The Shrinking Impact of Mainstream Media

Can there be any further doubt that we have now come to a time when the rightward half of the country perceives much of the mainstream media (the broadcast networks, big city newspapers, etc.) to be carriers of Democratic and/or left-leaning news and opinion?

The media deny this, but their denials – indeed, the very idea that the way to address this matter is to deny or contest it – change nothing. The bottom line is that perhaps one half of the potential audience for these media outlets holds negative opinions about them.

This practice confounds most people’s understanding of the marketing of mass products. Were millions of people, for example, to complain to car makers that the standard radios provided don’t work well enough, the manufacturers would endeavor to fix it to the critics’ satisfaction – not, as the media have done, simply deny that anything’s wrong.

So that’s an important difference between car companies and the legacy media, but what explains it, and what does the future hold for such media?

Understand what’s meant by the first of these questions. It’s not what explains why the reporters and editors don’t care that they are perceived as biased.  >> Read More

News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson: Telling It Like It Is

It’s not every day that a speech given by a publishing executive is truly noteworthy, but remarks given earlier this month by Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp., are the exception to the rule.

Speaking on August 13 at Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, Thomson delivered a powerful speech in which he decried, among other things, the business practices of “distribution” companies like Google, the commentariat’s disdain for markets, the theft of intellectual property, and the politically correct mindset of Silicon Valley.

Though now chief executive officer of one of the largest newspaper and publishing companies in the world, Thomson has spent most of his life as a journalist, having earlier in his career been an editor of the Financial Times, The Times newspaper in London, and the Wall Street Journal.  And it’s these experiences that inform his views about the media and more.

Speaking about markets, Thomson had this to say:

When some commentators speak of markets it is in the abstract, slightly pejorative sense – markets are actually an aggregation of collective effort and hope and action….  >> Read More

Decline of Legacy Media, Rise of the Conservatives?

For the legacy news media, the bad news just keeps on coming.  In recent days, for instance, the Pew Research Center released a piece titled “The Declining Value of U.S. Newspapers,” chronicling the extraordinary decline in the purchase and sale price of major U.S. dailies.

Some of the examples given are so extreme they look like misprints.  The New York Times Co., for instance, purchased The Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette for a little over $2.2 billion, and sold them both in 2013 for $71 million – a valuation change of minus 96 percent!

Not far behind are newspapers like the The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times and the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, all of which themselves sold in 2011 and 2012 for around 90 percent less than their earlier purchase prices.

Nor is the challenge to newspapers just an American phenomenon.  Recognizing the importance of the American media, and its similarity to their own challenges, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) is holding its annual World News Congress in Washington June 1 to June 3, only the fifth time in the past 60 years that they have held this event in the United States.

A WAN backgrounder puts the matter succinctly: “The 2015 [Congress] comes at a time when independent news media are under enormous pressure, one that threatens their societal role as the provider of credible news and information to citizens so they can make informed decisions in democratic societies.”  >> Read More

We Are Not Charlie. We Are Weak.

The worst aspect of the Charlie Hebdo affair is that human beings were murdered for practicing free speech.  A distant second is the way this affair, and the earlier hacking of the Sony Pictures studio, has exposed the pieties and inadequacies of so much of the media.

Speaking the other day at the Consumer Electronics Show, Kazuo Hirai, CEO of Sony Corp., is reported to have said that he was proud “of all of the employees of Sony Pictures for standing up against the extortionist efforts of those criminals that attacked” the company.

Really?  No acknowledgment that the studio belatedly moved to release the film only after being criticized by virtually everyone in the country up to and including the president?

And despite the happy profusion of “Je Suis Charlie” displays, what has been the response of American media companies to that monstrous act?  As reported in Politico on Jan. 7, CNN senior editorial director, Richard Griffiths, sent a message to CNN staff saying, among other things, that “Video or stills of street protests showing Parisians holding up copies of the offensive cartoons, if shot wide, are OK.  Avoid close-ups of the cartoons that make them clearly legible.”

And here, according to a piece in Rolling Stone, is the way the Associated Press described its decision regarding the Hebdo cartoons: “We’ve taken the view that we don’t want to publish hate speech or spectacles that offend, provoke or intimidate, or anything that desecrates religious symbols or angers people along religious or ethnic lines. …  We don’t feel that’s useful.”

Even the Hollywood bible, Variety magazine, adds to the general alarm:

A brutal attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed has jolted Hollywood, escalating concerns by artists and producers that major studios and networks may avoid greenlighting movies and TV shows with potentially inflammatory content….

Freedom of speech is under attack, but, given Sony’s initial decision to pull the release of The Interview and its subsequent about-face, it’s not clear how rousing a defense the entertainment business is willing to mount in the midst of financial pressures, political dangers, and the threat of violence.

Making matters incalculably worse is the fact that the most immediate threats to free speech in this country don’t come from abroad, but from here at home.  As described three years ago by Jonathan Turley in the Washington Post, we are witnessing the censoring of speech under one of four rationales: Speech is blasphemous; Speech is hateful; Speech is discriminatory; Speech is deceitful.

Shortly after the Sony affair broke open, Ross Douthat, the loneliest and bravest journalist at the New York Times, wrote one of the most powerful paragraphs about that, and related, matters:

Of course it had to escalate this way.  We live in a time of consistent gutlessness on the part of institutions notionally committed to free speech and intellectual diversity, a time of canceled commencement invitations and CEOs defenestrated for their political donations, a time of Twitter mobs, trigger warnings and cringing public apologies.  A time when journalists and publishers tiptoe around Islamic fundamentalism, when free speech is under increasing pressure on both sides of the Atlantic, when a hypersensitive political correctness has the whip hand on many college campuses.

So why should anyone be remotely surprised when Kim Jong-un decided to get in on the “don’t offend me” act?

So what to do?  Enforcement of the First Amendment won’t suffice because it only proscribes governmental abridgement of free speech, and only, of course, in the United States.

Here are a couple suggestions.  The next time you read or hear something that you think is truly awful, moronic, hateful, or false, send a comment by email, text, or social media stating your objections but also saying that you respect the right of the offending party to speak his or her piece.

And when you hear of some group or individual threatening advertisers with boycotts for advertising on programs they don’t like, contact those same advertisers yourself and let them know that you have a different view.

In the end, free speech can be guaranteed, if at all, not by the press or government, but only by the people.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  This article was originally published here in the online edition of USA Today on Jan. 15, 2015.

Rolling Stone and Journalism by Meme

It’s getting hard to keep track of it all.  From the over-the-top coverage by CNN of the Ferguson, Mo., affair, to Rolling Stone’s imploding UVA rape story, to the likely demise of The New Republic, it’s the media themselves who have lately been the story.

And not a good one.  Recalling the recent CNN panel that raised their hands in “solidarity” with the Ferguson protesters, Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner awarded CNN four out of five “screams” for endorsing this discredited narrative.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stone story, about which the magazine says it is in the process of “re-reporting,” has been denounced by just about everyone, including Lizzie Crocker at The Daily Beast, who wrote a piece under the headline “What the U-VA Rape Case Tells Us About a Victim Culture Gone Mad,” and Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, who wryly observed that the “journalistic priesthood holds to a different standard, one that elevates the higher truth of an overarching ‘narrative’ … above the mundane details of fact.”  >> Read More

The Gruber Videos and the Future of Journalism

Very few people (outside of those who wish them ill) have commented on the lack of substantial, and politically even-handed, reporting by the mainstream media (MSM).

Most of the White House press corps has been reduced, during the Obama years, to a gaggle of superficial chroniclers of whatever spin the White House puts on policy issues and national affairs generally.  Nor is the conduct of the White House press corps the only evidence of the journalistic failings of the mainstream media.

The Jonathan Gruber videos, in which his nibs brags of his cleverness in deceiving the public and Congress about crucial aspects of the Affordable Care Act, provide another example.  Some of the Gruber videos date back to 2010, so why are they only now coming to light?

More importantly by far, why didn’t the press fully examine and expose what we now know to be the many adverse effects of the ACA before its passage?  It isn’t as though no one had seen them coming.  Indeed, many GOP legislators, and conservative think tank experts, warned of precisely such effects.  So why weren’t those warnings fully vetted by the press?  >> Read More

ProPublica and the Problem With Journalism

It’s symptomatic of the syndrome: So many people who presume to speak for and about journalism’s shortcomings misdiagnose both the problem and its solutions.  So it is that individuals of a certain mindset promote the idea that “corporate influence” is a problem, and nonprofit media are an answer.

One of the most prominent purveyors of the wrong stuff is the Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica, the nonprofit “newsroom” that produces investigative journalism “in the public interest.”

ProPublica has received funding from such birds of a feather as George Soros and the Knight Foundation, but most has come from its founding chairman, Herbert Sandler, a man with a well-established history of giving to left-wing organizations like ACORN.

Sandler has also been the subject of withering, and occasionally comic, criticism for his role as the former head of Great West Financial.  In 2009, Time magazine named him and his wife to its list of the “25 people most responsible for the financial crisis,” and “SNL” did a skit in ’08 in which it was suggested he should be shot.

ProPublica says it focuses on stories with “moral force,” by “shining a light on the exploitation of the weak by the strong.”  With these as their mission statement, funders, and modus operandi, it will come as a shock to no one that ProPublica’s light rarely shines on issues as would discomfit liberals and progressives, even as they also publish stories that are down the middle.

Nowhere to be found this year, for instance, are investigative stories focusing of the future effects of the kind of deficit spending currently being done by states, localities, and the federal government.  No investigations of public employee unions and the role they play in stimulating those deficits.  No investigations of the outsized impact on healthcare costs caused by ambulance chasing trial lawyers.  No investigations of the derelictions and inadequacies of public school educators and administrators.

No investigations of the failure and counterproductive aspects of the many taxpayer-funded “poverty programs.”  No investigations of the obvious fraud in the exploding number of people claiming disability benefits.  No investigations of the willful misuse of claims of racial bias made by politicians and government officials.  No investigations of the compelling legal arguments, based on the First Amendment, behind decisions like Citizens United.

Instead, the kind of stuff pumped out by ProPublica, to name just a few of its current investigations, are stories in ongoing series such as:

  • Patient Safety: Exploring Quality of Care in the U.S.  More than 1 million patients suffer harm each year while being treated in the U.S. health care system.  Even more receive substandard care or costly overtreatment….
  • Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat.  Vast deposits of natural gas have brought a drilling boom across much of the country, but the technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, is suspected of causing hundreds of cases of water contamination….
  • Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data.  A series of court rulings led to the creation of super PACs and an influx of “dark money” into politics, fundamentally changing how elections work….
  • Segregation Now: Investigating America’s Racial Divide.  Investigating America’s racial divide in education, housing, and beyond….
  • Restraints.  How public school kids are being pinned down and held their (sic) against their will….

In addition to its transparent ideological affinities, ProPublica has also been implicated in the IRS scandal.  Though it attracted very little media attention, in November 2012 the IRS improperly gave (or someone leaked to) ProPublica the tax-exempt application forms of nine conservative groups, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, that had not yet been given tax-exempt status.

Shortly thereafter, ProPublica published six of those applications, with their financial information redacted.  And when, on May 10, 2013, Lois Lerner lit the fuse on a fire within the IRS that is burning still, ProPublica quickly published a story (and a week later a podcast) exonerating itself of any blame, and retelling why the organization published these applications.  (There was, according to ProPublica’s president, “a strong First Amendment interest.”)

Though ProPublica had asked for the applications by name, it did so, it says, without knowing that the groups had not been granted exemptions, and it claims not to know why the applications were sent when they should not have been.

That claim notwithstanding, anyone keeping track of their “Dark Money” series, which began many months before the IRS imbroglio, knows that ProPublica is a big fan of what is called “campaign finance reform,” suggesting the possibility that the IRS sent the applications in the hope that, were they published, this would further the agency’s crackdown on conservative tax-exempt organizations.  We simply don’t know, and may never know unless an independent prosecutor can one day get IRS officials to testify under oath.

Given, however, what is known about ProPublica’s mission and funders, one might assume that the mainstream media would be chary of working with it.  Far from it.  In fact, ProPublica’s list of partnering media reads like a who’s who of the mainstream media: the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, and many, many more.

And it’s this, not the fact that ProPublica exists and does what it does, that is the most disturbing part of the ProPublica phenomenon.

The greatest problem with mainstream journalism isn’t the editorial influence of advertisers, or even the advent of the Internet, which is more of a business challenge.  As shown in polls, the greatest journalistic problem is the way in which the mainstream media, all of which profess objectivity in their news reports and feature stories, have tarnished the reputation of contemporary journalism as a check on government and as an impartial chronicler of the nation’s most important issues.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  A version of this article first appeared in The Daily Caller on July 31, 2014.

Dropping George Will Is a Bad Way To Arrest That Subscriber Decline, Post-Dispatch

Even as such things are becoming commonplace, the sacking of George Will’s syndicated column by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sets a new low in mainstream journalism’s race to the bottom.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Will wrote a piece (“Colleges become the victims of progressivism”) in which he ridiculed, in the context of a new Education Department mandate, some phony math and dubious cases being cited to demonstrate that America suffers from a rape epidemic.

Will’s larger point was that the DOE mandate threatens the loss of federal funding to colleges that do not institute a “preponderance of the evidence” standard when adjudicating allegations of sexual assault.  This, he wrote, would inevitably lead to costly litigation “against institutions that have denied due process to males they accuse of what society considers serious felonies.”

Elsewhere in his article, Will also points to the growth of campus speech codes and the idea, on some campuses, of the need for “trigger warnings” on college textbooks that feature language or concepts as might “victimize” unwary students.  Will contrasts these developments – none of which are much resisted by college faculty and administrations – often they’re welcomed – with those same colleges’ anger at another prospective DOE program, a rating system that would compare schools on things like graduation rates, student debt, and earnings after graduation.

Will concludes his piece with this: “What government is inflicting on colleges and universities, and what they are inflicting on themselves, diminishes their autonomy, resources, prestige and comity.  Which serves them right.  They have asked for this by asking for progressivism.”

So that’s it.  That’s what the piece is about.  But not to one Tony Messenger, the editorial page editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  To Mr. Messenger, Will’s column “was offensive and inaccurate,” for which apologies were in order, and sufficient grounds for dropping his column from the paper permanently.  And what, precisely, was the offensive and inaccurate thing to which Messenger objected?

Well, as reported by the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, it was: “Seeing the reaction and intensity of the hurt in some of the social media and the reaction of women I know and talking to people who really were offended by the thought that sexual assault victims would seek some special victimhood – it helped seeing that response and it informed my [Messenger’s] opinion.”

Against the slim chance that anyone wonders about it, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a long record of supporting liberal and Democratic priorities, which means that Tony Messenger fits right in.  He routinely bashes the Missouri Republican Party, often harshly, and champions every liberal cause that comes his way.

Because it’s not nice to pick on the weak, it wouldn’t be right here to speak about Messenger’s abilities in and of themselves, except perhaps to say that somewhere between his brainpan and his mouth there are little walls that prevent him from making sense when speaking.  You can witness this yourself, and in fact it’s recommend just for the humor, by checking out Messenger’s interview, available on YouTube, with a fellow named Lee Presser (“A Conversation with Tony Messenger”).  Videotaped in 2012, not long after Messenger was hired, it’s almost comic how Messenger filibusters the hard questions while still managing to back himself into rhetorical cul-de-sacs.

One such is his claim that a unique feature of his paper’s editorial page setup is its insulation from the publisher.  This, because of a special editorial board that meets regularly.  Asked by Presser who sits on that board, Messenger says it’s him, two guys who report to him, plus the editor-in-chief, who Messenger reports to, and the guy the editor reports to, the publisher.

Apart from the substantive nature of this matter, and Messenger’s personal shortcomings, there are many smaller ironies.  One is that George Will is the recipient of a Pulitzer prize, named after the former owners of the St Louis Post-Dispatch.  (It and some other newspapers were purchased from Pulitzer by Lee Enterprises for $1.5 billion, a few years after which Lee Enterprises filed for bankruptcy.)

Another is the fact that, from 2010 through the end of 2012, the Post-Dispatch’s circulation dropped from 213,472 to 178,801, while the Sunday paper dropped from over 400,000 readers to 299,000.  At the same time the paper routinely excoriated Republicans and the Republican Party, which today controls both the Missouri House and Senate by more than 2-to-1 majorities.

Asked by Presser in the aforementioned YouTube video why so many people say they no longer read the paper because of its transparent political bias, Messenger’s answer (trimmed of its fat) was that such people are confused, and that they should remember they can always write letters to the editor.

Yes, that’s it exactly.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  A version of this article was first published here on The Daily Caller on June 23, 2014.

Free Speech and the Academy

So here we are as a nation, at the intersection of fear and despair, and what do we get?  A blessing on the activities of the latter-day Hitler Youth among the nations “progressive” collegians!  This, courtesy of a piece written by one Lucia Graves, as published in National Journal.

Under the title “The Case for Protesting Your Commencement Speaker,” Graves manages to assemble, in the fewest number of words, more non sequiturs, straw men, and fallacies than should be permitted any professional journalist.

Of course some might argue that Graves is neither professional nor a journalist.  Having formerly written for the Huffington Post about energy matters, where she demonstrated the same facility for agitprop that she displays in the NJ piece, Graves more closely resembles a wannabe editorialist or MSNBC commentator than a journalist or reporter.

For those who get the picture already, and would rather not inflict on themselves the whole of Graves’s opus, it’s perhaps enough just to know the subtitle of her piece: “These students aren’t silencing debate.  They’re creating it.”

That statement sums up nicely the quality of what Graves has to say about the recent travesties at Rutgers, Haverford, Smith, and numerous other colleges, where students and faculty have succeeded in shouting down, or otherwise causing the cancellation of appearances at campus events, of speakers who have said or done something that gives offense to the PC police and student/faculty progressives.

Graves’s argument is reminiscent of one made by a protester at Brown University who, fresh off a successful shout down of the New York City chief of police, averred that the affair “was a powerful demonstration of free speech.”  As written at the time, the Brown case was a powerful demonstration of free speech in the same way that a mugging is a powerful demonstration of free will.

Similarly, the protesters of which Graves speaks “created debate” only in the sense that, by their actions, they have demonstrated the peril in the growth and nurturing of a mindset and a movement that are, at bottom, fascistic.

Given her inconsequence and modest ability, one might wonder about the need to criticize Graves at all.  Indeed, the criticism here is pretty tame compared to the kind she gets in the (highly recommended) comments her piece attracted in NJ itself.  Moreover, one should hasten to commend (even as Graves objects to) a number of liberal outlets, including Slate, Vox, the Nation, and the Daily Beast, which have roundly criticized the campus thuggery.

Even so, there remain reasons to criticize Graves, most notably because she’s far from alone, and the disease of which she’s a carrier is found not just on campus but off campus as well.

Witness, for instance, the latest chapter in the ongoing attempt by “climate change” activists to isolate and censor climate scientists who say or do things that indicate any degree of skepticism about the subject.

As reported, Swedish climate scientist Lennart Bengtsson’s scholarly paper was rejected for publication by a leading scientific journal after one reviewer criticized it on the grounds that it would provide fodder for climate change skeptics.  Bengtsson’s crime?  He and his four co-authors suggested that climate is less sensitive to greenhouse gases than has been reported by the UN’s IPCC.

When, as now, too many people believe that the ends justify the means, even the most basic of human rights, like freedom of speech, can be targeted by propagandists.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Political Correctness Takes a Turn for the Worse

It’s widely understood that “political correctness” can be employed as a speech-killing device.   But it’s only been in recent times that we’ve been able to witness the full range of its lethality.

From colleges and universities like Fordham, Brown, and Brandeis have come recent, ugly demonstrations of intolerance, based on PC–themed arguments, which have yielded a suppression of “disfavored” speech on those campuses.

Elsewhere, columnist Charles Krauthammer reports that in February, the Washington Post received 110,000 signatures on a petition demanding a ban on any article questioning global warming!

In the midst of all this have come a number of commentaries, mostly written by conservatives or libertarians, decrying this state of affairs, and the apparent acquiescence in it of mainstream entertainment and journalism outfits.

Subjects that have prompted recent censorious acts include opposition to (1) the Affordable Care Act; (2) global warming or “climate change”; (3) same-sex marriage; and (4) abortion.

The role of the media in the growth of the speech police hasn’t been so much a matter of their overt support as of their benign neglect.  So it is that environmental organizations can brand climate change skeptics as “deniers,” whose views are unworthy of circulation or consideration, safe in the knowledge that most in the mainstream media agree with their take on the issue, even if they may not themselves encourage censorship activities.

So too with the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage, and abortion, opposition to all of which has been loudly and uncritically attributed to racism, homophobia, and a “war on women,” respectively.

As Krauthammer put it in his piece about the number of signatures on the global warming petition: “The left is entering a new phase of ideological intolerance – no longer trying to win the debate but stopping debate altogether, banishing from public discourse any and all opposition….  Long a staple of academia, the totalitarian impulse is spreading.  What to do?  Defend the dissenters, even if – perhaps, especially if – you disagree with their policy.  It is – it was? – the American way.”

It’s against this backdrop that one reads with considerable relief an article published last week in … Nation magazine!  Written by Michelle Goldberg, and titled “#Cancel Colbert and the Return of the Anti-Liberal Left,” this slim offering is one of the best, and more encouraging, things written about political correctness in recent memory.  It’s one of the best because of the reasoning employed in the piece; it’s important because of its publication in the resolutely left-wing Nation.

But don’t take my word for it.  Read on:

It’s increasingly clear that we are entering a new era of political correctness.  Recently, we’ve seen the calls to #CancelColbert because of something outrageous said by Stephen Colbert’s blowhard alter ego, who has been saying outrageous things regularly for nine years….  Then there’s the sudden demand for “trigger warnings” on college syllabi, meant to protect students from encountering ideas or images that may traumatize them….

Call it left-wing anti-liberalism: the idea, captured by Herbert Marcuse in his 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance, that social justice demands curbs on freedom of expression and that “it is possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those which would do the opposite.  Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones….”

Note both the belief that correct opinions can be dispassionately identified, and the blithe confidence in the wisdom of those empowered to do the suppressing.

What Goldberg calls “left-wing anti-liberalism,” others might characterize more harshly.  Take, for instance, the example of the group called Media Matters for America, created for no other reason than to attempt to silence conservative voices.  To characterize such a group as merely anti-liberal, or anti-conservative, would seem like a rather dainty way of putting it.

Beyond MMA, there are other groups and individuals, whose actions or theories play a role in the speech suppression business.  Robert McChesney, co-founder of the septic organization misnamed Free Press, comes to mind.

This said, there’s much to be appreciated in Goldberg’s thesis.  For one thing there’s the consoling fact that, for all the cultural and political differences currently roiling the nation, there are certain bedrock principles, like free speech, that people of vastly different perspectives can rally around.

For a nation founded on the principles of popular democracy and the Bill of Rights, this is a good thing indeed.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.