A provocative call for the break-up of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google
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The greatest concentration of wealth ever
When it comes to the digital age, Scott Galloway is Christopher Hitchens with an MBA, namely a brainy and fearless provocateur. If the late Vanity Fair columnist's targets were political and cultural, Galloway's are the new business titans — as he made robustly clear during a captivating presentation on the threats of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
The New York University business and marketing professor told a Business Insider "Future of Media" gathering in New York that the four giants should be broken up precisely because they threaten, not enhance, capitalism. Along the way he got rather vivid about their role in transmitting bogus news and information.
"I won't say that Zuckerberg has become Putin's bitch," he declared, only moments after drolly referencing his university's code of rhetorical conduct. But he very intentionally linked Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and Russian President Vladimir Putin in such fashion. It punctuated his argument that Facebook refuses to take sufficient responsibility for bogus material on its platform.
Facebook has conceded that 126 million users may have seen inflammatory political ads bought by a group linked to the Russian government. Zuckerberg infuriated many, especially in Congress, by initially blowing off the notion of foreign interference, calling it a "crazy notion." He's since backtracked, with another executive saying Russian involvement was "reprehensible" and promising to be more vigilant.
Galloway, the author of "The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google" derided Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg as making an argument akin to McDonald's claiming it was a "fast food platform." There's no company in world history more a "media company," he contended, than Facebook. It just wants to "operate without accountability."
When the big platform companies declare they have "to do better," Galloway said, that should be translated as, "We know we do wrong but have no intention of doing better."
He showed more than 100 slides to underscore the power of the four companies, and argued that they should be broken up not because one believes in socialism, but precisely because one believes in capitalism and competitive marketplaces.
Look at how Amazon controls one-third of the cloud business, 44 percent of e-commerce and a 70 percent of voice, the key technology of the next 10 years, he said. Or how Google has 90 percent of search. Or how Facebook "can put any app company out of business."
Consider how virtually every move Amazon makes wreaks havoc in an industry. It buys Whole Foods, quickly cuts the prices of kale and salmon, and the stock of much bigger grocer Kroger plummets. How it has added more value to its stock in the last 19 months than constitutes the total value of Wal-Mart.
Amazon is the anti-Christ of markets, he contends, and ultimately the real fault lies with citizens and their elected representatives who don't have the nerve to move against what he says is the underlying reality of the four companies: Together they constitute the greatest concentration of wealth in history.
He showed video of a U.S. Senate hearing in which North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, a vocal advocate of free markets, told witnesses from the digital giants, "Don't let nation states disrupt our future."
That little snippet over, Galloway, a Fox Business Network regular, declared, "Fuck that!" (That two-word analysis was apparently not repeated during an A-list gathering whose speakers included Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of 20th Century Fox, as well as Megyn Kelly, Tucker Carlson, Viacom President Robert Bakish, CNN President Jeff Zucker, HBO President Richard Pepler, Harvard Law's Lawrence Lessig, Washington Post Editor Marty Baron and New York Times Editor Dean Baquet.)
Near the end he notes, again, the size of the four companies and how Google gets 3.2 billion views per month, 1.2 trillion searches a year and is on 2 billion Android phones. And people are getting bollixed up with the AT&T-Time-Warner deal?
"That's a joke," he said about the move to stymie the deal at the same time no similar attention is paid to the four goliaths. Put aside "the gag reflex we have about regulation." Break them up not because we're closet Bernie Sanderses but "because we are capitalists."
Baquet stoutly defends Nazi opus
The New York Times editor was predictably asked about the much-discussed profile of an Ohio Nazi. "My own view, and I suspect some people will disagree: It was the most ridiculous overreaction to a story."
"The story could've much more clearly said in a nutgraph or in some form, 'Dear reader: If you think neo-Nazis are guys who live in the hills of Alabama smoking pipes, in fact it's much more complicated than that. Here's what they look like and they're just as insidious.' It could've said that more clearly."
"But I also think the, in my view, the overreaction from readers who we try to address and certain academics ... who never have actually done much journalism, I think their reaction was too strong. It was not a mortal sin."
Kelly on Ailes locking a door
At the same conference, Megyn Kelly said the late Roger Ailes locked his office door at Fox once and "It culminated in him trying to be with me physically, and it was only at that point where you couldn't pretend it wasn't happening anymore that I really had to come to terms with it. And I ran out of the guy's office; he tried to grab me three times and make out with me."
'I have a message for you'
If you don't know The New York Times' "Op-Docs" video features, check this one out after you finish today's column. Seriously, do it.
It's about a young Belgian Jew who was her husband and father on a train, being deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis during World War II. Their fate was cast. But she and the husband jumped from the train, leaving her ill father behind. Twenty years later in Israel, an unknown woman taps the woman on the back and says, "I have a message for you." Now 92, she reveals the message.
Again, when done, watch this.
A critical ignorance
The Washington Post's Wes Lowery offers a terrific thread that gets to the deep misunderstanding people have of the role of the press. It's smart, straight, not preachy but still firm in underscoring his deep frustrations.
As he tweets, "common thread in many of these bad faith attacks on press are that they seek to exploit public's misunderstanding/ignorance of how we do what we do. For a long time I've thought media's biggest mistake is assuming our audiences understand journalism conventions/how we do our jobs."
Did the nation just dodge a bullet?
The Atlantic's Rosie Gray reports, "The PayPal cofounder and billionaire investor Peter Thiel recently withdrew his name from consideration to lead the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, according to two sources with direct knowledge of what happened."
"Thiel informed the White House of his decision earlier this month, said one of the sources. Both spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations."
I wonder if he would have picked Hulk Hogan as his chief of staff since he's already financially supported previously. Oh, you remember that litigation that put Gawker out of business.
Vanity Fair earlier disclosed how Thiel had been advising the White House for months and was being considered for a top intelligence post.
The need for a broad and independent investigation at NBC
Merrill Brown is a journalist-entrepreneur who launched MSNBC.com and earlier this year exited the the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, which he started. Looking at the Matt Lauer mess play out, he says this.
"There are no ombudsman or public editors at places like NBC these days but what's called for here is an independent investigation of how over a career spanning over two decades such repeated horrific behavior could have taken place without any knowledge of 'current' management."
"'Pleading ignorance' as The Washington Post describes the situation isn't sufficient. This isn't institutionally blurry like Charlie Rose who maintained his own production venture or Mark Halperin who moved from place to place in a variety of structural circumstances. With protections for the privacy of those abused, a public review of the how NBC News handled years of rumors of his womanizing, what's being described as the rape of a colleague in his office which NBC medical staff was apparently aware of, and how NBC intends to deal with future harassment and abuse circumstances. This review would get NBC on top of the situation, from a process point of view get them ahead of the curve in terms of learning from the Lauer disaster and would set a model for other companies in media and other fields."
Amid layoffs there, Recode notes, "While U.S. web traffic to CNN, the New York Times, Fox News and the Washington Post has grown over the past year, unique visitors to BuzzFeed’s website have been falling over the last two years. It saw 69.8 million U.S. readers in October, a 10 percent drop from the 77.4 million readers it drew in October 2016, and a 12 percent drop from 2015 when it had 79.3 million readers, according to comScore data."
Retired journalists, knock on wood
Bloomberg Businessweek reports this morning, "U.S. stocks have more than tripled in value since 2009, but the bull market has left a lot of Americans behind. In almost every age group, the share of families owning equities — either directly or through funds and retirement accounts — declined from 2007 to 2016, according to the Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances. There’s one prominent exception: households headed by someone 75 or older."
Notes on the digital revolution in publishing
Says Publishers Weekly, "Sales fell and losses increased at Barnes & Noble in the second quarter ended Oct. 28, compared to the second quarter a year ago. Total revenue dropped 7.9 percent in the period, to $791.1 million, while the loss deepened to $40.1 million (up from $20.4 million in the second quarter of fiscal 2017). Both the sales decline and drop in revenue were higher than analysts had expected."
"Part of the sales decline was due to a 6.3 percent drop in comparable store sales. B&N blamed half of that decline on the strong sales of 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' last summer. The rest of the sales drop, the chain said, was due to lower sales in non-book categories, where comps were off 6.9 percent. Excluding Potter and coloring books, book comps were about flat in the quarter."
Tiger Woods, Matt Lauer and golf
Watching Thursday's much-chronicled return to competitive golf of Tiger Woods, as detailed by The New York Times Karen Crouse (and an army of others who drew tough duty in the Bahamas this week), I thought back to the last time I saw Matt Lauer. It was in the Cleveland Airport on the last day of the Republican National Convention (neither of us was staying for that night's finale) and we both ran into by-now former congressman John Boehner (in his first TSA line, he told me, after a decade of special treatment in which he avoided such security indignities as a congressional bigshot).
The Lauer-Boehner chat? It wasn't Trump or Boehner refusing to surface at the convention in his home state. No, it was golf and what drivers each was now using. No surprise, they'd obviously played together.
In case you missed this headline in India Today
"Ivanka Trump left Hyderabad looking like an Indian Barbie doll — Finally, the moment we'd all been waiting for — Ivanka Trump in an India kurta-dress."
How we could spend Trump's $100,000
The president pledges to donate his $100,000 third-quarter salary to the opioid crisis. Thanks to Megan Thielking of STAT for this morning informing what he could get with that donation:
- 44 auto-injectors of naloxone: Kaleo, the pharmaceutical company that makes the auto-injector that revives opioid users who have overdosed, sells its product as a two-pack with a list price of $4,500.
- 735 doses of naloxone nasal spray: GoodRx lists the price of Narcan nasal spray at $135 with a free coupon at Costco, Walgreens, and Kroger Pharmacy.
- 100 doses of Vivitrol: The monthly injectable of extended-release naltrexone can cost about $1,000 per shot.
- A year’s worth of methadone treatment for 21 patients: According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, the average cost of methadone maintenance runs about $4,700 per patient for a full year.
Morning Babel: the nation "shocked"
"Trump and Friends" came out of the gate with — and their favorite viewer was instantly tweeting about — the verdict in the case of Kate Steinle, in which an undocumented worker was found not guilty in a decision "that is shocking our country," said Fox. It's red meat for Fox and, just three minutes into the show's 12-minute opening outrage, Trump was tweeting about a "disgraceful verdict." Yes, "an illegal" got off! Over at CNN's "New Day" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe," they were talking taxes, North Korea and Trump pressuring congressional Republicans to ditch their Russia investigations (i.e. their parts of the country apparently weren't as shocked). CNN would get to it about 10 minutes into its show.
The San Francisco Chronicle writes,"A jury handed a stunning acquittal on murder and manslaughter charges to a homeless undocumented immigrant whose arrest in the killing of Kate Steinle on a San Francisco Bay pier intensified a national debate over sanctuary laws."
"In returning its verdict Thursday afternoon on the sixth day of deliberations, the Superior Court jury also pronounced Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty of assault with a firearm, finding credence in defense attorneys’ argument that the shot that ricocheted off the concrete ground before piercing Steinle’s heart was an accident, with the gun discharging after the defendant stumbled upon it on the waterfront on July 1, 2015."
'Trump's mind-numbing media manipulation machine'
Perfect timing: You could see Trump's tweet shortly after 6 a.m. being splashed over "Trump & Friends" and then read a smart piece posted a few hours earlier on Axios by Jim VandeHei, the sharp site's co-founder. It's about a "a very specific — and dangerous — formula for manipulating the media and hijacking the Twitter/cable/conventional media industrial complex."
"Trump," he writes, "sets this formulaic trap increasingly often. And news organizations keep falling for it. It includes: Step 1: Throw an early morning Twitter bomb, usually but not always timed to 'Fox & Friends' fodder or reinforcement. Step 2: The outrage machine kicks in. The first hour of 'Morning Joe' is consumed by reaction to either that morning's or yesterday's tweet bomb. But the real action unfolds on Twitter, with scores of journalists and activists howling in protest. Step 3: The cable beast awakens. MSNBC/CNN/Fox are basically 24/7 politics now, and the reporters who uncorked on Twitter sit alongside the hosts to dissect/condemn the Twitter bomb. They tweet the highlights. The rage builds. The cycle speeds."
One result: "A political opposition that is exhausting itself — and much of the public — with its perpetual state of moral apoplexy," as Bret Stephens wrote the day before in The New York Times.
What to do if you're the press. Some things are obvious, if easier said then done. Writes VandeHei, himself a cable TV regular, "Sound smart: We are all amplifying and participating in this endless sideshow. There is no easy solution, other than clinging to reality and clinically exposing Trump's make-believe. Check the facts, pay attention, but ignore the pure crap."
Most of the world outside the U.S. will not be immersed in the Senate tax bill wrangling or whether Trump urged Senate Republicans to wrap up the Russia investigation. No, as the BBC notes, they'll be focused on the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow for the draw for next summer's World Cup soccer championship (the one that the godawful U.S. didn't make, nor did traditional powerhouse Italy).
Who will wind up in what group for the initial stage? It's a very big deal for the 32 nations that qualified. Coverage begins at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports 1 in English and on Telemundo in Spanish. It will be interesting to see if anybody notes that Russia has been hit with more evidence of its top Olympic athletes cheating via state-sponsored illegal doping, as The Wall Street Journal notes.
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Okay, that's it for the week. Our weekend includes an indoor baseball practice, two soccer games, one basketball game, a wedding anniversary (ah, does time fly), a soccer club party and a choir rehearsal (and maybe sneaking a peek at the soccer drawer this morning). Cheers.