Bush, Republicans turn to talk shows for help.
“American radio talk-show hosts have become frontline warriors in a drive by President George W. Bush and his Republicans to pull off a surprise and maintain control of Congress in November 7 elections.” They “have become” frontline warriors? What does Reuters think they been doing for the last 20 years?

Fox Will Broadcast First Presidential Debate of 2008.
“FOX News and the South Carolina Republican Party have jointly announced that they will present the first 2008 presidential debate on May 15, 2007. The debate, which is expected to attract the top Republican contenders for President, will be shown live on FOX News Channel (FNC) and FOX News Radio.” Republicans staying in their comfort zone?

Cobain tops list of richest dead celebs.
“Cobain, who raked in an estimated $50 million between October 2005 and October of this year, has edged Elvis Presley from the No. 1 spot on’s list of ‘Top-Earning Dead Celebrities.'” I just had to include this to affirm the stupity and insensitivity of John McLaughlin, who, in the days following Cobain’s death, said…

“Kurt Cobain will not be remembered as the John Lennon of his generation. He will be remembered as the Sid Vicious of his generation- a loser.”

Digg in acquisition talks with News Corp.
“San Francisco-based startup Digg has been in recent acquisition discussions with a number of companies, including News Corp., according to multiple sources close to the negotiations.” God forbid!

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Press Freedom Declines In U.S.

The Fifth Annual Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index is out and it doesn’t look good for the United States. In a field of 168 countries, the U.S. finishes 53rd, sandwiched between the Dominican Republic and Uruguay. The embarrassment of such a poor ranking is exacerbated by the fact that we dropped nine points since last year to reach this nadir. The reasons for this slippage are summarized in the report:

“Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of ‘national security’ to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his ‘war on terrorism.'”

The report also cites the cases of journalists being held without trial in both Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. The report does not cite the continued use of propaganda in the form of video news releases, or merger of the White House press office with Fox News via the hiring of Tony Snow, or the Attorney General’s overt threat to incarcerate recalcitrant reporters when he told Congress that…

“There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that [prosecution] is a possibility.”

I did some additional numbers crunching to focus the list on the nations with the strongest economies as measured by Gross Domestic Product. In that ranking the U.S. finished in the bottom third at #14 of 20. I then produced a listing of 20 countries that ranked the highest in both population and GDP. Still the U.S. couldn’t manage to do better than tenth place. [Click on more below to view these charts]

The fact that this country, whose Constitution explicitly honors a free press, fares so poorly in this report is shameful. But what makes it worse is that, while the press in other nations is often suppressed by threats of violence, the main reason our media suffers is due to its own cowardice and ineptitude. This report is an exclamation mark for media reform and the movement to break up the Big Media conglomerates.

This sorry appraisal for the United States reflects squarely on the Bush administration and its open antagonism for the press. In its alleged quest to protect America from enemies whom we are told hate us for our freedoms, Bush has alighted on a unique defense:

If he takes away our freedom, they won’t hate us anymore.

Contine reading

Death Of A Prez Ads Nixed By CNN, NPR

Death of a President is a new film that has been generating both controversy and acclaim. It is the winner of the International Critics’ Award from the Toronto Film Festival. The film’s web site describes it as…

“a fictional TV documentary broadcast in 2008, reflecting on another monstrously despicable and cataclysmic event: the assassination of President George W. Bush on October 19th, 2007.”

Sadly, the media’s martinets of virtue are again patrolling the avenues of our psyches, deciding what is safe for our aesthetic consumption.

CNN and NPR are refusing to air advertisements for the film. There is nothing in the ads that is inappropriate for broadcast. Indeed, the ads were approved by the Motion Picture Association of America for all audiences. But that fact has not deterred the programmers from engaging in censorship. CNN issued a brief statement that virtually admits its intention to censor, saying that…

“CNN has decided not to take the ad because of the extreme nature of the movie’s subject matter.”

By basing their decision on the movie’s “subject matter”, they have installed themselves as the public’s nanny. They believe that they are in the best position to decide for us which subjects matter. While they are a couple of yards further over the line than NPR, the public radio network’s excuse is not much better:

“The movie is fairly likely to generate significant controversy and we’ll cover it as a news story. To take a sponsorship spot would raise questions and cause confusion.”

One wonders if that criteria also applies to sponsorships from Ford or McDonald’s. Surely they have generated controversy connected to their products. Has their sponsorship raised questions or caused confusion?

This film already has an uncommon burden to overcome as a result of its premise. Two of the nation’s biggest movie exhibitors, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark USA, have announced that they will not play the movie in any of their ~8000 theaters. Newmarket Films, the movie’s distributor, insists that they will be able to open in plenty of theaters. They say that they are getting support from many exhibitors including the Landmark Theater chain.

These broadcasters and exhibitors, who have appointed themselves the protectors of the public’s tender sensibilities, deny that any partisan motive is at play. But an objective observer would note that they all previously played nice with another controversial release distributed by Newmarket, “The Passion of the Christ.”

So what is the reason that this film is getting such a different reception? It couldn’t be the subject matter, could it? Look at the trends:

  • The Dixie Chicks criticize the president and they’re thrown off the radio. Has that ever happend to a right wing artist?
  • A network TV biopic about Ronald Reagan is protested by conservatives and it gets shuttled off to cable. But ABC’s Path To 9/11 airs despite opposition.
  • An artist exhibits a work entitled, “The Proper Way to Display the Flag,” and the gallery is told to shut it down. But when Bush walks on a flag at Ground Zero, it’s just another photo-op.

It appears that everyone has an equal right to protest, but only Republicans can turn their protests into edicts that deny all Americans access to the embattled works. It’s called censorship, and it’s alive and well in America.

Update: Tim Graham at NewsBusters takes issue with this story. Responding to my criticism of NPR he asks…

“Can’t this blogger differentiate between a Bush assassin and Ronald McDonald?”

Tim is veering off on a detour to address a point that’s right in the middle of the road. If NPR declines an ad for this movie because of the appearance of bias in the event that they cover it editorially, doesn’t that same consideration come into play for any sponsor that they might cover editorially? And by the way, I can differentiate between a Bush assassin and Ronald McDonald. The Bush assassin in the movie harms no one except another character in the film. Ronald McDonald’s influence on real children harms thousands of them every year.

Bigger Media Is Not Better Media

DUH! And now we have (more) proof. I’ll let the press release speak for itself:

Today, the Benton Foundation and the Social Science Research Council released four independent academic studies (PDF) on the impact of media consolidation in the United States. The new research focuses on how the concentration of media ownership affects media content, from local news reporting to radio music programming, and how minority groups have fared – as both media outlet owners and as historically undeserved audiences — in an increasingly deregulated media environment.

These studies make clear that media consolidation does not create better, more local or more diverse media content. To the contrary, they strongly suggest that media ownership rules should be tightened not relaxed.

Each study addresses an important relationship that the media has with culture and community. The individual titles reveal the scope of their coverage:

  • Media Ownership Matters.
  • Questioning Media Access.
  • Do Radio Companies Offer More Variety When They Exceed The Local Ownership Cap?
  • Newspaper/Television Cross-Ownership Local News And Public Affairs Programming On Television Stations.

The study concludes what to many was already obvious:

“…cross-ownership is not associated with any meaningful improvement (in terms of program quantity) in station performance, relative to comparable stations, in the local news and public affairs arenas.”

This is a conclusion that directly contradicts a controversial report released by the FCC in 2003, under the chairmanship of Michael Powell. But it concurs with a report that was buried, and ordered destroyed, by the very same Chairman Powell who needs to learn that, indeed, facts are stubborn things.

Calame’s Cowardice: The New York Times Retracts Its Integrity

Last June, in a rare display of journalistic responsibility, the New York Times published an article exposing the Bush administration’s efforts to further undermine civil liberties by prying into private banking transactions without due process. The following month, Byron Calame, the Times’ Public Editor, backed up the story and the paper’s decision to publish it. But now he’s had a change of heart:

Calame’s new position is an endorsement for even less oversight and more absence of media attention.

“After pondering for several months, I have decided I was off base. There were reasons to publish the controversial article, but they were slightly outweighed by two factors to which I gave too little emphasis. While it’s a close call now, as it was then, I don’t think the article should have been published.”

The two factors he cites as having prompted this back flip are, “the apparent legality of the program in the United States, and the absence of any evidence that anyone’s private data had actually been misused.”

On Factor One – Apparent Legality:
Mr. Calame now has doubts about the program’s illegality because, “there have been no Times reports of legal action being taken.” Well, there has been no legal action taken about dozens of BushCo’s legally suspect adventures. Since when is that a determinate of legality from the standpoint of investigative journalism? We have a Republican controlled Congress that refuses to perform its oversight obligations, and a Justice Department headed by Bush’s long-time personal lawyer. If the Times is waiting for them to prosecute wrongdoing on the part of this president, they might as well be waiting for Bush to admit he lied about WMDs. And if Calame thinks he has to wait for the Times to report on prosecutions he should know will never take place, he is being strikingly disingenuous, naive, or both.

On Factor Two – Private Data Misuse:
Mr. Calame is also second-guessing his original conclusions because he has not seen any documentation of harm resulting from the program. Does he really believe that a program that has the potential to produce harm must produce it before the program can be examined by the press? By that standard he would have the Times ignore proposed legislation to bar Episcopalians from voting until the law passed and an Episcopalian voter was turned away at the polls.

Calame cites, “The lack of appropriate oversight – to catch any abuses in the absence of media attention,” as a key reason for originally supporting publication. His new position is an endorsement for even less oversight and more absence of media attention going forward. This is a disappointing reversal that nonetheless affirms the philosophy of News Corpse: The media is dead.


YouTube Shared User Data With Studio Lawyers.
Lawyers for Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures convinced a federal judge in San Francisco to issue a subpoena requiring YouTube to turn over details about a user who uploaded dialog from the movie studio’s “Twin Towers.” YouTube promptly handed over the data to Paramount, which on June 16 sued the creator of the 12-minute clip.

The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting.
The introduction of Fox News had a small but statistically significant effect on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000.

Boy Scouts Get MPAA-approved Copyright Patch.
The MPAA partnered with the Los Angeles Area Boy Scouts to develop the “Respect Copyrights” patch, a merit badge that Scouts can earn after reading some propaganda information on what you are not supposed to do with copyrighted works.

Google Flexing Political Muscle.
Google is trying to boost its influence in Congress with the first campaign contributions from its new political action committee. The initial round of $1,000 donations…[went] to three Republicans, including two of the most endangered GOP House members.

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Terrorist Media Strategy = Bush Media Strategy

On October 21, 2006, President Bush delivered another in the series of radio addresses that seem now to be presidential obligations. [Can anyone explain why these anachronisms persist in an era when media access is so abundant?] In this address the president makes some interesting remarks that unintentionally correlate his media policy with that of the terrorists.

“Another reason for the recent increase in attacks is that the terrorists are trying to influence public opinion here in the United States.”
The Bush Administration is also trying to influence public opinion here. Through the use of uncredited, government-produced video news releases and payments to friendly pundits, the American government has directed a flood of propaganda at the American people.

“They have a sophisticated propaganda strategy.”
They might have learned it from the Pentagon that has an ongoing policy of paying Iraqi newspapers to publish positive stories written by American PR firms.

“They know they cannot defeat us in the battle, so they conduct high-profile attacks, hoping that the images of violence will demoralize our country and force us to retreat.”
Sounds a lot like Shock and Awe.

“They carry video cameras and film their atrocities, and broadcast them on the Internet.”
This is not so different from the practice of embedding reporters in military units to produce tainted coverage that is then broadcast to the rest of the world. But we could also include the scandalous events at Abu Ghraib as examples of atrocities on film.

“…their goal is to, ‘carry out a media war that is parallel to the military war.'”
That is precisely the goal of the U.S. according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who said that, “the military needs to focus more on adapting to the changes in global media.”

“The terrorists are trying to divide America and break our will.”
The president is also trying to divide America with characterizations of his critics as soft on terror cut-and-runners who want America to lose. His “with us or with the terrorists” rhetoric is designed explicitly to rip apart the fabric of the American people who, in their hearts, all want the same thing – Peace and security.

If there is one thing that we can claim credit for, it’s that we have been a stalwart role model for the forces we are fighting in Iraq and elsewhere. It is easy to observe that the terrorist’s media strategies, about which the president is complaining, were learned from studying the media strategies employed by Bush and his deputies. We are, if nothing else, good teachers.

NBC Layoffs – The Hidden Victims

The immediate pain of the just announced layoffs at NBC will be felt by the 750 employees that lose their jobs. But there is more harm in this plan, and it may spread even further.

First, many analysts note that the bulk of the cuts are going to come from the news divisions. NBC has stated that they will be consolidating operations from the network news, MSNBC, Telemundo, the station group and the NBC News Channel into one or two sites. This will reduce the diversity of reporting to an ever narrower stream of homogenized content. Good going NBC, that’s just what television news needs.

Secondly, NBC revealed that they will be turning the 8:00 pm hour into a reality block. Reality shows are cheap to make and are owned in greater measure by the network. This decision is a double punch in the gut to the creative producers of scripted programs (comedies and dramas). Not only will there be fewer timeslots available to place their product, they are also being shut out of the market because the network is choosing to buy programs from itself. The result is that independent production companies, which have been disappearing rapidly, will accelerate their exit from the television stage.

So to summarize:

  • 750 people lose their jobs.
  • Creative programming loses out to Reality programming.
  • And all Americans lose even more outlets for their news.

And this is what NBC Uni Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker says is his blueprint for TV 2.0. If this is his idea of an upgrade, I think I’d prefer to stick with the old version. And that’s a pretty depressing thought in and of itself.

But the bottom line is that NBC’s initiative to streamline it’s operations is going to hurt millions more than the 750 unfortunates they are leaving on the cutting room floor. And these decisions are being made by the same executives that plunged NBC into 4th place. If these losers think this plan is going to be good for business, they are just providing new evidence of their cluelessness.

Fox Takes Both Sides

Maybe the Fox News Channel really is fair and balanced after all. With a nod to Stephen Colbert, here is an example of Fox’s famous even-handedness.

On May 1, Fox’s Steve Doocy reported on the performance of a Bush impersonator at the White House Correspondents Dinner who worked alongside the president.

Fair: “…the second president was actually an impersonator by the name of Steve Bridges, who nailed the commander in chief’s mannerisms and vocal patterns.”

On October 12, however, Fox’s Mike Straka had a different take on Bridges, this time paired with Barbara Streisand.

Balanced: “During her show, La Babs employed a bad Bush impersonator to sing a duet with her, all the while lambasting the real administration’s policies.”

According to Fox, Bridges is a bad Bush impersonator when working with Streisand, but when working with the president, nails him. The lesson for Bridges, I suppose, is never to work with Democrats. Ironically, that’s philosophy of President Bush and the Republican controlled Congress as well.

Murdoch’s Poison Pillory

A couple of years ago, Rupert Murdoch orchestrated the adoption of a “poison pill” that would act as an obstacle to any investor that sought to wrest control of News Corp. from the Murdoch family. John Malone of Liberty Media, who had been buying up shares of News Corp., was the unnamed target of this ploy. Liberty Media is a holding company that investments in media properties like QVC, Encore, and Inter/Active Corp.

Now the measure is up for renewal and there are those who would like to see it expire. The Murdoch family presently controls about 30% of News Corp.’s stock. Liberty has about 19%. If shareholders vote against the pill, it could result in Murdoch losing the iron grip he has on the company.

On a partisan basis, Malone may not be much better than Murdoch. He is a reliable source of contributions for the Republican party. Still, there is little evidence that he is as strident an advocate, or as willing to taint programming with his biases. Plus, it would just be a delicious irony if Murdoch’s megalomaniacal greed resulted in his being toppled from his throne.

There is something you can do. If you own shares of News Corp. vote them against renewing the pill. If you own funds that invest in News Corp. contact the portfolio managers and advise them that you would like for them to vote against it. Institutional investors are already amongst those who are inclined to oppose the measure.

But don’t waste any time because the vote is this Friday. This is an election that you can have a real impact on before that other election coming up in November. And if there were a significant shift in the journalistic philosophy of a media giant like News Corp., it would have a noticeably more far reaching effect than any electoral shift could ever have.