael Moore’s] other movies, what we start with is not always what we end with. Along the way, we discover new roads to go down, roads that often surprise us and lead us to new ideas. I don’t think the country needs a movie that tells you that HMOs and the pharmaceutical companies suck. Everybody knows that. I’d like to show you some things you don’t know.


Man of the Year
Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) has made his career out of skewering politicians and speaking the mind of the exasperated nation on his talk show. He cracked jokes at a fractured system night after night…until he came up with a really funny idea: why not run for president himself?


Fast Food Nation
Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear)-a marketing executive at Mickey’s Fast Food Restaurant chain, home of “The Big One”-has a problem. Contaminated meat is getting into the frozen patties of the company’s best-selling burger. To find out why, he’ll have to take a journey to the dark side of the All-American meal.


Iraq For Sale
Acclaimed director Robert Greenwald takes you inside the lives of soldiers, truck drivers, widows and children who have been changed forever as a result of profiteering in the reconstruction of Iraq. Iraq for Sale uncovers the connections between private corporations making a killing in Iraq and the decision makers who allow them to do so.


Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing
The film follows the lives and careers of the Chicks through the writing and recording of their first album since “the incident” – and three years of political attack, making music, birthing babies, bonding, death threats, and laughter. At the end, the film presents a complete reconsideration of who people think they are, who they want to be and who, ultimately, they really are as women, as public figures, and as musicians.


Al Franken: God Spoke
The makers of “The War Room” turn their cameras on yet another burgeoning political career. Al Franken: God Spoke is a cinema verite pursuit of Al Franken, shot over the course of two years, which follows the former Saturday Night Live comedian from his highly publicized feud with Bill O’Reilly to his relentless campaign against George Bush and the right wing.


The War Tapes
In March 2004, just as the insurgent movement strengthened, several members of one National Guard unit arrived in Iraq, carrying digital video cameras. The War Tapes is the movie they made with Director Deborah Scranton and a team of award-winning filmmakers. It’s the first war movie filmed by soldiers themselves on the front lines in Iraq.

That should keep you busy.


Triple Crossed By National Geographic

As if the Able Danger affair didn’t stir up enough controversy by itself…

Peter Lance, the author of the book, “Triple Cross: Bin Laden’s Spy in America,” is claiming that a cover up is in progress that pits him against the federal government and the National Geographic Channel. NatGeo is broadcasting their version of the book on August 28. Lance has removed himself from the project because, he says:

“They hijacked my work. The documentary is now skewed so much in favor of the feds that it actually distorts the facts of the story.”

The network denies Lance’s claims, but there are additional reasons to be suspicious. First of all, the National Geographic Channel is majority owned by propagandist and right-wing media baron, Rupert Murdoch. Also, Curt Weldon (R-PA), the House Armed Services Committee vice chair, has also requested that his appearances be removed because he does not believe the documentary presents an unbiased view. His committee has held hearings looking into Able Danger.

The question now is, is Murdoch’s cable net purposefully mischaracterizing the conclusions of the book it is supposed to be adapting? We will have to wait for it to air because the author has not been allowed to preview it without first signing a non-disparagement agreement, which he refuses to do. The upside here is that the TV documentary, however skewed, may drive more viewers to purchase the book. At least there is that published document on which to base a judgment.


Feds Assault California’s Reporter’s Shield Law

Josh Wolf is the blogger who has been sitting in a jail cell for refusing to turn over video he took at a public rally. Now Peter Scheer at the California First Amendment Coalition is weighing in on the question of states rights:

If I were Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or California Chief Justice Ronald George, I would be deeply troubled by these developments—not only because of the First Amendment issues at stake, which are huge, but because these federal actions against journalists in California represent a wholesale usurpation of state sovereignty. The Bush administration, which has been justly criticized for attempting to enhance executive power at the expense of Congress, is now eviscerating states’ rights in order to expand the power of the federal government.

This case has been questionable from the start. The Feds justification for getting involved is that a police car, which was paid for partially with federal funds, was damaged. Anyone not presently in a persistent vegetative state can see that this was just a pretense to get around California’s shield law for reporters.

By taking this fight to the governor, Scheer makes the point that this tactic effectively invalidates the state law. A reporter can’t know in advance whether an encounter with a source would lead to the feds or the state claiming jurisdiction in a future legal proceeding. Consequently, the only safe course to take would be for the reporter to avoid the encounter entirely. What use, then, is the state’s shield law?

Obviously this does not serve the principles of freedom of the press and the people’s right to know. And by stepping on the toes of states sovereignty, it calls out for leadership form Sacramento.

Update: The Society of Professional Journalists voted to donate $30,000 to Wolf’s legal defense, saying:

“This case is evidence of a disturbing trend in which federal prosecutors are attempting to turn journalists into arms of law enforcement,” said SPJ President David Carlson. “It cannot be allowed to continue. The public’s right to know will be forever harmed.”

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So Long As I’m The President

At the president’s press conference yesterday, he was asked:

Q: You’ve continually cited the elections, the new government, its progress in Iraq, and yet the violence has gotten worse in certain areas. You’ve had to go to Baghdad again. Is it not time for a new strategy? And if not, why not?

THE PRESIDENT: The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That’s the strategy. The tactics — now, either you say, yes, its important we stay there and get it done, or we leave. We’re not leaving, so long as I’m the President.

That is an unequivical pronouncement by the president that the United States will be in Iraq for at least two and a half more years. Not a single member of the press thought to ask a follow-up to that startling, and heretofore unexpressed, feature of our foreign policy.

And later…

Q: But are you frustrated, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Frustrated? Sometimes I’m frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I’m happy. This is — but war is not a time of joy. These aren’t joyous times. These are challenging times, and they’re difficult times, and they’re straining the psyche of our country.

Well, it’s comforting to know that he is happy sometimes, while the rest of us are having our psyches strained.


Malkin’s Centanni Conspiracy Theory

Cameraman Olaf Wiig, of New Zealand, and American correspondent Steve Centanni are Fox News journalists who were kidnapped last week. Their abduction was reported widely but, consistent with modern news cycling, the story has been suplanted by newer, more sensational stories.

But this doesn’t stop Michelle Malkin from regurgitating speculation, that she attributes to her readers, that the real reason there has not been more reporting (and outrage) is because the media at large just doesn’t care about the folks at Fox:

“The most common suspicion among my readers is that bias against Fox News Channel is coming into play.”

What a despicable notion for her to promote. This reveals much about her readers, and even more about her for choosing to spotlight it. Especially because there was no shortage of coverage a week ago when the two went missing. Beyond the shamefulness of this, she demonstrates complete ignorance of how the media operates. Does she think this drama-addicted press could settle its gaze on a story with nothing breaking and no pictures when JonBenet Ramsey’s alleged murderer is flying business class to L. A.?

She does mention the possibility that the press is treading lightly because there may be sensitive negotiations taking place to secure their release, but that doesn’t excuse her shock news-jock tactics that have no foundation whatsoever. She does not, however, mention that this may not be a kidnapping at all. Since all of the usual supects have denied responsibility, and there has been no communication with lists of demands or ransom, this may just be a terrible crime that is unrelated to the politics or conflict in the region.

Who, exactly is perpetrating this bias against Fox? This allegation cannot be directed at the media, because Fox is itself the top rated cable news channel, and their coverage is identical to the coverage of the rest of the pack. She is aping the tactics of her mentor, Bill O’Reilly, who frequently disparages the media for its bias and subserviance to the far left secularists. He does this from atop the perch of his number one rated cable news program. Who do they think the media is?

Malkin doesn’t bother to offer any support for the theory she is spreading, but I suppose it may be too much to expect anything like jounalistic ethics from her.


Republicans Sucking Up Telecom Dollars

In a year with a major Telecom bill before congress, numerous regulatory issues on the table, and Net Neutrality still hovering ominously over the webiverse, the big Telecom companies, and their lobbyists, have gotten out their checkbooks. From the National Journal:

“Officials of dominant telephone and cable TV companies vying for an upper hand in pending telecommunications legislation are contributing heavily this election season to Republican incumbents who share those firms’ deregulatory outlook.”

Let’s take a look at the money flow from these interested parties:

  • AT&T – $1,700,000.
  • National Cable and Telecommunications Association – $1,048,444.
  • Verizon Communications – $905,700.
  • BellSouth – $686,850.
  • Comcast – $581,000.
  • National Association of Broadcasters – $403,820.
  • Qwest Communications International – $384,702.
  • Clear Channel Communications – $342,000.
  • Time Warner – $309,750.

These corporations are aggressively pursuing their interests, which include killing Net Neutrality and removing barriers to more consolidation. Now, let’s look at where that money went:

  • George Allen – $260,132.
  • Conrad Burns – $210,941.
  • John Ensign – $203,439.
  • Rick Santorum – $168,000.
  • Dennis Hastert – $158,350.
  • Joe Barton – $155,129.
  • Fred Upton – 152,400.

These are Washington honchos that shape legislation and hold the federal government’s purse strings. The money they are receiving is sorely needed now. Burns is the most endangered incumbent in the senate due in part to his having received more money from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff than any other senator. Santorum is presently behind in his senate reelection bid. And Republicans in general are suffering from the low ratings of congress and the president.

So the Telecom industry has come to the rescue in hopes that they will be rewarded with legislative perks and deregulation. Let’s hope they don’t get their money’s worth.


The Deadly Art Of Spin

With every assurance that President Bush gives that “staying the course” will lead to victory, the truth on the ground reveals a starkly contrary conclusion.

We all know that the media presents skewed versions of reality that are, more often than not, intended to promote the interests of their corporate chieftains, their commercial patrons, or their political collaborators. But for anyone who thinks that this state of corroded journalism is harmful only in the intellectual sphere, Tom Lasseter of McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau has some real news for you:

“As security conditions continue to deteriorate in Iraq, many Iraqi politicians are challenging the optimistic forecasts of governments in Baghdad and Washington, with some worrying that the rosy views are preventing the creation of effective strategies against the escalating violence.”

Put more bluntly, he is saying that these deceitful pollyannas are making more corpses. As violence in Iraq escalates, the official story, which is obediently transcribed by the press, is far more optimistic. It is important for them to paint a rosy picture in order to maintain public support for a disastrous policy that has produced only failure. With every assurance that President Bush gives that “staying the course” will lead to victory, the truth on the ground reveals a starkly contrary conclusion. In July, about 3,400 Iraqi civilians were killed. That is more than in any month since the war began. Yet we continue to be consoled with platitudes that invoke safety and progress.

These starry-eyed scenarios are anything but benign. Lasseter quotes Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament, saying…

“The American policy has failed both in terms of politics and security, but the big problem is that they will not confess or admit that. They are telling the American public that the situation in Iraq will be improved, they want to encourage positive public opinion (in the U.S.), but the Iraqi citizens are seeing something different.”

They are seeing more of their families and friends and neighbors die. By stubbornly refusing to present honest representations of the situation, the Bush administration, and by extension the media, are actually contributing to the rising casualties. Unless they can forthrightly address the real problems, they will never be able to adjust their strategies to something that might result in success. And as long as it is more important for them to manipulate public opinion than to succeed, they will never approach a realistic assessment of the problem. And worse, they will see ever more innocents die.