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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

“Who Can Resist Bernie Sanders’s Strange Allure?”: An Insurgent Candidate Whose Realistic Chance Of Becoming President Is Fractional

So Bernie Sanders is lighting it up in Iowa, reports the Times, knockin’ ’em dead, outdrawing Jeb Bush and all the Republicans.

The excitement is palpable. And yet, I will make a prediction to you now. Sanders will win one primary: Vermont. If I’m proven correct he will have done exactly as well as another Vermonter, Howard Dean, who entered the primaries in 2004 positioning himself to the left of the major candidates. He forgot about the importance of field organizing, got chewed up in Iowa over a scream (unfairly so, actually), and after being the favorite for about two weeks in December 2003 went on to enter 31 primaries and win just the one, in his home state.

What is it about Vermont? Is this just coincidence that Dean and now Sanders have emerged as the most prominent and credible left-flank candidates of recent times? Probably not.

Vermont’s demographic changes in recent years, the way counter-cultural types have flocked to places like Burlington, are unique; neighboring New Hampshire is a very different place, and even Massachusetts, while liberal, features a different kind of liberalism, at once more blue-collar (think Fall River and Lowell) and more pointy-headed (all those universities). In a sense, what Texas is to the GOP, Vermont is to the Democrats: the party’s ideological ground zero.

This is not of course to say that Sanders has anything in common with Ted Cruz beyond the fact that both are U.S. senators. For one thing, if Cruz is drawing crowds upwards of several hundred in Iowa, he’s keeping it a pretty good secret. And the fact that he’s not drawing such crowds reflects the most obvious difference between the two, namely that Cruz says lots of unpopular crazy extremist things, and Sanders is mostly just saying things that are probably a little out there in terms of the Washington conventional wisdom but are not in reality crazy at all, like reining in the power of big banks.

Sanders makes a great foil to Clinton because he is everything liberal activists believe (sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly) she is not. He’s blunt, she’s circumspect. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks, she’s uber-cautious. On a debate stage with her and Martin O’Malley, Sanders can just tee off and say exactly what the rank and file wants to hear in ways that neither Clinton nor the former Maryland governor can.

Liberals love this because they don’t get much of it in political life today. On the Republican side, the candidates fall over themselves to prove how conservative they are, and indeed the word “conservative” flies out of their mouths every 18 seconds. Democrats are usually terrified of speaking that bluntly, so when one does—and Sanders isn’t a Democrat, but let’s not get technical—liberals swoon. So he’ll generate crowds and enthusiasm and he’ll press Clinton on some issues. All to the good.

He probably won’t have the money or the field operation—hers, in Iowa, is already formidable—to challenge her in a serious way. But the great unanswered question here is not about him, but about Clinton, to wit: How deep is the dissatisfaction with her among liberal Democrats?

If you follow the political pronouncements of the liberal activist class closely, you might think it’s very deep indeed. The whole Draft Warren movement, led by, is (or do we now say was?) predicated on the conviction that Clinton is certain to sell the liberal base out to Wall Street. One hears this a lot among insiders, and if this is a conviction that is widely shared by rank-and-file Democrats, then Sanders can certainly exceed my expectations.

But I just don’t think the distrust runs that deep. I have before me here a Gallup poll from March showing that Clinton is rather popular among Democrats and the Democratic-leaners questioned in this surveyed. Her favorable-to-unfavorable rating was 79 to 13 percent, or a multiple of six. Sanders’s numbers were 21 to 8. (Interestingly, Elizabeth Warren’s were 37 to 9, a multiple of just four, and with a surprisingly high 53 percent having no opinion.)

Seventy-nine to 13 isn’t what I’d call dissatisfaction. The key fact is that the 13 are overrepresented in the chattering class and among the most committed party activists. It’s always been this way among the group we might call super-insiders, the people who blog and tweet and are willing to do things like drive 70 miles across the plains on a weeknight to go see an insurgent candidate whose realistic chance of becoming president is fractional.

The Clinton appeal to this set has always been limited. I can’t pinpoint exactly why it is. For starters, the Clintons never curried their favor or flattered them. In her case, of course, a lot of it has to do with her support for the Iraq war (which Bill backed too, to the extent that his position mattered). More broadly, the Clintonian issues palette has never jibed very closely with the special passions of this plugged-in activist class I’m talking about.

Take for example net neutrality under Title II, which is of great interest to this group. Clinton endorsed net neutrality after Barack Obama made his announcement, but she’s never been associated with the issue, and even in the act of endorsing Obama’s position, she sounded pretty meh about the whole thing: “As I understand it, it’s Title II with a lot of changes in it to avoid the worst of Title II regulation. It’s a foot in the door … but it’s not the end of the discussion.”

It’s easy to get the misimpression that there’s more rank-and-file resistance to Clinton among Democratic voters than there actually is. And the press of course doesn’t like her and wants a race. All this will work to Sanders’s benefit. A significant number of Democrats may want to send Clinton a warning shot, keep her pivoting leftward; but the idea that there’s a large bloc of Anybody But Hillary Democrats out there is just a fantasy.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 2, 2015

June 3, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Liberals | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The ‘Obama Refuses To Lead’ Crowd Falls Silent”: It’s Striking To Realize What The President Has Done Just Since The Midterms

Kevin Drum pauses today to take stock of the recent actions from President Lame Duck.

So how have things been going for our bored, exhausted, and disengaged president? He’s been acting pretty enthusiastic, energized, and absorbed with his job, I’d say.

It’s funny, in a way, to think about how long ago the midterm elections seem. Seven weeks ago, President Obama was apparently supposed to be a defeated man, crushed by an electoral rebuke, pushed into irrelevancy by an ascendant far-right majority in Congress. It was up to the White House, the Beltway said, to start looking for new ways to make Republicans happy.

There’s a script that lame-duck presidents are supposed to follow, and gosh darn it, Obama would be expected to play by the rules, slipping further and further out of frame.

But given today’s developments, it’s striking to realize what the president has done over the 58 days since the midterms.

Obviously, there’s today’s historic announcement about U.S. policy towards Cuba. There’s also Obama’s breakthrough climate agreement with China, the successful secret mission that freed American prisoners in North Korea, and the sharp reduction of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

And that’s just foreign policy. Closer to home, the president has unveiled a major new immigration policy that will bring new hope to 5 million immigrants; he’s taken the lead on net neutrality; and he’s scored a series of confirmation victories in the closing days of the Senate.

All of this comes against the backdrop of an improving job market, a highly successful ACA open-enrollment period, falling gas prices, a Russian crisis that arguably benefits the United States, and the number of Ebola cases in the United States falling to zero.

The White House’s many critics don’t want to hear this, but if Obama were a Republican, it’s likely we’d be inundated with coverage about how “President Comeback just got his mojo back.”

Indeed, I continue to think about Dana Milbank’s column from two weeks ago today.

…Obama has demonstrated a preference to mull rather than to act. Former Obama Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, in his memoir, wrote that Obama too often “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.”

Today’s historic agreement with Cuba belies such criticism – plenty of presidents have talked about a more sensible course on Cuba, but this president actually did something about it. This required some bold leadership and a willingness to take a risk on a contentious issue, and Obama delivered.

To be sure, we can and should argue about the merits of the president’s decisions. Maybe this dramatic foreign policy shift is a major step forward, maybe not.  Perhaps Obama’s post-midterm moves will advance the nation’s interests, perhaps not.

But the point is, for all the chatter about a disengaged president who’s reluctant to act, the last seven weeks prove those assumptions wrong. Obama has clearly taken charge, pursuing an ambitious agenda with striking vigor.

Every pundit who carelessly throws around the “why won’t Obama lead more?” cliches clearly needs to rethink the thesis.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 17, 2014

December 18, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Media Staple Under Bush”: Where Are The ‘Comeback’ Columns About Obama?

For a “lame duck” politician who’s supposed to be licking his wounds after the Democratic Party’s steep midterm losses, President Obama these days probably doesn’t mind scanning the headlines each morning. Instead of confirming the slow-motion demise so many in the pundit class had mapped out for him, the headlines paint a picture of a president, and a country, in many ways on the rebound:

U.S. Economic Confidence Index at 17-Month High

America is Free of Ebola Cases

G.O.P.-Led Benghazi Panel Bolsters Administration

What The Huge Drop In Gasoline Prices Means For America

Dow Hits Another Record Close

That’s probably more good news for Obama in one month than he had in the previous three combined.

And that selection of headlines doesn’t cover news of the most recent smooth and efficient enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, the announcement of Obama’s executive action to deal with the languishing issue of immigration, his high-profile endorsement of net neutrality, or the United States’ landmark agreement with China to confront climate change.

As for Obama’s approval rating, it has remained steady in recent months, just as it has for virtually all of 2014. But aren’t lame ducks supposed to tumble after tough midterm defeats, the way President George W. Bush did right after the 2006 votes?

Meanwhile, the assumption that Republicans had boxed Obama in politically via their midterm momentum and would be able to bully him around (impeachment! a government shutdown!) hasn’t yet come to fruition. To date, their main response to the immigration executive order that Obama issued has been for Republicans to cast a symbolic vote of disapproval (i.e., Obama called their bluff).

Already the bloom seems to be coming off the GOP’s win. “According to the survey, 50 percent of Americans believe the GOP taking control of the House and the Senate next year will be bad for America,” CNN reported this week.

None of this is to say that Obama’s surging or that paramount hurdles don’t remain on the horizon. But some recent developments do undercut a widely held consensus in the Beltway press that Obama’s presidency effectively ended with the midterms and that his tenure might be viewed as a failed one.

Right after the election, a November Economist editorial announced, “Mr. Obama cannot escape the humiliating verdict on his presidency.” Glimmers of hope after the midterms were no reason to think Obama had “somehow crawled out of the dark place that voters put him,” the Washington Post assured readers. (Post columnist Dana Milbank has recently tagged Obama as a hapless “bystander” who’s “turning into George W. Bush.”) And a McClatchy Newspapers headline declared, “President Obama Is Now Truly A Lame Duck.”

But as the facts on the ground now change, many in the press seem reluctant to drop its preferred script and adjust to the headlines that suggest Obama’s second term is not shaping up to be the wreck so many pundits hinted it would be.

It’s worth noting that during Bush’s failed second term, which ended with his approval rating hovering around 20 percent, the same Beltway press did the opposite. Back then the press appeared overly anxious to proclaim a Bush comeback underway. Unlike Obama who’s actually rebounding, the D.C. press often touted Bush’s comeback, even though one never materialized.

At the time of the 2006 midterm elections, NBC’s Chuck Todd predicted that “if Democrats get control of Congress, President Bush’s approval rating will be over 50 percent by the Fourth of July next year.” Democrats did win the House and the Senate in 2006, but Todd’s predication was off — by 20 points. Bush was floundering with a 30 percent approval rating on Independence Day, 2007.

Todd was hardly alone. Earlier in 2005, Time got a quick jump on the Bush-is-back competition, announcing that the president had “found his voice” and that relieved White House aides “were smiling again” after a turbulent 2005. That year, according to the Gallup numbers, Bush’s approval rating remained submerged, falling as low as 31 percent. When it briefly climbed to 40 percent, the Baltimore Sun quickly asked, “Is Bush The New Comeback Kid?”

Even when Bush’s approval rating trended down again after the Republicans’ 2006 midterm wipeout, pundits were back on the hunt for the elusive comeback. In early 2007, Washington Post columnist David Broder, the dean of the Beltway press corps, typed up the White House spin and claimed, “It may seem perverse to suggest that, at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback. But don’t be astonished if that is the case.” Broder was sure, “Bush now shows signs of renewed energy and is regaining the initiative on several fronts.” Thirteen months later, Broder finally conceded the Bush comeback hadn’t materialized. (In fact, the opposite had unfolded.)

The media’s “comeback” double standard seems to reflect the misguided Beltway consensus that America’s a center-right country, so of course it was only a matter of time before Bush regained his footing (he didn’t) and that Obama would likely fade away during his second term (he hasn’t).


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, December 4, 2014


December 7, 2014 Posted by | D.C. Press Corp, Lame Duck, Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Were Not Elected To Govern”: Rush Limbaugh Is Emblematic Of Our Political Rot

It is stunning that leading conservative thinkers are arguing that the Republican majority in Congress is a mandate for even more gridlock. Rush Limbaugh says Republicans weren’t elected “to make Congress work. They weren’t sent there to get along.” Instead, Limbaugh argues, their mandate is “to stop Barack Obama. Republicans were not elected to govern.”

The National Review, an influential conservative publication, says the GOP should focus on creating the best possible climate for electing a Republican president in 2016: “Not much progress is possible until we have a better president. Getting one ought to be conservatism’s main political goal over the next two years.”

It is small wonder that a growing number of citizens aren’t voting, reasoning that their ballot won’t change anything. And why many exhort via bumper stickers: “Don’t Vote! It Only Encourages Them!”

In this election, turnout was just 36 percent, the lowest turnout since 1942. It is particularly young voters that are not bothering to vote. They are beginning to look for other ways to bring about social change. A new youth radicalization has begun.

For many Americans, Congress is dysfunctional and deeply corrupt. For these voters, Abraham Lincoln’s notion that Congress is “government of the people, by the people, for the people” has become laughable. The more the citizens don’t feel their political institutions reflect their will, the more they question the legitimacy and applicability of the institutions’ decisions.

The American political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote that legitimacy is “the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate and proper ones for the society.” The ongoing abuse of trust by office holders is the product of widespread rot. The result is a full-blown crisis in legitimacy.

The solution isn’t to allow online voting or other methods of increasing the turnout. We need more than changes to politics. It’s time to reinvent democracy itself.

The first era of democracy created representative institutions, but with weak mandates, passive citizens and politicians beholden to powerful funders and special interests. Call it “broadcast democracy.” It was only a matter of time before such a model ran its course.

We need to replace this old model with a new era of “participatory democracy” built around five principles.

1. Integrity, which is basically about doing the right thing. To rebuild the public’s trust in political institutions, elected officials need to embrace integrity – which is honesty and consideration. Honest politicians establish trusting relationships with voters, politicians need to be open and fairly disclose information. They must be truthful, accurate, and complete in communications. They must not mislead or be perceived to mislead.

Considerate officials don’t cause traffic jams for those who disagree with them. They have regard for the interests, desires, or feelings of others especially the electorate. They don’t spy on their citizens and undermine their basic right to privacy. They don’t kill good political discussion with negative attack ads. Politicians everywhere know that negative advertising is toxic to democracy, poisons reasoned political debate and dumbs down the discussion. Nevertheless, they trash their opponents with attack ads alienating voters and adding to the legitimacy crisis.

2. Accountability to the electorate. We need to divorce politicians from relying on big money. US citizens thought they had a system that limited big donations, but the right-wing Supreme Court clearly became alarmed at the possibility of wealthy donors not being able to influence elections. In the notorious Citizens United case, the court effectively lifted the limits on political donations, and a casino magnate promptly pledged $100 million to fight Obama’s re-election in 2012. Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig is right that we need to adopt the policies of other countries that place strict controls on campaign financing.

3. Interdependence. Elected officials need to recognize that the public, private sector and civil society all have a role to play in sustaining a healthy society. As Jeffrey Sachs has argued there is a price to civilization and we need strong, good government. When politicians say the best role of government is “to get out of the way,” they are shirking their responsibilities. Strong regulations saved Canadian banks from being sucked into the US sub-prime mortgage crisis. The banks and Canada are healthier because of this. Similarly corporations and NGOPs are becoming pillars of society and we all need new ways of collaborating on shared interests.

4. Engagement with citizens. We need ongoing mechanisms for government to benefit from the wisdom and insight that a nation can collectively offer. Using the Net, citizens can become involved, learn from each other, take responsibility for their communities and country, learn from and influence elected officials and vice versa. It is now possible to have a three-day “digital brainstorm” with the entire electorate of a country. Challenges, participatory budgeting, electronic town halls, have all proven effective in turning voters into participants in democracy.

5. Transparency. Almost everything should be done in the full light of day. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and the Internet is the perfect vehicle to achieve this. Transparency is critical to trust. The question “What are they hiding?” encapsulates the relationship between transparency and trust. It implies that if government leaders hold secrets, they do so for a nefarious reason and therefore are un-deserving of trust. Citizens know that the fewer secrets leaders keep, the more likely they will be trusted. Transparency, even radical transparency is becoming central to building trust between stakeholders and their institutions.

To restore legitimacy and trust we need a second era of democracy based on integrity and accountability, and with stronger, more open institutions, active citizen citizenship and a culture of public discourse and participation.


By: Don Tapscott, The Huffington Post Blog, November 17, 2014






November 18, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, Rush Limbaugh | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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