The Last Straw At The Los Angeles Times

The Wall Street Journal (via L.A. Observed) just reported that the Los Angeles Times has fired its editor, Dean Baquet. The Times parent, Tribune Company, has been on a mission to eviscerate what remains of the paper by slashing personnel. A month ago they fired the publisher, Jeff Johnson, for refusing to go along with the cuts. Baquet tenuously agreed to stay on in the hopes that he could forestall any further newsroom terminations.

The new publisher, David Hiller, made the announcement after the news was leaked to the Journal. This smells like an attempt to lose the story in the thick of election night madness. But this story is only going to grow. After the Johnson firing, three top editors (Doug Frantz, Leo Wolinsky, and John Montorio) promised to resign if management pushed Baquet out as well. We’ll see if they are true to their words.

Baquet will be replaced by James O’Shea, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, where Hiller had come from. Obviously they are stuffing the deck with ringers from the home office, probably with the intent to sell the hollowed-out shell of a newspaper to another hack conglomerate. It’s unclear what they will have to offer a buyer without an editorial staff.

They won’t have much of a subscriber base either. For the six-month period ending September 2006, the Times circulation delined 8%, the largest drop in the industry. And they are about to lose even more. Aside from me, there is already a Subscriber Revolt site set up to put the paper on notice. Here is an excerpt of the letter you can send via this site:

“I am a Los Angeles Times reader who has watched with dismay the attempts of the Tribune Co. to squeeze ever-higher profits from my newspaper by slashing its ability to gather and publish news…..The Times is our irreplaceable civic resource, and I will not sit back as you dismantle it.”

The letter includes an explicit threat to cancel by December 31, if Baquet is not reinstated and other remedial steps are not taken. I’m not sure I can wait that long.

This paper can be saved if Tribune would sell it to local operators. There has been interest from folks like Eli Broad, Ron Burkle and David Geffen. Any one of them would be an improvement over Tribune. An even better plan would be for an academic institution to purchase the paper and run it as a not-prifit. But it will never be worth a damn if Tribune is allowed to carry out its destructive and short-sighted agenda.

And we can stop them: Subscriber Revolt

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Murdoch On U. S. Deaths In Iraq

When the Godfather of tabloid propaganda speaks, people listen. So Rupert Murdoch is contributing his fair and balanced assessment of the human toll wrought by the war in Iraq:

“The death toll, certainly of Americans there, by the terms of any previous war are quite minute.”

For a billionaire media mogul to characterize the demise of almost 3,000 American soldiers as “minute” exceeds all boundaries of decency. This slice of cold-hearted indifference to the fallen and their families is Murdoch’s way of justifying his support for a tragically unnecessary war that he helped to concoct via the right wing noise machine he commands.

Would it be too much to ask that he express some remorse for those who gave their lives? What about the thousands who are maimed, brain damaged, and crippled by PTSD? And do you think he even gives a second thought to the, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians?

To top it off, this cowardly mogul with a massive American press operation scampers off to Japan to deliver these comments to reporters at a conference in Tokyo. I hope that his press colleagues welcome him home with some questions that call on him to account for his callousness.


And The Winner Is…The Media

So long as we have corporate media monopolies married to political powerbrokers in government and on K Street, we will never have truly free elections.

As the American electorate’s chest heaves with exhaustion, gasping for that second wind to propel it across the finish line of this year’s electoral marathon, the handicappers are already setting up shop to declare victories or to justify whatever it is they decide to call non-victories. There will be celebrations and wakes and scores of prognosticators heralding their prescience no matter how far from reality their predictions actually fall.

But there is one contestant in this game that can pump its mighty fist in the air regardless of polling outcomes.

When all is said and done, The Media will have banked over $2 Billion. Of course, the final numbers are not in and this estimate doesn’t even include spot cable buys, not to mention last minute surges that are expected on all sides.

If a campaign can be analogized to a war, then the media are the war profiteers. Fox is the Halliburton of the press corps – GE (owner of NBC/Universal) is the…well, the GE. They benefit no matter who wins or loses. In fact, it is in their interest to incite division and to escalate the conflict.

They have been doing this in some obvious ways. The hype surrounding the Mark Foley and John Kerry events was purposefully orchestrated to fuel controversy and to roil the electoral landscape. Partisans on both sides help to propel these tangents, but despite their varying levels of significance, none of these issues have parity with Iraq, the economy, health care, global warming, etc. Yet they are given prominence due to their tabloid appeal.

As the prospects for each candidate and party fluctuate, the players need to react, and this is generally done by purchasing more ad time. The media doesn’t particularly like a blowout because it results in the failing candidate either abandoning the air war or the candidate’s supporters abandoning the candidate, leaving no budget for the battle. So the press chips in keep the race close.

Meanwhile the public suffers the fate of all civilians in wartime. They are beaten and battered and left in a heap along with the other victims of collateral damage. It is never the people’s interest that is served in war, but the interests of the war mongers and their powerful benefactors. The people suffer through these air wars and become disgusted and demoralized. That is actually part of the media’s wartime stategery. A little known fact about negative ads is that they are not intended to tarnish an opponent (that’s just gravy). Their purpose is to suppress turnout so that campaign strategerists are left with a smaller, more manageable, voter population to influence and get to the polls.

So long as we have corporate media monopolies married to political powerbrokers in government and on K Street, we will never have truly free elections. They just feed off of each other and enrich each other at the expense of democracy. The media needs to be corralled into a role wherein it educates and informs citizens. And public financing of campaigns is imperative if we want to remove the influence of corporations from politics.

This is the paramount battle of our generation and we are presently losing. The media will grow stronger as a result of the massive infusion of campaign spending it is enjoying this year. But it isn’t invincible and the fight is worth fighting. I do not consider it hyperbole to say that the future of our country rests on the outcome and if that isn’t motivation, then I guess I’ll just have to buy some more airtime to convince you.


NBC CEO Challenges FCC

For all the faults, misdeeds, propaganda and monopolistic abuse of Big Media, either hell has frozen over or Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, made a strong case against censorship in a Wall Street Journal editorial.

A couple of years ago, Janet Jackson’s breast proved to be more powerful than any other media organism. It sucked up all the airtime from cable news, talk radio, and other outlets. Its impact extended to Washington, invading the White House, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. The result was a new set of indecency regulations that increased penalties for naughty behavior and put broadcasters on notice that such shenanigans would no longer be tolerated.

Mr. Wright, in his editorial, pointed out that these new rules were likely to create a “climate of self-censorship,” and that’s exactly what happened. Networks recently have declined to air programs like “Saving Private Ryan,” and 9/11 documentaries because they contained language that real people use in real life. He further noted that the evolution of the media marketplace has produced a vastly different landscape than that under which the indecency rules were originally established and he offered up this formula to illustrate the FCC’s anachronistic stance:

“Do the math: 85% of households have cable and satellite, leaving 15% receiving broadcast TV only. Two-thirds of those households do not have kids under 18. Thus, the FCC appears to be basing its actions on a policy that is relevant to 5% of households.”

This effectively spotlights the inane response on the part of the FCC and political puritans to the presence of adult themes on television. Their efforts to sanitize broadcasting so that it never contains content that might be objectionable to anyone over six years of age stifles creativity and speech. It’s a kind of censorship that discriminates against mature ideas and places limits on discussions that affect all Americans, even the young ones. The self-censorship, that stems from broadcasters fearful of stiff fines, affects everything from movies to sitcoms to news magazines. And it holds all viewers hostage to the sensitivities of children and their disingenuous, moralistic protectors.

I should note that Mr. Wright’s position fits nicely with his industry’s philosophy of eliminating all regulations imposed on it. Perhaps he is just lobbying to keep the government at bay as he does with other regulatory issues like ownership and consolidation. But the bottom line is that, in this case, he’s right, and the over-reaching moralizing of federal agencies must not be permitted to impair the free expression of diverse entertainment and educational programming.


Media Matters: Top Election Falsehoods

For anyone interested in a compendium of the media’s failings in this election season, Media Matters has come through for you. Their article, “Top election falsehoods, myths, and talking points,” is a concise and useful compilation that vividly demonstrates the weaknesses in the conventional, corporate run press. Here is the list of shame. Click the Media Matters link above to see the detail.

  • American voters favor Republicans on national security.
  • The public favors Republicans on the issues of taxes and fiscal responsibility.
  • Republicans had the “Contract with America” in 1994 to power their victory, but Democrats in 2006 have no agenda.
  • Terrorists want the Democrats to win.
  • Even if Americans don’t approve of the job Bush is doing, they like him personally.
  • Once a “pro-Bush” state, always a “pro-Bush” state.
  • Democrats will drown the Bush administration in investigations.
  • A Democratic takeover of the House would put extreme liberals in leadership positions.
  • Kuo’s claims regarding White House’s real views of religious conservatives have no precedent.
  • Republicans and Democrats both equally guilty of “dirty tricks”.

In each of the items above, Media Matters has documented the rampant dishonesty by the media in fomenting these easily disprovable themes. This is another example of how an irresponsible and ethically compromised community of psuedo-journalists performs a disservice to the public and to the concept of a free and independent media.


Leave It To Blather

Leave It To Blather
Who would have thought that after 50 years the Cleaver brothers would be looked back upon as media visionaries? But the insight and stark analysis preserved in this video unmistakably marks them as the intellectual peers of Minow, McLuhan, and Colbert.

This archival footage was discovered inadvertently while desperately searching for anything on television that wouldn’t induce vomiting. After hours of review (and 14 pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey), this startling and historically significant clip surfaced. TV will never be the same.

The video linked above contains an actual clip from Leave It To Beaver. In the episode’s customary moralistic epilogue, the boys tackle the same defects in television news that Jon Stewart so elegantly skewered in his Crossfire appearance.

To me, seeing this icon of innocence and family values humorously addressing a media problem that persists 50 years later, illustrates just how entrenched these problems are (and how easy they are to make fun of). But the fact that we’re still laughing at the same jokes is a bit disheartening. It’s not exactly an affirmation of progress.

The parade of prattling pundits that populate the closing credits are only a taste of the Blathering Class that infects our national discourse with deceit, diversion and division. And yet, people watch. Are we gluttons for punishment, addicted to conflict, or just starved for knowledge and hoping some will inadvertently reveal itself?

I don’t know. I guess I watch too much TV.

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Ann Coulter’s New Address: Folsom?

This is sweet…

“Conservative columnist Ann Coulter has refused to cooperate in an investigation into whether she voted in the wrong precinct, so the case will probably be turned over to prosecutors, Palm Beach County’s elections chief said Wednesday.”

This is a potential felony that carries a sentence of up to 5 years. Since people like Coulter are rarely held accountable for their crimes, it is unlikely that she’s going to see hard time. All the same, I can’t help feeling a little giddy. If she did get sent up, she could use the time to write a book to follow her recent “Godless.” It could be an autobiography titled, “Shameless.”


The Olbermann Steamroller Still Rolling

Ratings for the cable news nets have been released and October 2006 to October 2005 comparisons again look sweet for Countdown.

MSNBC scored hefty gains driven by Olbermann’s 61% rise in viewers 25-54. His total viewer increase was 67%, while O’Reilly’s dropped (again) 22%. Countdown improved more than any of the other news programs. O’Reilly was the 2nd biggest decliner (after Greta). In fact, Olbermann gained more total viewers than all of the other shows combined.

Here are the network numbers for total viewers:

Total day: FNC CNN MSNBC HLN CNBC
Oct. ’06: 786 490 286 231 176
Oct. ’05: 948 533 252 215 158
% change: -17% -8% +13% +7% +11%

Primetime: FNC CNN MSNBC HLN CNBC
Oct. ’06: 1,291 720 418 357 170
Oct. ’05: 1,715 824 359 366 132
% change: -25% -13% +16% -2% +29%

MSNBC chief, Dan Abrams, seems to be learning the right lessons:

“Keith Olbermann is the right person at the right time, and doing it in the right way. This is a really good sign for MSNBC on the whole. I think that we’ve found a voice to some degree.”

I think your audience agrees with you, Dan.


MySpace: Going Down The YouTubes

In an article last April, I predicted the decline of MySpace as a result of over-commercialization and desertion by bored users:

“These examples of commercialization foreshadow precisely how the culture of MySpace will become tarnished and unappealing. Its members will come to feel disinterested and exploited.”

Now the Washington Post is catching up with me. In their story this past Sunday, they interviewed MySpace users and found that many of them have gotten over thier initial addiction to the site. Not only are they and their friends deleting their profiles, the ones that stay are spending much less time there. One former user summed up the downtrend by stating simply that, “I’ve grown out of it. I thought it was kind of pointless.”

A MySpace spokesperson, in the mold of Baghdad Bob (“What American troops?”), discounts these reports as anecdotal and cites the growing number of new profiles. There was no breakdown of whether these where net new profiles, or how many of them are advertisers of other commercial accounts.

I continue to maintain that MySpace has less than two years before it joins the ranks of Friendster has-beens and Rupert Murdoch’s brilliant acquisition will be seen as another dotcom folly. The deeper folly may be the notion that giant media conglomerates like News Corp can glom onto a trendy counter-culture craze without extinguishing its coolness.

YouTube is going down the same road (or series of tubes) now that it has been swallowed up by neo-megalith, The Google. There was speculation prior to the acquisition that once YouTube had a deep pocketed parent, the copyright-wingers would crest the hill with their army of lawyers. Last week YouTube agreed to remove 30,000 videos at the request of a Japanese publishers group. And now, Comedy Central, demonstrating their obtuse short-sightedness, has ordered all of its content off the site. Even before the buyout, YouTube ratted out a user to the Viacom Police, who set upon said user forthwith with a lawsuit.

The beauty of the Internet is that it’s a fluid environment that allows people to flow to the services that provide the most value and allows communities to find their own level when their needs are being fulfilled. MySpace has been working contrary to those goals by expanding intrusive marketing initiatives and cracking down on content bandits. YouTube faces many of the same risks. And since Big Media has always considered these upstarts a threat, they may not be the least bit troubled by their waning prospects, even as they devour them. But so long as the Internet’s flow is unimpeded, people will continue to seek and find new ways to set information free.


NBC: Shut Up And…Oh Just Shut Up

Following the recent announcement of censorship by CNN and NPR when they refused to air ads for the film, “Death of a President,” it seems the dawn is not yet here, because it’s still getting darker.

NBC has now refused to broadcast ads for the Dixie Chicks’ new movie, “Shut Up and Sing.” (See the ad here). This is the same NBC whose censors just finished editing Madonna’s TV special because they didn’t like the religious content. The distributor for the Chicks’ film, The Weinstein Co., says NBC told them that they…

“…cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.”

Harvey Weinstein said in response…

“It’s a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America. The idea that anyone should be penalized for criticizing the president is profoundly un-American.”

Indeed, the idea that a national broadcast network would abuse its power by prohibiting the use of public airwaves to promote a legal product on the grounds that it is “disparaging” to the president, is un-American and unacceptable. Since when is the characterization of a president a factor in whether or not a product can be advertised? This policy would also prohibit ads for “Dump Bush” t-shirts or even ads for car dealerships if they employed a silly Bush impersonator.

NBC is owned, don’t forget, by General Electric, the largest defense contractor in the world, and one of the biggest beneficiaries of Bush’s war industry as well as his pro-corporate tax giveaways. They also have a stake in the FCC’s determinations regarding media ownership and consolidation.

The Dixie’s doc tells the story of how they were silenced because they they chose to exercise freedom of speech. Now NBC is silencing them again for much the same reason. Their decision not to air these ads raises the question as to whether they were pressured by Washington to road block the movie, or are acting on their own to prop up their benefactor in the White House. Either way, they are demonstrating that their loyalty is reserved for politicos at BushCo, at the expense of the Constitution, the American people, and free expression.

Write to express yourself (while you still can):
Bob Wright, GE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NBC Universal
Jeff Zucker, Chief Executive Officer, NBC Universal Television Group
Randy Falco, Pres and Chief Operating Officer, NBC Universal Television Group
Keith Turner, President/NBC Universal Sales and Marketing
Marianne Gambelli, Exec Vice President/NBC Universal Sales and Marketing
Victoria Morgan, Vice President – Advertising Standards/NBC Universal

Other NBC Network Entertainment Sales & Marketing Contacts
NBC Advertising Standards Guidelines – PDF (See page 11).