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June 16, 2006

Big(ish) Media

As Matt says, it's just not that concentrated. Moreover, it's not that lockstep. I spent a night at YearlyKos being bought drinks on the tab of a socialist working for Rupert Murdoch's Times. The Simpsons, with its obvious and often overt lefty bias, is happily aired on Murdoch's Fox. Why? Profit.

These guys didn't become magnates and multinationals through the consistent and determined application of ideology, they rose through an obsessive appetite for profit. That's why the media chases conflict, violence, fear, and sex -- the ratings winner is inevitably the network that looks most like Die Hard. Is that bad? Sure is, but it's not necessarily a problem of ideology. And it's not one that would be solved by less media aggregation, as smaller networks are even less able to pursue unprofitable strategies. PBS and C-SPAN, obviously, are free from such restraints, but they don't attract particularly massive audiences. Thankfully, the net's capability for low-cost content distribution is allowing a thousand niche players to bloom, and neither the capitalists nor the corporations can stop it. Unless, that is, they succeed in dismantling network neutrality.

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Such baloney from a kid who ought to know better. Starting with the notion that maximizing profits and minimizing competitors isn't an ideology. Or perhaps with the notion that on a playing field not jacked up in a bunch of different corporatist ways, lies, hate and things that blow up real good would still be the profit-maximizing choice.

Sure, that's the game as it's played now, but that game is also set up for the bottom 80% to lose (and for the niche players to remain niche players).

Posted by: paul | Jun 16, 2006 2:45:06 PM

Consolidated Media, run by and for a rapacious elite of grossly overpaid corporate executives, will not completely eliminate progressive and liberal voices, nor will they completely eliminate "objective" reporting of news.

What they will do is systematically favor incompetence in the "objective" reporting of news, and the promotion of vacuous and ineffective liberal and progressive pundits. So, we get truthiness in journalism, and liberals in the mold of Colmes.

It does not take a genius to see that 40+% of the potential cable news audience is moderate/liberal/progressive in outlook. OK, so why do all three of the leading purveyors of cable news compete exclusively for the ~60% of the audience, who are conservative? Could it be, possibly be, that the conservative portion of the audience includes the boss?

I'm sure that the bosses at MSNBC are begrudgingly grateful that Olbermann is gradually gaining market share. But, they are also grateful that Olbermann is not all that effective a moderate/liberal voice, and it never seems to occur to them to go all moderate/progressive all the time.

I could go into great economic detail into why media consolidation -- vertical as well as horizontal -- has been bad for creative innovation as well as political news and opinion, not to mention, truth, justice and the American way. Ultimately, it would be in your best interest to burn down the chicken ranch, because, if it doesn't happen, your career is only going one way, and it ain't pretty.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Jun 16, 2006 3:01:32 PM

Ezra says:

That's why the media chases conflict, violence, fear, and sex -- the ratings winner is inevitably the network that looks most like Die Hard

To some extent this sounds correct. What I don't quite understand is why the headline stories aren't more interesting. For example, the NY Times 2nd story at present is "Mosque Bombing Kills at Least 11 in Baghdad.". Does this story really sell papers? For crying out loud I'm so BORED of the Iraq War.

Posted by: A | Jun 16, 2006 3:04:57 PM

I don't know about C-SPAN, which is, contrary to popular belief, a profit-driven business, but PBS does face considerable constraints (if not "restraints" -- interesting metaphoric image there) to be conservative.

If you missed the Bush Administration's largely successful efforts to impose conservative orthodoxy on PBS and NPR, you need to do some research. If you just flushed the experience down the memory hole, so you could write that sentence about how free PBS is, well I feel sorry for you.

As a side note, Lehrer's News Hour was financed by some arch-conservative foundations, long before Bush came along, which might account for their general incompetence as journalists and their affection for truthiness.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Jun 16, 2006 3:10:31 PM

Reread the post: PBS doesn't operate under profit constraints.

Posted by: Ezra | Jun 16, 2006 3:13:33 PM

The Simpsons, with its obvious and often overt lefty bias, is happily aired on Murdoch's Fox. Why? Profit.

Those terrible chasers of profit. How dare them market products and services at the whim of the consumers!


Posted by: Fred Jones. | Jun 16, 2006 3:44:00 PM

My problem is this: how can we make sure people watch what we want them to watch instead of what they choose to watch?

I suggest going back to three channels and imposing government control on them all. We'll allow all the old curses and blasphemies (the seven words and the Christian curses) but we'll exlude all the new curses and blasphemies (racist/sexist language and Islamic blasphemy). We'll make all programming at least somewhat educational in a way we deem useful. And even though we will continue to permit commercial advertising in other mediums, we'll eliminate it as a means of financing television broadcasting and impose a new television tax.

Who's with me!

Posted by: slickdpdx | Jun 16, 2006 4:18:20 PM

I guess with the right colored glasses, media consolidation doesn't look so bad. I don't have those glasses though, and wouldn't wear them anyway. The full spectrum of light is better for viewing.

Does anyone doubt that there is the public interest in how information is made available (leaving aside entertainment, but focusing like a laser on news and public affairs). How can a democracy persist with 6 (or 12) hands on the controls?

Our country's founders would be astounded at the lack of really vigorous debate on public issues today versus the late 18th century - and they had effectively only one public media form, the newspaper (maybe two: the pamphlet).

All the additional media forms do not increase the dialogue, they largely reinforce the single conservative message - the internet accepted. But the internet alone can't save democracy for public debate.

Bob Geiger, in the 6/26/06 issue of The Nation says it well: Reform must re-establish this fundamental principle: The economy exists to support society and people, not the other way around. (p.24)

Although the Supreme Court established many years ago the idea that corporations are 'people' to provide them 'rights', I think it is time to review that idea before corporations completely make society and people their subjects to be exploited. We are nearly there now.

With the vast powers of consolidated corporate control, are we really better off economically or socially with this cross-borders dominance that literally buys what it wants from governments?

This is even more important when it comes to media ownership. I say, bring on the spirit of the first progressive era and bring on the the trust busters.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 16, 2006 5:06:14 PM

I have found a link online for the Bob Geiger article in The Nation, mentioned in my comment above.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 16, 2006 5:13:51 PM

Jim: You forgot the soapbox (in addition to news and pamphlets)! I understand what you don't like. But. The innovation of the corporation permits economic growth that was previously undreamed of and is still one of the small business person's greatest friends. Also, I'm not sure that restricting the speech of rich folks is a proper way to address the problem. Finally, I question your assertions that debate is less vigouros or that information is less available - even if you look only at print and broadcast media and leave the internet out of it. Your perception that the media largely reinforces only the conservative message is laughable. Either because your politics are so radical that everything is conservative to you or because you refuse to acknowledge that there are plenty of liberal or progressive opinions expressed in the media; mainstream, independent and otherwise.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Jun 16, 2006 7:02:50 PM

slickdpdx: do you agree or disagree with Geiger's point? The economy exists to support society and people, not the other way around.

your statement: The innovation of the corporation permits economic growth that was previously undreamed of and is still one of the small business person's greatest friends. I have absolutely no problem with this position. It doesn't address the question of whether unfettered bigness is a societal benefit.

your statement: acknowledge that there are plenty of liberal or progressive opinions expressed in the media; mainstream, independent and otherwise.

Which Time Warner publications have liberal opinions (or even Democratic party positions treated with respect)?

Which News Corp media outlets are not right-leaning? Faux News?

I doubt if anyone thinks that The Nation, Mother Jones, American Prospect, or Harper's are major influences on public discourse across the country.

Just what TV/Cable news organizations are centrist or left of center?

Does it make sense to have Clear Channel Communications own 11 radio stations in Los Angeles? (or multiple stations in other cities)


Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 16, 2006 9:29:50 PM

Ezra,
this doesn't even make sense. Look, corporate media like murdoch's *both* make money selling people what they want, and you might want to take a "no harm no foul" pass on that--*and* they use their financial clout to funnel money into loss leaders (look at Moon's Washington Times, look at all Murdoch's various media efforts not just the ones that make money) whose very purpose is to manipulate the political climate in order that *other* activities can make more money. They are not a consumer driven producer at all. Its true that if people really turned off sex/violence/death stuff they would probably produce some kittens with fluffy tails promos. But it is also true that the real work of channelling public/tax monies into the pockets of murdoch and the top 10 percent of families in this country goes on regardless of what their various media outlets are selling. They all have financial interests that are completely distinct from the fish wrapping they call their media, that use their media clout, and that manipulate both the voting populace and our elected officials.

that some guy bought you drinks and puts his stuff on the same channel as the simpsons is neither here nor there.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | Jun 17, 2006 6:11:58 AM

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