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  • Sylvia Moore 3:54 pm on January 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Arizona, assassination, , , , Clarence Dupnik, , , , , extremism, , , First Amendment, , FOX News, , Gabrielle Giffords, genocide, , , Jared Lee Loughner, , license, , , media monopolies, , , political, political violence, , public broadcasting, , , , , Roger Ailes, , Telecommunications Act,   

    How Many More Have to Die Before Big Media Stops Peddling Hate? 

    Last Saturday, when I saw the headlines blaring from Internet that a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had been nearly assassinated in Tucson, my blood ran cold. My initial shock turned to anger as I read that the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, allegedly gunned down another 18 people, killing six of them, including a young child. I had been fearing this day ever since President Obama’s inauguration two years ago, when incidences of threats and actual political violence suddenly exploded, amid a noxious stew of violent rightwing rhetoric emanating from our public airwaves.

    For years, I kept hoping that the President and Congress would do something to rein in the corporate media companies who continue to showcase hatemongering radio and TV commentators, and rake in millions of dollars at the expense of reasoned debate and civil public discourse. I wrote letters about my concerns to my congressional representatives. I blogged about it. I wanted our public officials to take this abuse of free speech on our public airwaves much more seriously.

    I wasn’t as worried about President Obama’s safety, because of the fortress-like security apparatus afforded to American commanders-in-chief. No, I had a feeling that the first attempted political assassination of a government official in many years would be on a member of Congress. Now it’s happened. And so many other innocent lives were lost or ruined in the attack.

    None of these extremist broadcast commentators told Loughner, or anybody else, to go and massacre people. But they and the companies who employ them have perpetuated an environment where violent rhetoric is deemed an acceptable form of entertainment, where media personalities steer close to or even commit incitement, and where alternative viewpoints are scarce. Unfortunately, our public leaders – Democrats as well as Republicans – have acquiesced to the wishes of Big Media by allowing deregulation and corporate consolidation. Our government has also gotten rid of equal time rules, and declawed the Federal Communications Commission, which is supposed to oversee broadcast outlets and protect the public interest. On top of that, the United States, unlike other Western countries, lacks a robust public broadcast system that can provide an antidote to corporate media’s worst programming. So we see large portions of the population whose only source of news and information comes from extremist radio figures and lightweight local TV news broadcasts. Add to this large-scale ignorance, a toxic brew of massive income inequality, racism and bigotry, and easy access to guns. It took Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who oversees Tucson, to finally say to the mainstream what many of us in the media reform movement have been screaming about for years:

    “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” he said. “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

    “It’s the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business. People tend to pooh-pooh this business about the vitriol that inflames American public opinion by the people who make a living off of that. That may be free speech but it’s not without consequences.”

    Many are calling on the haters to tamp down the vitriol. Interestingly, Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News, the cable network that is now synonymous with rightwing flamethrowing and propaganda, is asking “both sides” – meaning left and right – to tone it down. Other mainstream media outlets are also continuing to put out this false meme that liberals and conservatives are equally responsible for the venom polluting the public airwaves. Ailes and his ilk know perfectly well that it is conservative leaders, media pundits, TV and radio personalities who are primarily the ones spreading hate speech and violent rhetoric. Liberals just don’t have the kind of money or access to as many broadcast stations as do conservatives. And what liberals have said in public, while provocative, just doesn’t reach the same level of bloodthirstiness that we’ve seen from conservatives.

    But the real point here is that no amount of pleading for calm will stop the behavior. There may be a pause for a while, but I doubt it will last. The media conglomerates are just making too much money from hate speech. That has to change. Unless and until laws with teeth are put back on the books to regulate the media companies, the invective will escalate and more tragedies will happen. What should be done?

    1. Break up the media monopolies: There are only a handful of companies that control almost everything Americans see and hear. That means only a handful of executives (typically white and male) are dictating what kind of information is available to an increasingly diverse public. This also means that a handful of executives are using toxic radio and TV personalities to sow divisions among the citizenry just so they can try to sell us their corporate propaganda. That must end. Allowing Comcast and NBC Universal to merge is taking American media in the wrong direction.
    2. Give the FCC and the public more enforcement power: When President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act in 1996, the interval between renewing broadcast licenses increased from five to eight years. That should be reversed. (FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wants to reduce the period to four) In addition, broadcasters whose media personalities routinely incite violence and threaten people or groups with bodily harm should have their licenses revoked. In addition, it should be just as easy to file a challenge against a station for hate speech as it is for profane speech. We may have free speech rights, but no one has the right to own or broadcast on a radio or TV station. Broadcasting on our limited public airwaves is a privilege, and broadcasters must be held to certain standards.
    3. The United States must implement an independent, 100%-taxpayer-funded public broadcasting system with TV and radio stations available in every community – urban and rural. PBS and NPR, with their paltry taxpayer subsidies and commercial underwriters, just don’t cut it. We need something on par with the BBC. This new public system must have access to frequencies equally as powerful as the ones available to commercial stations. Public broadcasting systems in other Western countries have a much more expansive array of high-quality produced shows featuring culture, politics, science and documentaries. Citizens in countries with robust public broadcasting systems are exposed to a wider variety of political views and are therefore, more informed than Americans. Toxic speech must be counteracted with more diverse and better speech.
    4. All Americans deserve equal access to fast, affordable and high-quality broadband that is free of corporate manipulation and control.

    Thanks to our First Amendment, Americans probably enjoy the most permissive free speech rights of any modern democracy. But this right is not absolute. Some are abusing the First Amendment by using the public’s airwaves to stir up hatred and division. They are profiting off the public trough and giving out only garbage in return. Extremist radio and TV commentators are not directly responsible for the political violence plaguing America today, but they have contributed to the creation of an environment of nastiness in our public discourse that can influence disturbed individuals like Jared Loughner. If this extremist speech isn’t soon ostracized from public life in the U.S., the lone, crazed gunman will morph into organized mobs hell bent on murdering political opponents and even committing genocide.

     
  • Sylvia Moore 6:30 pm on August 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , FOX News, , , , , , , , ,   

    Activists Take Aim at Fox News 

    Calls to drive out Fox News grew louder this week. On Monday, media watchdog groups demanded that the White House Correspondents’ Association boot Fox from the front-row seat the conservative-leaning channel gained in the press briefing room after Helen Thomas’ resignation. A former WHCA president then called the decision to give Fox the seat “a travesty.”

    The demand for Fox’s ouster is in response to parent company News Corp.’s recent donation of $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. Despite this obvious conflict, it doesn’t look like the WHCA is about to budge. Which means my overall impression of the White House press corps as an entity that has sunk into irrelevancy still stands.

    On Wednesday, the civil rights group Color of Change.org launched a nationwide campaign to get local businesses, bars, restaurants, and other public establishments to dump Fox News. Called “Turn Off Fox,” the effort also includes a petition drive. Color of Change outlined some of Fox’s recent forays into yellow journalism in a DailyKos posting:

    Fox News hosts and guests regularly attempt to pit groups of people against one another — white against black, US-born against immigrant, gay against straight and men against women. Some of the network’s most divisive rhetoric is spouted when the topic of race. In July 2009, Fox host Glenn Beck called President Obama a “racist” who has “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” — a statement with which Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch has since said he agrees. Frequent Fox guest Jesse Lee Peterson has said that most black people lack moral character, and cited “what they did to the dome” after Hurricane Katrina as evidence. Recently, Fox News contributor John Stossel called for the repeal of a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prevents business owners from discriminating based on race. And Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity were the first to air maliciously edited video of Shirley Sherrod’s speech to the Georgia NAACP — video that cost Sherrod her job with the USDA. The recent episode involving Sherrod has helped confirm what we have long known — that Fox is a propaganda machine with no regard for the truth.

    In an interview with Mother Jones, Color of Change founder James Rucker said that targeting Fox’s advertisers wasn’t completely effective, since the network’s ratings remained strong despite losing ad revenue (something I knew wouldn’t work anyway). So Rucker decided to change tactics and take the fight to the public.

    Rucker’s campaign is an admirable endeavor at grassroots agitation, but will this also be effective? Many small business owners lean Republican (although if these mom and pops actually knew how much Republican policies favored corporations over small business, they wouldn’t be). This campaign will need to get customers in the millions to put major pressure on business owners to change the channel or else they’ll take their business elsewhere.

    However, Fox News is really the least of our worries. It’s talk radio and local network news that the bulk of the population is tuning into. There’s a great deal of violent and hate-filled rhetoric on right-wing talk radio, and a lot of dis-information or a lack of information filling local news channels. I’d like to see Rucker and Color of Change next do a campaign to encourage people to contact their legislators to do something about media consolidation. Because when the rest of the airwaves have more opposing viewpoints, Fox’s influence will be greatly diminished.

     
  • Sylvia Moore 6:00 pm on August 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ACORN, , AP, Associated Press, Bloomberg, , corporate media, correspondent, CREDO, Credo Action, , FOX News, Helen Thomas, , , , , MoveOn, , , , , Shirley Sherrod, , Van Jones, , White House Correspondents Association, White House press corps   

    The White House Press Corps Board Just Doesn’t Get It 

    When word leaked out that FOX News was competing for the coveted front-row center seat in the White House briefing room formerly occupied by the legendary Helen Thomas, liberal activists created an uproar. MoveOn.org and CREDO Action launched a petition drive to stop the White House Correspondents Association board from giving the seat to FOX, and instead award it to NPR, who was also vying for the seat along with Bloomberg News.

    The petition drive was successful – sort of. Although the board eventually awarded the center seat on Sunday to the Associated Press, FOX still got promoted from its second-row place up to the AP’s former front row seat. NPR got moved up to FOX’s old seat. (Thomas abruptly retired after 50 years as a White House correspondent when footage of some rather unfortunate comments she made about Israel surfaced on the Web.)

    MoveOn and CREDO hailed the decision by the association’s board to deny FOX the center seat, but the fact that this nakedly right-wing propaganda outfit masquerading as a news channel now gets to sit in the front row is still an embarrassment. FOX shouldn’t be in the room, let alone have the same honor bestowed on it as truly legitimate news organizations. Their presence makes a mockery of the White House press corps.

    But then again, I’ve thought for a long time now that the White House press corps had turned from an institution of respectable and hard-nosed reporters digging for truth (like in Helen Thomas’ heyday) to a club of overpaid prima-donnas obsessed with catching the president in an embarrassing soundbite when they’re not at the next minute getting cozy with Beltway officials to preserve their precious “access.” Thomas was the last – and perhaps, the greatest – of her kind of Washington correspondent, a holdover from the days when the news media did speak truth to power, and when reporters didn’t bend over backwards to appease corporate overlords concerned with quarterly profits rather than informing the public.

    What really got my blood boiling was a comment attributed to a press corps board member when the petition drive was launched. This member criticized the advocacy groups for “smearing” FOX’s reporters and producers, who she said are “some of the best and well-respected in the business.” But “smearing” is what this channel does to other people 24/7 – particularly to those who don’t follow the conservative political agenda. Shirley Sherrod. Van Jones. ACORN. Those are just the most recent casualties of FOX’s journalistic transgressions. And, why would such good reporters work at a place so obviously beneath their talents? Oh, I guess if you dangle enough money in someone’s face, principles can be easily compromised.

    The association’s board stated that it was giving FOX the front row seat as a recognition of the channel’s “length of service and commitment.” Commitment to what? Commitment to spreading lies about everything from why America is in such a financial mess to those phantom Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction?” Commitment to vile race-baiting, misinformation and crude political discourse? And why is it that one gaffe costs Helen Thomas her career, but when FOX constantly engages in irresponsible behavior it gets rewarded? Why does the White House Correspondents Association board now have such low standards?

    I’ve got my issues with NPR, which is more corporate these days because Congress won’t properly fund it. But NPR’s status as a long standing public broadcaster should’ve taken precedence over FOX. NPR should be sitting beside the AP in the front row. I cannot understand why so many in the American journalism establishment keep defending FOX. This is precisely the wrong image of American media culture we are sending to the rest of the world. FOX should be treated like the television version of a supermarket tabloid – ignored and marginalized. This suck up to a propaganda outfit just makes old media look more and more irrelevant. I’d like to have the White House press corps be filled entirely with independent and foreign journalists who know how to ask tough and intelligent questions rather than the gotcha drivel with which some of the American mainstream Washington correspondents waste the viewing audience’s time.

     
    • Crystal 9:17 pm on August 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Well said. I had the pleasure of meeting a friend of a friend last week who travels occasionally to Europe. She and I discussed the difference in quality of American “news” programs versus European. What passes for television news is an embarrassment to this country. The problem is that most Americans would never consider that ours is not the best and so they’ll never watch or read any foreign press to realize just how bizarre ours is – particularly Fox. The dumbing down in this country is frightening.

      • Sylvia Moore 6:02 pm on August 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks. I really wish we could get the 24 hour BBC News Channel here. CNN International is also supposed to be superior to CNN America.

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