How mega-media deals further erode the myth of a 'liberal' media
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Murdoch, Sinclair, the Kochs and growing consolidation
As Rupert Murdoch mulls the sale of entertainment assets, notably his movie studio, reported suitors include Disney, Comcast, Verizon Communications Inc. and Sony Corp. Not Mother Jones, Salon, the Nation, George Soros, Elizabeth Warren or the Democratic National Committee.
But the power of caricature is potent and it includes the press as privacy-invading, circulation-grabbing liberals. That's always been dubious, especially if you look at corporate ownership. Now, you've got not just unceasing consolidation but the unceasing influence of folks of distinctly conservative ideology.
The aggressively conservative Sinclair is primed to become the biggest local TV broadcaster as its purchase of Tribune Media awaits final approval. The Kochs are said to back a purchase of Time Inc. David Pecker, whose American Media owns the National Enquirer and is a chum of Donald Trump, just bought Us Weekly and was said to exhibit initial desire for Jann Wenner's remaining 51 percent stake in up-for-sale Rolling Stone. But he appears to be out, and now the frontrunners are owners of Variety, Women's Wear Daily and Bleacher Report, as well as a music executive, Irving Azoff, backed by cranky cable mogul-sports owner Jimmy Dolan. Recode has the details.
AT&T, whose spokespersons don't include Bernie Sanders or Nancy Pelosi, seeks approval for its purchase of Time Warner and CNN. And, of course, there's Murdoch entertaining a sell-off.
"Through most of modern American history, news organizations were owned by people and companies that strongly supported the status quo," says David Boardman, dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University. "The publishers were, at their essence, paragons and promoters of business."
"The people who worked for them in the newsroom were — especially in the post-Watergate era — idealists who believed in an activist government and an aggressive, social justice-oriented press. That has long been the nature of the beast that is attracted to a profession with relatively little monetary upside. "
"When newspapers, news magazines and three networks were the true gatekeepers of information, these two forces — the right-leaning bosses and the left-leaning scribes — mitigated each other. Even the sainted Kay Graham said after Watergate that, 'The press these days should be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome.'"
"With the emergence of Fox News, however, the bosses saw that there might be more money to be made on the poles than in the middle. ... And now, Trump and fake news and 'enemies of the people' have created a frenzy of fear that the right will silence journalists. Little chance of that. The best business opportunity these days is likely back in the middle, and most of these companies are far more about shareholders’ return than they are about ideology."
Media analyst Ken Doctor, who has written recently about the threat to fact-based journalism from consolidation, notes how, "The whole fake news meme is a caricature, and one imported by Rupert Murdoch from downmarket British tabs. With Fox, he both lowered the American discourse and opened up the eyes of the Sinclairs and the Bannons of what more could be done." And the Sinclairs and Bannons are only becoming more influential. And the Mercers.
Matthew Baum, a political scientist at Harvard's Kennedy School, says, "Conservatives, however, mostly point to the political views of journalists at mainstream media outlets, who tend to lean Democratic, as evidence. So, if you believe that reporters’ work reflects their personal ideologies more than their professional norms, perhaps there would be liberal bias as a consequence. Of course, the core journalistic norm of balance and objectivity run directly counter to that. So at minimum it isn’t obvious why personal political views would trump professional norms."
"This also makes much less sense applied to ownership, where conservative interests appear more prominent in mass media than liberal interests. There is also some research suggesting that news reporting tends to reflect the interests of ownership. So this, ironically, would predict, if anything, a more pro-conservative bias (at least in TV, newspapers, and radio)."
Danny Hayes, a political scientist at George Washington University who's also done excellent work on the press, says, "The debate about ideological bias in the media is not productive at all. For one thing, the social science research finds virtually no evidence in the mainstream media of systematic liberal or conservative bias."
"That’s because the real biases stem from the way the media routinely cover politics — gravitating toward conflict, novelty, and so forth. That doesn’t necessarily benefit one 'side' over another. But it directs the public’s attention to stuff that’s fun and entertaining and not particularly informative."
He concludes, "Media consolidation probably doubles down on those tendencies, since they get ratings and clicks. At the risk of sounding like the 'get off my lawn' guy, that strikes me as a far bigger issue than the tired debate about ideological bias."
PBS deletes Al Franken
"Al Franken has been edited out of PBS' upcoming (Monday) broadcast of 'David Letterman: The Mark Twain Prize' amid sexual harassment allegations."
As the Hollywood Reporter notes, "During the event, held last month at the Kennedy Center in Washington, the comedian-turned-senator thanked Letterman for a post-retirement series of videos that he and Letterman recorded together designed to raise awareness on climate change."
So, at least for PBS viewers, it never really happened since, heaven forbid, inclusion would "distract" from the network's celebration of American humor. If you want to know what really happened at the ceremony, you can read this Washington Post account. It's still there on the Post site. It's edited out neither reference to Franken's appearance nor a photo of him at the affair. No joke.
If you missed, read this
The best feature story of the weekend was a Wall Street Journal profile of Max Deutsch, 24, a San Francisco entrepreneur and serial self-improver who sets improbable goals (like learning Hebrew, solving a Rubik's Cube in 17 seconds, memorizing a deck of cards in two minutes, developing perfect pitch), gives himself very short period (about a month) to attain them and, by and large, succeeds.
Then came his decision to take a single month to learn enough chess to play Magnus Carlsen, the world's best and one of the greatest ever. The Journal helped to set up the match and you might not quite guess how it unfolded.
And not far behind ...
Maine's Portland Press Herald walked the streets in town with Joshua Dixon, 18, "whose face was torn off by a pair of pit bulls 10 years ago in his hometown of Chicago." Imagine: 59 surgeries. Yes, 59. "He has a nose, he has lips, even the eye he nearly lost, protected by a patch."
"Tall, lanky and almost always carrying a camera — he’s a freshman at Maine College of Art — Dixon stops frequently, kneeling or squatting to get a better angle as he photographs a building on the docks, a fallen apple on the Eastern Prom or a flowering plant boxed into a corner of one of the West End’s brick sidewalks."
"He's a long way from Chicago in his new home. 'Maine is like a sanctuary,' Dixon says. 'That is what it seems like to me.'"
Not your usual one anecdote, two-interview story
The New York Times' exploration of the screwed-up New York subway system mentions its modus operandi: "Reporters for The Times reviewed thousands of pages of state and federal documents, including records that had not previously been made public; built databases to compare New York with other cities; and interviewed more than 300 people, including current and former subway leaders, contractors and transit experts."
And while this is a saga of many years of strategic and political ineptitude at the highest levels of government, it does note that subway workers now average $170,000 a year in salary, overtime and benefits, compared to an average of $100,000 in other major cities, with 2,500 people in administration earning a total average of $280,000, compared to $115,000.
The morning Babel
It was pretty tame on the cable new networks as "Trump & Friends" were cheerleading for fast tax reform passage, CNN's "New Day" was on Trump's case for declaring he should have left those college basketball players in the hands of Chinese law enforcement and "Morning Joe" on MSNBC was viewing the sports spat as a "distraction from Russia," as Mika Brzezinski put it.
Oh, a reality check brought a spin around the dial of the local Chicago stations, whose viewers far outpace those of the cable network shows. Let's see: They led with a police chase ending in a crash, black ice resulting in another crash and, finally, a carjacking. Moral of the story: It's probably safer to take mass transit today.
Headline of the day (via the Ringer)
"The Bills Benched Tyrod Taylor so Nathan Peterman Could Throw Five First-Half Interceptions — The rookie quarterback’s disastrous first start against the Chargers will live in infamy"
Purging media tycoons
The Monkey Cage political blog co-hosted by The Washington Post, includes, "Why did Saudi Arabia target billionaire media tycoons in its purge?" from Marwan Kraidy, a global media, politics and culture expert at the University of Pennsylvania. It's all about centralizing power and prompted my reaching out to Kraidy about the actual impact on consumers there.
"The first impact is the narrowing down of perspectives on the news. The second is less variety in entertainment. The third is a likely rise in prices."
As for the state of Saudi media even before the purge, he says, "Politically, extremely narrow; entertainment wise, lots of violence but no sex; some comedy is breaking through, but mostly online."
How not to cover mass shootings
Writing in the superb Saturday-Sunday "Review" section of The Wall Street Journal, Ari Schulman raises various issues, such as not identifying shooters, and noted how "Disputes remain among researchers about how journalists should change their approach." How much should the names and images of shooters be used? What about video of panicked people with gunshots nearby? What about the finger-wagging advocates who lecture the media on various issues?
Schulman, who edits the New Atlantis: A journal of Technology and Society, notes Poynter's endorsement of best-practice guidelines but bemoans that they haven't necessarily altered reporting practices, as "Top editors and standards officials at media outlets aren't doing much to address evidence of the contagion effect." And, unlike Poynter's Kelly McBride, several major news organizations declined to discuss the topic with him.
It concludes, "The press has long understood that there is a complicated balance to strike in reporting on matters such as suicide, national security intelligence and the details of bomb-making. As the latest research and the spate of recent killings suggest, we urgently need to have the same sort of conversation about mass shootings."
Fault lines among the NFL's propertied class
ESPN's Don Van Natta Jr. detailed seemingly combustible internal dynamics within the NFL hierarchy, with the hitching post being the animus of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones toward Commissioner Roger Goodell. And if there ever was a a good example of in vino veritas, check the hotel bar scene in which Jones confronts a league official investigating sexual assault charges against Jones' star player, Ezekiel Elliott.
David Israel, a Hollywood producer-writer friend who was once a leading and influential sports columnist, tells me, "Jerry Jones is to football as Donald Trump is to America. He will destroy the NFL to service his own ego."
The ESPN thrust aside, it's unclear who might join Jones and if he's anything other than one vote against 31. "Jerry is, I suppose, trying to collect allies," says Israel. "But his bad behavior and complete right wing nuttiness will undermine his attempt."
GQ's re-running of a 1990 Michael Kelly profile of Sen. Edward Kennedy unavoidably makes you wonder what the press today would make of his antics and treatment of women. This from the late Kelly's "Ted Kennedy on the Rocks:"
"The Kennedy brothers always perpetuated their own glorious images, but over the years the last brother has built an image — not glorious at all — of his very own. For his hard public drinking, his obsessive public womanizing and his frequent boorishness, he has become a late-century legend, Teddy the Terrible, the Kennedy Untrammeled."
"In Washington, it sometimes seems as if everyone knows someone who has slept with Kennedy, been invited to sleep with Kennedy, seen Kennedy drunk, been insulted by Kennedy. At Desirée, a private Georgetown club where well-heeled fat men mingle with society brats and party girls, Kennedy is known as a thrice-a-month habitué and remembered by at least one fellow customer for the time he made a scene with his overenthusiasm for a runway model during a club fashion show. In a downtown office, a former congressional page tells of her surprise meeting with Kennedy three years ago."
"She was 16 then. It was evening and she and another 16-year-old page, an attractive blonde, were walking down the Capitol steps on their way home from work when Kennedy's limo pulled up and the senator opened the door. In the backseat stood a bottle of wine on ice. Leaning his graying head out the door, the senator popped the question: Would one of the girls care to join him for dinner? No. How about the other? The girls said no thanks and the senator zoomed off. Kennedy, the former page said, made no overt sexual overtures and was 'very careful to make it seem like nothing out of the ordinary.'"
"It is possible that Kennedy did not know that the girls were underage or that they were pages and, as such, were under the protection of Congress, which serves in loco parentis. Nevertheless, the former page said she did find Kennedy's invitation surprising. 'He didn't even know me,' she says. 'I knew this kind of stuff happened, but I didn't expect it to happen to me.'"
The mystery of California's wildfires
Losses from just insured properties will exceed $1 billion due to the worst wildfires in California history and Sonali Kohli of the Los Angeles Times did a nice job in raising the question of who's to blame. "Cal Fire is likely to take months to determine the official cause. But in wine country, there is already one prime suspect: utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric." How's that?
"The deep-pocketed company is already the target of numerous lawsuits from homeowners and others claiming that it did not properly maintain power lines and trim the vegetation around them. They hypothesize that heavy winds the night the firestorm started, Oct. 8, downed power lines, sparking the fires."
A lot of very good reporting has been done on the fires and, among print folks, a fine job has been done (in no particular order) by The San Rosa Press Democrat, The San Francisco Chronicle and the Times.
Nice farewell present
After 17 years Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic brought their 17-year "Mike and Mike" radio show to an end Friday (they'll each start different gigs with ESPN). I was listening and recalling overseeing many farewells for colleagues. Generally, I'd get a newspaper cartoonist to do a fun caricature of my exiting co-worker. In this instance, the ESPN chief gave them a children's playground to be built when they can find a good locale. Now that's a farewell present!
Killing two birds with one stone (or one roundtrip ticket)
Mike Allen, the whirling dervish co-founder of and columnist for Axios, is down in Alabama covering Roy Moore. But, wait, he's also having early Thanksgiving with his son, a University of Alabama freshman. He reveals exclusively to Poynter this morning, "He’s an equipment manager for the football team — was his first choice of schools." Roll Axios! I mean Roll Tide!
NBC's football experiment
NFL TV coverage is routinized and dull, so kudos to NBC for experimenting with overhead cameras in Thursday's prime time Steelers-Titans game. It aimed to offer a more youth-oriented, video game-driven perspective of the whole field from behind the quarterback. It worked.
Chicago sports radio host Dan Bernstein says he loves how it shows blocking strategies, defensive reactions and pass-protection tactics far better, in the process essentially showing you what the quarterback sees and perhaps making criticism of quarterbacks fairer and more reasonable.
It's all perfect for his 7th-grader, who's part of a generation that's grown up on the Madden video games. "It's a new way of connecting with the viewer by providing a comfortable angle that makes complete sense to a whole new generation," says the dad.
Dan Klaidman, deputy editor of Yahoo News, is a great reporter, better guy and the source of one of my greatest personnel frustrations. Long ago, I lost out to my friend Ann McDaniel at Newsweek in trying to lure him from a legal affairs publication to the Chicago Tribune. But it was back in the days when Newsweek was superb and had cachet. He fluorished.
Now, I will remember him for an eloquent and pained Facebook posting that informed the world of the death from pancreatic cancer of his wonderful wife, Monica Selter. During her very rapid struggle, "She was single-minded in protecting and loving her family; she was generous toward her friends, she fiercely battled her illness on behalf of Bella and Shayna, her true north stars, and she took care of me with as much strength and love as she had every day during our almost 20 years of marriage. She even insisted we take in two rescue kittens (Scout and Toulouse), adding to our crazy menagerie!"
Near the end, he wrote, "She still marveled at what was good with the world and had no patience for what was wrong with the world. During her last hours, when she could no longer talk, Monica groaned and rolled her eyes at the mention of Trump. She died wearing a shirt emblazoned with one word: Feminist. Everyone loves Monica and everyone will miss her."
Our thoughts are with Dan. He's written many great stories and "Kill or Capture," a fine book on Barack Obama's war on terror. Nothing is as compelling as his early morning announcement of the tragedy confronted by himself and his two daughters.