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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

“Mass Shooting Talking Points”: Conservative Media Use Oregon Community College Shooting To Revive “Gun-Free Zone” Canard

In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, conservative commentators instantly referred to the school as a “gun-free zone,” falling back on conservative media’s go-to mass shooting talking point.

At least 10 people were reported killed, and many others injured October 1 during an Oregon community college mass shooting, and as facts concerning the shooting remained scarce, media figures immediately made references to the campus as a “gun-free zone” on CNN, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the Drudge Report, and other conservative websites.

But these references of “gun-free zones” represent a red herring because they rely on the assumption that more people carrying guns would stop mass shootings, when in reality there is no evidence to support such claims.

The overwhelming majority of mass shootings actually occur where guns are allowed to be carried. And according to an analysis of 62 public mass shootings over a 30 year period conducted by Mother Jones, not a single shooting was stopped by a civilian carrying a firearm. Mother Jones also found that gunmen do not choose to target locations because guns are not allowed, but rather other motives typically exist for choice of location, such as a workplace grievance.

As Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes explained in a commentary for The Trace, the idea that “gun-free zones” attract mass shooters is based on the faulty assumption that the shooters are “rational actors”:

Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the argument against gun-free zones, in the context of mass shootings, is its underlying assumption that shooters are rational actors. Lott himself admits that about half of criminals who commit mass shootings have received a “formal diagnosis of mental illness,” yet his model requires them to act precisely as we know they don’t: as hyperrational, calculating machines, intentionally seeking out gun-free environments for the sole purpose of maximizing causalities.

In reality, many shooters target a location based on an emotional grievance or an attachment to a particular person or place. An FBI study of 160 active shootings (defined as a shooter actively attempting to kill people in a populated area, regardless of the amount of fatalities) between 2000 and 2013 — including the high-profile mass shootings in Tucson and Aurora — shows that of the shootings that occurred in commercial or educational areas, the shooter had some relationship with the area in 63 percent of the cases.

 

By: Timothy Johnson, Media Matters for America, October 1, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, Gun Free Zones, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“An Affront To The Power Of The Press”: The Political Media Don’t Like Hillary Clinton. But What If She Doesn’t Need Them?

Hillary Clinton doesn’t like the media, and they don’t like her. Both have legitimate reasons for feeling as they do, but there’s no getting around that simple fact. Clinton’s grievances go back two and a half decades, and what has reporters agitated at the moment is that Clinton is making it difficult for them to do their jobs, by not talking much to the them or providing the steady stream of public events out of which they can write stories.

Their frustration is starting to bubble to the surface. New York Times reporter Jason Horowitz, following Clinton in Iowa, wrote a story today about how her campaign is keeping reporters at arm’s length, then tweeted a link to the story with the description: “Queen Hillary and the Everyday Americans of the Round Table distribute alms to the clamoring press.”

But if Clinton is overly concerned about their feelings, it’s hard to tell. Instead, she’s acting as though she isn’t afraid of the press at all.

We’re in the midst of the second media revolution Bill and Hillary Clinton have lived through, both of which changed how politicians relate to reporters. In the first one, which occurred in the 1990s, the media universe expanded and became more partisan, as conservative talk radio became a major force and cable news emerged to cover politics around the clock (Fox News was founded in 1996, in time for the Lewinsky scandal). The incumbent news organizations found themselves pressured by the right, bullied into covering stories they might have paid little attention to and forced to accelerate their news-gathering. Talk radio and cable were perfect for taking allegations against the president — legitimate or otherwise — and forcing them onto the agenda of the “old media” outlets, where they gained legitimacy and shaped the events of the day.

But despite all the scandal fodder his administration (and his private life, and his past) provided, Bill Clinton managed to not only survive but leave office with approval ratings in the 60s.

Fifteen years later, Hillary Clinton is running for president in the midst of another media revolution, one that not only pressures mainstream news organizations and the reporters who populate them, but makes those reporters feel threatened and even marginalized.

Look what has happened since she began running. We’ve already had a couple of supposed scandals — her State Department emails and the Clinton Foundation’s donors — which were given blanket coverage in the mainstream media. And how have Clinton’s fortunes been affected? Barely at all. She’s still leading all her potential general election opponents by eight or nine points.

Don’t forget, in ordinary circumstances, reporters love scandal. Scandal is exciting, it’s dramatic, at its best it’s full of juicy revelations, scrambling politicians, and uncertain outcomes. Clinton scandals, on the other hand, have gotten awfully boring. Some accusation emerges, we learn that Bill or Hillary (or both) did something questionable, Republicans cry that it’s worse than Watergate, the Clintons are less than forthcoming with information, and in the end it turns out to have been a tempest in a teapot. Go through it over and over and it ceases to be interesting, for both reporters and the public.

And while I don’t have any direct evidence for this, I suspect that to at least some degree reporters share conservatives’ frustration that all the Clinton scandals and mini-scandals and pseudo-scandals haven’t taken them down. In a way it’s an affront to the power of the press. When we splash headline after headline about allegations of misbehavior across our papers, when we devote hour after hour on television to the fact that “questions are being raised,” well that’s supposed to make an impact. It’s supposed to drive the politician in question to the depths of ignominy. It’s not supposed to leave them in exactly the same position as they were when it started.

Unlike the last media revolution, the current one may work in Hillary Clinton’s favor. She seems to understand that a snarky article in the New York Times is not going to hurt her, not when she’s already so well-known and there are so many other sources of information competing for voters’ attention. She can reach those voters through local news, through YouTube, through Twitter, through Facebook, and through a hundred other channels. And without a strong primary challenge, she has all the time she wants. If she doesn’t feel like taking reporters’ questions for a couple of weeks at a stretch, she doesn’t have to.

All that, of course, will make the reporters covering her even more perturbed. They’re professionals, but they’re also human beings whose feelings, worries, and resentments inevitably leak through into their work. They already know Clinton is suspicious of them, and they don’t like it when they get shunted to the back of the room, unable to ask what they hope will be tough questions, while Clinton makes dull small-talk with another group of Iowans.

Everything she’s doing communicates to them that they aren’t as important as they once were. It’s bound to get them angry and make them like her even less than they already do, which could make their coverage even harsher. And though like any politician she’d rather have friendlier coverage, at this point it looks like a bargain she’s more than willing to make.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 22, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Media, Press | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Normalizing Illegal Behavior”: Why Are Torturers Being Given “Balance” In The Press?

After the publication of the torture report, the torturers and their enablers have been all over the airwaves defending themselves and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These “techniques” included horrific acts of rape, threatening family members with rape and death, suspension from ceilings and walls for days on end, forcing prisoners to soil themselves in diapers, and various forms of psychological torture including sleep and sensory deprivation. In many cases the people being tortured had done nothing wrong and had no information of value.

There is simply no defense for any of this. None. “It gave us actionable intelligence” isn’t a defense. It happens to be untrue. We know that torture doesn’t produce valuable information, and it didn’t produce valuable information in any of these cases, either. But it doesn’t matter if it worked or not. Cutting the hands off of thieves works wonders to reduce theft, but we don’t do that. A moral people does not do these things. “We’re not as bad they are” isn’t a defense, either. That’s not the standard by which a moral people judges itself–and besides, most of the rest of the industrialized world does hold itself to a higher standard, despite also being victimized by Islamist terror attacks.

This stuff is obvious. And yet the TV shows and newspaper stories are full of balance given to the pro-torture side. Why? Despite objections to the contrary, journalists do not always give balance to both sides of an argument if the other side is deemed irrelevant or depraved. Whenever the deficit bugbear rolls to the forefront, almost no balance is given to the Keynesian point of view despite their predictions being consistently correct: the idea that one needn’t actually cut the deficit during a recession is treated as so outre as to require no journalistic attention.

More pointedly, when journalists write about torture and depredations of current or former regimes, journalists don’t feel the need to get the torturers’ side of the story. No one is rushing to ask Assad’s torturers in Syria if their tactics are necessary to keep “terrorists” in check. No one is asking North Korean guards if their treatment of their people is OK because some other country is worse. No one rushes to counterbalance the accounts of Holocaust victims with the justifications of Nazi guards. It simply isn’t done, any more than we “balance” stories of child sexual abuse with a hot-take counterpoint from a member of NAMBLA. The reason we don’t provide “balance” in these cases is that to do so would be to normalize those behaviors as part of legitimate discourse.

So why in the world are the torturers who subjected innocent people to anal feedings and dungeon ceiling hangings given the courtesy of “balance” in the press? Where is the line that separates issues that require balance from those that do not?

In a decent moral universe, torturers don’t get the benefit of explaining themselves to the press any more than serial killers do, except potentially out of morbid curiosity.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 14, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Journalists, Media, Torture | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Are Americans “Stupid” Or Uninformed?”: The Purpose Of The Media Is To Produce ‘Eyeballs’…For Advertisers

Republicans are making hay out of Jonathan Gruber’s suggestion that those who crafted Obamacare thought the American public was stupid. While that was a politically incorrect (and stupid) thing to say, we’ve all seen enough “man on the street” interviews where too many people don’t know which party controls Congress or who the current Vice President is to simply dismiss it as untrue.

But a more relevant question would be to ask whether or not the American public is “stupid” (inferring a lack of intelligence) or uninformed. That is the question sparked by this recent Gallup poll. They found that – while the violent crime rate has dropped dramatically since the early 1990’s (from 80 incidents of violent crime/1000 people to 23/1000), 63% of Americans think that violent crime is increasing.

Back in the 1990’s I attended a workshop on the effects of television on young people. The presenter asked the audience, “What is the purpose of television?” After a lot of responses that focused on entertainment, the presenter said that the purpose was to produce eyeballs…for advertisers. I would suggest that the same thing is now true of our news media. The perception of an increase in violent crime is likely a direct result of the old adage: “if it bleeds, it leads.”

Media Matters recently produced a report showing that both cable and network news reporting on Ebola spiked in the days leading up to the 2014 midterms and then simply went to almost nothing afterwards. I don’t buy the idea that this was some collusion between the media and Republicans. I suspect it had more to do with the way that fear of the disease spreading grabbed everyone’s attention, and then a total elimination of coverage once it was clear that wasn’t going to happen (at least not in this country). In other words, success at containing the spread of Ebola doesn’t produce eyeballs.

Circling back to the subject of Obamacare, its interesting to note the effect all this has on the perceptions of the public.

Jon Krosnick, Wendy Gross, and colleagues at Stanford and Kaiser ran large surveys to measure public understanding of the ACA and how it was associated with approval of the law. They found that accurate knowledge about what’s in the bill varied with party identification: Democrats understood the most and liked the law the most, independents less, and Republicans understood still less and liked the law the least. However, attitudes were not just tribal. Within each party, the more accurate your knowledge of the law, the more you liked it.

These researchers found that in the unlikely event that the public had a perfect understanding of the law, approval of it would go from 32% to 70%. That’s the price we pay for an uninformed public.

Its true that technology has allowed partisans and ideologues to choose media sources that confirm their beliefs. But those who simply want “the news” are pretty regularly fed a diet that inflames more than it informs. If you doubt that, take a look at one retired anchorman’s reaction to the movie “Anchorman.”

If we want this to change, we’ll need everyone to think twice about what they do with their eyeballs.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 23, 2014

November 24, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Media, Public Opinion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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