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« The larger, sordid tale of Josh Duggar | Main | The sprawling redundancy of the GOP race to the bottom »

May 25, 2015

Comments

Bruce Bartlett

I do agree. I certainly never meant to suggest that Fox is responsible for making the GOP a conservative party. But I do think that over the last 20 years, the GOP has gone from being conservative to being ultra-right wing. I think it would be easy to prove that even Ronald Reagan would be far too moderate for today's GOP. I think this extra push to the right owes a lot to Fox. One reason is that it legitimizes extreme viewpoints that in the past would have remained buried in little newsletters and fringe publications.

Peter G

I found your analysis straight forward and persuasive but I have to give Mr Shafer credit for providing an even better argument for your side than even you did. For when he says this: "If you think of Fox News as a news-entertainment hybrid designed to make money, its combative programming style begins to make more sense." He is correct. And if he is correct than his prior statements about Fox being neither a help nor a hindrance to the Republican party cannot be true. The primary interest of Fox is making money, to which end it promotes content that is the most attractive to its target audience. And that audience in no way is reflective of American society at large demographically. Which puts Fox News rather at odds with the whole idea of popular elections unless you believe that Fox is like General Bullmoose. What's good for him is good for the USA.

I had some weeks ago set forth the minimum requirement for this system to work as Mr Shafer has the temerity to suggest it does work. That would be for only people who agree with Fox News and only them, to see Fox News. Unfortunately for the Republican party this is not possible. Everybody knows what you think. Everybody knows that only retired Republicans long removed from office or ambition, dare speak against Fox. Which certainly begs the question, what time slot on Fox is Shafer looking for?


Bob

One facet of broadcast news history that's seldom mentioned anymore is the FCC's 1949 Fairness Doctrine that required broadcasters to present issues of public importance in a way that was honest, equitable and balanced. The Reagan administration eliminated the Doctrine in 1987 to fight the well-documented wisdom that truth has a liberal bias. Since there have been other anti-democratic assaults on the public's right to know.

Margaret Spellings, Policy Adviser and Secretary of Education for Bush II organized campaigns against PBS for airing material antagonistic to several Bush II policies and succeeded in getting shows for Tucker Carlson and Paul Gigot aired to offset what she claimed was liberal bias. This caused Bill Moyers to resign. Worse, in 2003 a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with an assertion by Fox News that there is no rule against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States. Anyone interested in details can search for New World Communications Of Tampa v. Jane Akre.

Peter G

That you in "what you think" is not meant to mean you personally Mr Bartlett but rather what the most ideologically driven segment of the Republican party (Fox"s target audience) believes. I thought I better add that in the interest of clarity.

Peter G

The only problem with the Fairness Doctrine is that it never was fair or enforced. Once upon a time the airways and talk radio was dominated by unanswered Liberal voices. Mostly on FM when that was the poorer cousin to dominant AM. Market forces changed that. Right wing talk radio sells more stuff and that was why broadcasters switched. For a nuanced appreciation of this phenomena I once again offer this essay by DF Wallace: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/04/host/303812/

Bruce Bartlett

In my paper I make clear that the ideological/political tilt of a media source is more a business decision than anything else. But to those who claim that Fox is only about making money, I ask why its owner, Rupert Murdoch, subsidizes the losses of the New York Post year after year. I think it is because the Post is a vital conduit in reporting right wing nut stuff that is then recycled onto Fox where it enters the media mainstream.

Bob

That's one take. However, if the doctrine was worthless why did Reagan and the broadcast industry take extraordinary measures to keep it from becoming law? The legislation containing the doctrine passed the House on a 302-102 vote and had been approved by the Senate by a 59-31 vote before Reagan vetoed it ( http://articles.latimes.com/1987-06-21/news/mn-8908_1_fairness-doctrine ). Then there's the assault on PBS. It doesn't take any conspiratorial thinking to see the political motivation.

Bob

It seems obvious that FNC is a propaganda outlet for undermining an informed public and furthering business interests. I remember reading somewhere that FNC sustained large losses for several years during its startup. Unfortunately if that's true Newscorp has hidden the information too well for me to cite a source.

Peter G

Frankly they wanted a tilt in the other direction. The question I have with regard to a notion such as the Fairness doctrine is that it cannot work unless there is some independent arbiter of what is accurate factually. That certainly won't fly. I can think of nothing more calculated to feed anti-government paranoia than that.

Without the fairness doctrine we have , more or less, exactly the same thing as a fairness doctrine would produce, news organizations that present opposing views as if all arguments had equal merit. And it is done that way principally so as not to offend any particular class of consumer. I call it Remains To Be Seen Journalism. I can't see giving equal air time has any influence at all on what is presented during that air time. Might as well call it an equal bullshit doctrine. There's no way to make it work as people imagine it should.

I give Fox credit for overtly singing to their own choir. It is intellectually honest and a great business model even as it is almost entirely factually false. Does it help the Republican party? No sirree Bob! It pins them down to issues and beliefs that allow zero political room for maneuver.( Sorry Bob but I have been waiting forever to use that phrase)

Peter G

A good point about money losing operations. Maintaining a news feed like the Post is a relatively cheap investment in content. You either get it on the open market or you make it in house. You get better quality control and consistency with the latter. And you get to evaluate the product in a receptive test market.

Within a corporation what is considered to be a profit center? The modern expectation of investment analysts is that virtually everything should be a profit center if humanly possible. Which is what drove the ostensibly public service news divisions of virtually all networks into stand alone divisions that needed to generate profits from whatever advertising they could themselves sell. There are only two options when it comes to keeping an audience with known demographic parameters to whom you can pitch advertising. Pick one group and stick to it. Or try to offend no one. So.. what do we have today? Fox or CNN. In a country with such definite ideological divides Fox made the sounder business decision. Whishy washy doesn't sell well at all.

Peter G

All start ups lose money initially. Roger Ailes' early experiments with a right wing slant all failed. A case which Mr Bartlett makes very well. But they certainly learned from their mistakes. They got it right with Fox News but only as a money making machine. Politically it is a disaster.

Anne J

Personally, I find what is said on Fox to be the same things I have heard from my own right wing family, friends, co-workers, and basically strangers in my community for years. If the right wing tilt was a business decision, then I can only guess it was a supply responding to a demand.

Peter G

Essentially correct. But no marketer of anything, even such a mundane thing as toothpaste, wants to limit their market to just those who already buy it. So Bob is right to say they are trying to increase their market share by any and all means. If that means lying like a cheap rug so be it. Nothing illegal about it. You have obviously noticed the technique of using their fans as proselytes to carry the Word far and wide. I was surprised how many nitwits in Canada made an issue of correcting a cashier's offering of Happy Holidays. Not many but more than I expected. They are a very vocal minority. Still how many people does it take to win a primary? I'm really glad we don't have those.

Bob

Fox is bad for the Republican Party, but it furthers republican or anti-democratic interests by at least partially negating an informed public. It's also good for certain business interests that can rally Fox zombies - letter writers, phone callers and demonstrators - to their causes. In that respect it resembles any other astroturf organization. And I can't see a problem with equal time as long as speakers' organizational aims are clearly explained to viewers. The independent arbiter would be The Fourth Estate which was initially intended to perform this function and is actually a conservative idea credited to Burke. It would further serious public policy dialog, but like almost everything else it has been shanghaied and perverted by PR. Any idea how the PBS manipulation fits? No need to apologize. I really go by Robert.

Bob

My point should have been that NWS lost more on FNC than usual start up costs. I've been searching for activity between 1996-2003 when FNC was bleeding money, but have run into a lot of pages that are no longer available. At any rate, they don't seem to be on an upward trend now: http://finance.yahoo.com/echarts?s=NWS+Interactive#{%22range%22:%22max%22,%22showPrePost%22:false}

Bob

The important distinction is that FNC isn't trying to make money through news or political entertainment - it's steering or reinforcing its audience to further Rupert's political influence, as Bruce Bartlett suggests above.

Anne J

Oh yes, I have definitely noticed the proselytes carrying the word far and wide whether it's solicited or not. From the incessant emails my mother sends me, to just about every co-worker, customer, acquaintance and neighbor I have come across here in Red State California. Of course being born and raised in the same part of the country as Nixon himself, (the library, birth place, and burial site are just a few miles down the freeway from where I live) it could be that we are just grown that way out here. And working a couple of Christmases at Walmart, I know first hand, what it's like when you are not religiously correct for these people and wishing them Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. The correction always accompanied by a We-Are-Not-Amused stare on the offended customer's face. Add to that the people who tell you they are Jehovah's Witnesses and don't celebrate any holidays, I eventually just told everyone "Have a nice day" regardless of what time of year it was and came to ignore the dirty looks and reprimands. Yes, you are lucky not to have primaries now more loaded up than ever with also-rans clogging up the system for their own personal gain. Do you also have publicly financed elections there?

Bob

Actually, much of this discussion is academic to me. I quit watching or listening to broadcast news at least 20 years ago in favor of the web and am quite sure I'm not alone. I have been watching DW Journal and BBC America for about a year and, as long as I can fast forward through the sports news on DW, wish we had something like them here. The Japanese and French news broadcasts are every bit as bad as the US's.

Peter G

I would agree with you there Bob about the fourth estate being some sort of arbiter of fact had they not already abandoned that in favor of the much easier course of presenting claims and counter claims and letting you decide. In the interests of appearing unbiased naturally. They just don't do that much fact checking anymore. More honored in the breach..etc. How bad is it? It's so bad the the web site purportedly devoted to evaluating the factual claims of politicians, Politifact pretty much abandoned their job in the teeth of too many phoney "facts" originating from the right. So concerned did they become with appearing to be biased, as most journalists are, that they surrendered. Overwhelmed by bullshit as it were. Merely reporting a truthful fact always leaves you open to the accusation of bias.

I don't disagree at all about PBS. It might as well be Planned Parenthood or ACORN as far as the right goes. And so they target it. There's just no way to stop it and no way to make the right's opinions illegal.

Peter G

To some degree yes. Directed campaign donations can be made with your tax return. Very small donations. Campaign spending is very very controlled but still cheating takes place.

Peter G

You're definitely not alone there Bob. I do watch them though. Just not to be informed. It's more in the nature of a vivisection of living bullshit. It's why I love commercials too which I have mentioned in the past. It's not about what they say. It's about what they can make you think you heard.

Peter G

Thanks Mr Bartlett for dropping round. It was appreciated.

Peter G

I expect the switch will be quite sudden. Just as you can wake up one morning and switch on a radio station to discover they have changed formats overnight. So Fox relies on what is called a diminishing demographic and it isn't the most desirable either to most advertisers. But there's a lot of baby boomers still out there and as long as revenues are healthy expect no change. A series of bad earnings reports coupled with the inevitable passing of Rupert Murdoch and that will change.

Bob

There would be no positive aspect to making the right's, or anyone's opinions illegal, which isn't practical and unconstitutional down here anyway. However, fairness was pulled off successfully for a while. Network news was credible before it was spun off into profit centers. Panel discussion shows, even 'Firing Line', had guests that were clearly identified and allowed to speak their minds honestly. Hosts like Tom Snyder, after explaining their backgrounds in their presence, interviewed guests like Ayn Rand. That changed after Reagan and abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine when talking points grew as a common technique. You can still see the Snyder interview with Rand on YouTube.

Bob

I'd suggest reading some books and/or articles about how advertising works along with your viewing. Unless you're smarter than people with PhD’s in psychology and neuroscience you're not going to catch all the tricks.

Peter G

Oh I'm pretty good. If I have nothing else it is a acute sensitivity to bullshit. Here's a case in point courtesy of Redstate's Streif where I have been browsing.

http://www.redstate.com/2015/05/24/liberal-angst-civil-military-divide-part-1000/ Wherein he says this about mean Liberals;

"The military wasn’t eager to create headlines about draftees getting killed and, as a result, rather less than 25% of the men in Vietnam at any one time were draftees. Most draftees served out their tours in the US or in Europe while enlistees went to Vietnam. As an aside, 88% of the men who served in Vietnam were white which, to any but the left, is a good indication that blacks and Hispanics were not used as cannon fodder."

Which is interesting because voluntary enlistment by blacks and Hispanics at that time was significantly below their percentage of the population owing to persistent discriminatory practices in the American armed forces. Now the people over at Redstate would never ever think to question how this could come to pass unless significantly greater numbers of black and Hispanic draftees were sent to Vietnam to make up that 25 percent. Or how Black soldiers wound up as nearly fifteen percent of the casualties at certain points in that war. A number Streif omits. But this horseshit sticks out for me like the proverbial turd in a punchbowl. I doubt Streif is smart enough to see how stupid his argument is.

And he later proves it with this: " I served a couple of decades in uniform. I didn’t hold civilians in high regard, I didn’t know anyone who did (as we said, “I’m ashamed my mother was a f***ing civilian). I don’t suspect we were much different than the men at Fort Detroit in 1812 or Fort Kearney in 1850."

I don't know if that reminds you of any other retired veterans who have come up on our radar screen but it is a pretty common sentiment among veterans everywhere. That's their herd.

Bob

Yes, thank you Mr. Bartlett.

This is the kind of thing Rupert Murdock is all about: http://www.forbes.com/sites/dougyoung/2015/05/20/rupert-murdoch-tip-toes-back-to-china-with-theme-park-retail-plans/?utm_campaign=yahootix&partner=yahootix

All the flavors of Rupert's "news" activities have served mainly as a means of making important political connections to further other business. According to what I've read he's not a political ideologue.

Peter G

When? When was it pulled off? Certainly not in any time in American History of which I am aware. The closest may have been the era of William Paley and CBS. But even then the tensions between the requirements of the Boardroom and the independence of the news division was evident. (See Paley and Murrow and Alcoa.) Mostly it has been about the appearance of being unbiased rather than the fact. They yanked Murrow's chain pretty quick. Grant you it is much worse now but I would argue that is not because of more bias in the press. Rather is is because they are reluctant to even appear to be biased. Yet still are.
Imagine if CNN were to abandon their We report, You Decide motto in favor of the truth? It wouldn't be the truth. It would be Holy Shit, don't put us on the spot! You figure it out.

Bob

If you'll pardon my saying so, that's pretty crude stuff compared to what can be done with TV. There are always tens or hundreds of visual and audio cues carefully built in. If you're around a toddler who's playing with a toy, for example, watch what happens when a commercial comes on the TV he had just been ignoring. I mentioned that for a while I worked in consumer electronics and that included TV. I asked one of the audio engineers why he couldn't make the automatic volume control work for commercials, which always seem more penetrating. He explained that the sound was compressed into a narrow band of optimally perceived frequencies and often bounced around with stereo effects to make them more noticeable. He said it would be almost impossible to make an "obnoxio-filter."

Bob

I should have written "often" instead of "always." There are still cheap commercials out there.

Bob

One example: The network news outlets showed lots of graphic pictures and video from Vietnam. Compare them to what was aired by "embedded" reporters in the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Peter G

He's not right anymore about that. You can, and I did, buy an active sound filter system to prevent commercial transient sound volume increase. it isn't perfect but it's not bad.And it is quite a big issue up here in Canuckistan where our equivalent of the FCC, the CRTC, has been soliciting public opinion on the subject for a couple of years. It pisses a lot of people off. Particularly my wife. They could compel broadcasters to abandon the annoying techniques they use to assault our eardrums. If they don't they can expect to hear from me.

The visual cues they use are equally obvious, basically sex, for which I suspect no PhD is required. I am more interested in the use of language. Translation is not hard. No other product is better means they aren't any worse either. Four out of five dentists agree that the limited range of choices given in a poll leads them to select the one they actually heard of. Some sell lifestyles that most viewers will never achieve and its all pretty blatant. The true artistry lies in making ad watchers believe they have heard or seen something which, if overtly claimed, would result in serious legal consequences for the advertiser.

Alas that politicians and journalists can not be held to the standards we demand of advertisers. I'll take a challenge though. Pick an ad on Youtube and I'll tell you what I see and hear.

Bob

I suppose programmable digital filters have gotten cheap enough by now that a decent filter could be designed pretty easily. I was out of consumer electronics by 1998. You're right it's usually sex, but not always. I don't claim I can catch the tricks either so I don't know how I could make the challenge. In fact even fast forwarding through commercials doesn't always keep a logo from sticking in my mind and I'm sure it's no accident. You can click through these 16 examples instead: http://www.businessinsider.com/subliminal-ads-2011-5#a-sexy-outline-of-a-woman-on-top-of-a-can-of-coke-1

Bob

All the corporate news outlets have the same bias. They might pretend to be one way or another politically, but they really stand mostly for protecting corporate interests. Once Phil Donahue started questioning the Iraq war on MSNBC they yanked him within a few weeks, and he had their highest rated show. Here's an interesting take on the whole business. Hard to believe Matthews makes $5 million a year: http://billmoyers.com/2013/03/25/the-day-that-tv-news-died/

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