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“Big Media Gatekeepers Are America’s Embarrassment”: Why The Biggest Problem With The Media Is Not ‘Liberal Bias’

Lately, Republican presidential candidates have found a political target that’s easier to hit than their primary rivals or even Hillary Clinton: the media.

For instance, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) scolded the moderators of last month’s CNBC debate, saying, “The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media.” Likewise, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) declared, “The Democrats have the ultimate super PAC. It’s called the mainstream media.” And more recently, Ben Carson accused the media of reporting “a bunch of lies” that called into question parts of his biography. “I think it’s pathetic, and basically what the media does is they try to get you distracted,” he said.

Republicans are right to criticize the mainstream media, but they are doing it for the wrong reasons. That’s because the biggest problem with the media today is not their alleged liberal bias. Rather, it’s a corporatized system that is rigged against the public interest and failing our democracy. If they are truly interested in making the media better, here are three principles that politicians from both parties should embrace.

  1. No more mergers. Earlier this year, Comcast abandoned its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable after the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department signaled that they would oppose it. The collapse of the deal between the country’s two largest cable companies, which opponents argued would lead to higher prices and worse customer service, was an important victory for consumers and media reformers alike. As former FCC commissioner Michael Copps wrote at the time, “combining America’s two largest cable providers would have been anti-competitive, anti-consumer and anti-democracy.” But the merger’s defeat, while critical, was only one battle in a much larger war against media conglomeratization.

Almost immediately after Comcast dropped out, Charter Communications, the fourth-largest cable company, initiated its own bid to take over Time Warner Cable. A coalition of reform groups, including Common Cause and Free Press, is campaigning against the deal and asking supporters to sign a letter of opposition to the FCC. “If the transaction were approved,” the coalition warns, “New Charter and Comcast together would form a national broadband duopoly controlling nearly two-thirds of existing customers and the telecommunications wires connected to nearly 8 out of every 10 U.S. homes.”

  1. Protect the open Internet. As I’ve written in the past, net neutrality is essential to our democracy because it preserves equal access to the Internet and prevents corporate interests from putting up barriers to the marketplace of ideas. In 2014, the FCC received about 4 million public comments on its proposed net neutrality rules, shattering the record set after Janet Jackson’s televised “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl a decade earlier. President Obama responded to the American people’s clear demands by calling on the FCC to adopt “the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality,” specifically endorsing the reclassification of the Internet as a public utility.

The FCC approved important regulations in February despite the objections of cable and telecommunications companies, as well as near-unanimous opposition from Republican lawmakers. Cruz, for example, has disparaged net neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet.” Though the rules went into effect earlier this year, the fight is not over. In addition to introducing legislation to repeal the regulations, a group of House Republicans filed a legal complaint in early November contending that the FCC lacked the authority to act on net neutrality without input from Congress.

  1. Enforce disclosure rules. The 2016 election is expected to cost significantly more than the $6 billion spent in 2012. According to one estimate, television ads alone will account for some $4.4 billion in spending, much of it from super PACs and secretive “dark money” groups. For now, the avalanche of big money in our politics is inevitable, but there is a way to better inform the public and hold billionaire donors accountable. As Copps wrote in 2013, “All we need is for an independent agency, the Federal Communications Commission, to enforce a campaign finance disclosure requirement that is already on the books.”

In fact, there has been a rule in place since 1934 that requires television broadcasters to disclose the “true sponsor” of all advertisements. If properly enforced, the rule would entitle viewers to see not only the name of the group sponsoring political ads but also the donors behind them. Last month, Common Cause, the Sunlight Foundation, the Campaign Legal Center and Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation sent a letter calling on the FCC to force the disclosure of who is paying for campaign ads. “Voters across the land are under assault from shadowy secret money groups,” said Copps, who is now an adviser to Common Cause. “The FCC has the authority it needs right now to shine a light on all those anonymous broadcast and cable ads.”

While the three principles above are essential, the mainstream media obviously have more problems, too: their dedication to false balance, their bias toward sensationalism, their neglect of consequential issues, their policing of the debate. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said during this weekend’s Democratic debate, “What I would like for the media now is for us to be talking about why the middle class is disappearing, why we have more people in jail than any other country, why we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality, and we’re the only major country on Earth without paid family and medical leave. We’ve gotten off the Hillary’s e-mails, good. Let’s go to the major issues facing America.”

But the mainstream media will never do those issues justice as long as they are more accountable to powerful corporate interests than the people they serve. That’s why, as 2016 approaches, it’s as important as ever for keep building the movement for reform. “Without media reform, we simply cannot reform our country,” Copps told me. “No matter what issue a voter cares about, it won’t get anywhere with the media corporate-speak and infotainment that we’re being fed. Big media gatekeepers are America’s embarrassment.”

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 17, 2015

November 24, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Mainstream Media, Media Mergers | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“This Ugly Atmosphere Feels A Bit Familiar”: It’s Beginning To Feel Like 2002 All Over Again

At the end of last week, the liberal group Media Matters noted that in the wake of the Madrid bombings in March 2004, Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly asserted that “If al-Qaeda attacks here, President Bush is re-elected in a heartbeat,” since “unlike the Spanish,” who are passive sheep (or something), the strong American public “won’t surrender, they’ll get angry.” But after the recent attacks in Paris, O’Reilly sang a different tune: “We get hit, [Obama] goes down as the worst president in U.S. history. No doubt.”

While Media Matters’s purpose in juxtaposing these two quotes was surely to mock O’Reilly for his partisan hypocrisy, you can look at it another, much more depressing way: O’Reilly was probably right both times.

Not about history’s judgment of Obama, obviously. But given what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, it’s becoming hard to hope that anything resembling a rational reaction to the events in Paris will take hold. As I wrote last week, Republicans are rushing to exploit the attacks in the most cynical and repugnant ways, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. But the real problem is that most of the public is going to eat it up.

That’s partly because of what they’re hearing from their leaders. Today’s Republicans would never consider rallying around President Obama if there were an attack in the U.S. the way Democrats did after September 11. They might gather on the Capitol steps, but it wouldn’t be to sing “God Bless America” as Democrats and Republicans did soon after the attacks; it would be to rush to the cameras to condemn Obama for having blood on his hands. Indeed, they already have; “John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama have all served as apologists for radical Islamic terrorism,” said Ted Cruz last week.

People of all parties take cues from their leaders, which helps explain why support for Bush was so universal in the days after 9/11, and why Republicans’ hatred of Obama only grows when they’re made to feel vulnerable to foreign threats. But today’s Republicans are harvesting fertile soils of fear and hate.

People like me can explain until we’re blue in the face that becoming a refugee to Europe is nothing like becoming a refugee to the United States, a process that can take two years; and that sneaking someone into the U.S. posing as a refugee is probably the single hardest way to get them to the U.S. (as opposed to, say, buying them a plane ticket). We can explain that the threat to you and your family’s lives from terrorism is infinitesimal (the number of Americans who have been killed in the U.S. by jihadi terrorists since 9/11—26—just happens to be the same number of Americans who have been killed by lightning in 2015 alone). But it won’t much matter.

A majority of the public opposes bringing in refugees from Syria. Americans now cite terrorism as the most important issue facing the country, though by any logical standard it most certainly is not (for instance, it takes less than two days for more Americans to die from gun violence as died in the Paris attacks). In the wake of those attacks, Donald Trump remains strongly in front in the Republican presidential primary race. As Politico reports, conservative voters in Iowa may be turning away from Ben Carson and toward Ted Cruz now that they’re thinking about terrorism. In truth, Cruz has the same amount of foreign policy experience as Carson (zero), but he’s a lot angrier about it, which seems to be the order of the day in the GOP.

Reporters have spent much of the last week or so trying to pin Trump down on whether he thinks the government should create a database that every Muslim in America would have to register with, a positively fascistic suggestion that he may or may not have been unfairly entrapped into supporting. Like everything else related to government policy, Trump obviously hasn’t given it any serious thought, but reporters are operating on the quite reasonable assumption that it would be scandalous if he actually believed such a thing. But would it?

At least in the Republican primary, where virulent xenophobia now seems to be the order of the day, the answer is probably not. Trump is now talking about putting Muslim houses of worship across the country under surveillance, Marco Rubio agrees, and most voters may find that to be utterly untroubling; after all, it’s not their freedoms being taken away. Trump also wants to begin torturing prisoners again (not that we have any ISIS prisoners), Chris Christie says he wouldn’t even allow a 5-year-old orphan from Syria into New Jersey, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say we should only accept Christians but keep out Muslims, and Ben Carson compares refugees to rabid dogs. Nothing that any of the candidates have said since Paris suggests that there is any position they could take or thing they could say that would be regarded by their voters as beyond the pale.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that heightened fears of ISIS will sweep the Republicans into the White House next year; there’s lots of time between now and then, and other issues will grab the electorate’s attention. The American public and its political elite may not have taken leave of their senses to quite the degree they did in the months and years after September 11, when no restriction on individual liberty went far enough, no expansion of government power was too much, and invading a country that had nothing to do with the attacks on us seemed like the perfect way to handle our fear and anger. But the increasingly ugly atmosphere is beginning to feel awfully familiar.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, November 23, 2015

November 24, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Public Opinion | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Oh Boy, God Is Shooting A Shot Across The Bow”: Pastor Who Hosted GOP; Paris Victims Were ‘Devil-Worshippers’

A Christian pastor who hosted Republican presidential candidates a week before the Paris terrorist attack says its victims received divine retribution for worshipping Satan.

Kevin Swanson of Generations Ministries said last Thursday that the 89 people massacred inside the Bataclan theater were “devil-worshippers.” Two weeks earlier, Swanson headlined his own “Freedom 2015: National Religious Liberties Conference” featuring Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal.

Swanson believes God will annihilate America for tolerating homosexuality and seemed to say God already made an example out of the Bataclan.

“There’s certainly a providential irony here,” Swanson said of the fact that California rock band Eagles of Death Metal reportedly played “Kiss the Devil” as terrorists began firing AK-47s into the crowd. “They went from singing about the devil to meeting the devil face-to-face.”

“When you get a wake-up call like what happened at France’s 9/11 last Friday night at the concert,” he said, “I think we all need to pay attention to what’s happening: This is a message from God. God is shooting a shot across the bow and we better be paying attention to this.”

Swanson had a message for those who weren’t killed, too.

“I think we need to ask the concertgoers, at least those who survived, did you love the devil? Did you love the devil’s works as your friends were being shot up in the massacre?”

Swanson then claimed he wasn’t taking sides between peaceful victims and Islamic terrorists, though.

“These ISIS devil-worshippers have pitted themselves against humanist devil-worshippers. I’m not on either side here. I’m not taking the side of the devil-worshippers performing the concert; I’m not on the side of ISIS who are slaughtering the devil-worshippers inside the concert. I’m not on neither side.”

Cruz and Huckabee’s presidential campaigns did not respond to a request for comment about Swanson.

Previously, Swanson has said that gays should face the death penalty; that the movie Frozen turns little girls into lesbians; that natural disasters are the fault of godless fornicators.

 

By: Andrew Kirell, The Daily Beast, November 23, 2015

November 24, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Paris Attacks, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Health Reform Lives!”: The Reality Is That Obamacare Is An Imperfect System, But It’s Workable — And It’s Working

To the right’s dismay, scare tactics — remember death panels? — and spurious legal challenges failed to protect the nation from the scourge of guaranteed health coverage. Still, Obamacare’s opponents insisted that it would implode in a “death spiral” of low enrollment and rising costs.

I mention all of this to give you some perspective on recent developments that mark a break in the string of positive surprises. Yes, Obamacare has hit a few rough patches lately. But they’re much less significant than a lot of the reporting, let alone the right-wing reaction, would have you believe. Health reform is still a huge success story.

Obamacare seeks to cover the uninsured through two channels. Lower-income Americans are covered via a federally-funded expansion of Medicaid, which was supposed to be nationwide but has been rejected in many Republican-controlled states. Everyone else has access to policies sold by private insurers who cannot discriminate based on medical history; these policies are supposed to be made affordable by subsidies that depend on your income.

Nobody ever expected Obamacare to cover all the uninsured. In fact, Congressional Budget Office projections made in 2013 suggested that about 10 percent of nonelderly U.S. residents would remain uncovered: some because they are undocumented immigrants, some because of the gap created by red-state Medicaid rejection and some because they would fall through the cracks of a complicated system. But the law was nonetheless projected to produce a sharp reduction in the number of Americans without insurance, and it has, especially in states like California that have tried to make it work.

Meanwhile, both insurance premiums and the cost of subsidies designed to make them affordable came in far below expectations in both 2014 and 2015.

Sooner or later, of course, there were bound to be some negative surprises. And we’re now, finally, getting a bit of bad, or at least not-great, news about health reform.

First, premiums are going up for next year, because insurers are finding that their risk pool is somewhat sicker and hence more expensive than they expected. There’s a lot of variation across states, but the average increase will be around 11 percent. That’s a slight disappointment, but it’s not shocking, given both the good news of the previous two years and the long-term tendency of insurance premiums to rise 5-10 percent a year.

Second, some Americans who bought low-cost insurance plans have been unpleasantly surprised by high deductibles. This is a real issue, but it shouldn’t be exaggerated. All allowed plans cover preventive services without a deductible, and many plans cover other health services as well. Furthermore, additional financial aid is available to lower-income families to help cover such gaps. Some people may not know about these mitigating factors — that’s the problem with a fairly complex system — but awareness should improve over time.

Finally, UnitedHealth Group made a splash by announcing that it is losing money on the policies it sells on the Obamacare exchanges, and is considering withdrawing from the market after next year. There were some puzzling things about the announcement, leading to speculation about ulterior motives, but the main thing to realize is that UnitedHealth, while a huge provider of employment-based insurance, is actually a fairly small player in this market, and that other players are sounding much more positive.

Oh, and official projections now say that fewer people will enroll in those exchanges than previously predicted. But the main reason is that surprisingly few employers are dropping coverage; overall projections for the number of uninsured Americans still look pretty good.

So where does that leave us? Without question, the run of unexpectedly good news for Obamacare has come to an end, as all such runs must. And look, we’re talking about a brand-new system in which everyone is still learning how to function. There were bound to be some bobbles along the way.

But are we looking at the beginnings of a death spiral? Some people are indeed saying that, but as far as I can tell, they’re all people who have been predicting disaster every step of the way, and will still be predicting imminent collapse a decade from now.

The reality is that Obamacare is an imperfect system, but it’s workable — and it’s working.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 23, 2015

November 24, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform, Obamacare | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Expedience Feels Like Wisdom”: What, Exactly, Is It We’re Fighting To Defend?

“Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights.”

Sadly there are dozens of junctures in American history from which that shameful quote might spring.

It could date as far back as 1798 when President Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, making it illegal to criticize the U.S. government.

It could come from the 1870s when Southern Democrats used violence to bar black voters from the polls and Northern Republicans looked the other way.

It could have been said in the 1940s when Americans put Americans in concentration camps, or in the 1950s when Joe McCarthy saw red everywhere he looked, or in the 1960s when J. Edgar Hoover sat listening to Martin Luther King’s phone calls, or, also in the ’60s, when the Supreme Court gave police the power to stop and frisk (and harass and intimidate) without warrants or probable cause.

It could have been said on any number of occasions, but it was actually said just last week on Fox “News,” where Sean Hannity convened a panel to discuss the terrorist attacks in Paris. Fox is the First Church of the Perpetual Indignation, so you can guess how that went.

A Dr. Gina Loudon, identified as a “psychology expert,” claimed “80 percent” of the mosques in America advocate violence. Coincidentally, about the same percentage of facts spewed by Fox “experts” turn out to be pure equine excreta.

Hannity, meantime, worried that a Syrian refugee might go into a crowded theater and start shooting people at random. Right. Like we need Syrian refugees for that.

But it was left to Bo Dietl, a former New York City cop, to cross the line from the simply stupid to the downright chilling, as he called for mass surveillance of mosques. Unconstitutional, you say? “Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights,” he said.

It is a seductive invitation. When you are scared — and Americans seem to live in a state of permanent terror — you run toward anything that promises a quick resolution of whatever has you frightened. In such an atmosphere, “rights” can seem a frivolous abstraction and expedience can feel like wisdom.

The irony is, that’s precisely when expedience is most dangerous — and rights most important. In light of all the overreactions that stain American history, all the lives ruined and lost because we disregarded guarantees that supposedly define us, Dietl’s words should make thinking people cringe. Especially given how often acts of expedience and the abridgment of rights have proven needless and wrong.

We supposedly hold sacred the values inscribed in this nation’s founding documents. Yet every time the world says “Boo!” some of us are pathetically eager to toss those values aside as if they were suddenly a burden too heavy to bear. But if the things that make America America are so easily sloughed off — if they are that unimportant — then what, exactly, is it we’re fighting to defend?

Why does “America” even matter?

Sept. 11 damaged and destroyed iconic buildings and took thousands of lives. But it also shredded the Constitution and made America unrecognizable to itself. The government tortured. It disappeared people. It snooped through innocent lives. It created a secret “no-fly list” of supposed terrorists that included many people with zero connection to terrorism, at least one of them a U. S. senator; you could never find out how you got on the list and there was no effective procedure for getting off. It also gave the president unilateral power to execute American citizens suspected of terrorism without trial or even judicial oversight.

And after all that, here comes Bo Dietl. “Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights,” he says.

Here’s a better idea. Let’s start.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald,; Featured Post, The National Memo, November 22, 2015

November 24, 2015 Posted by | American History, Muslim Americans, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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