Friday, July 30, 2004

AM talk media bias revisited, or, brother, can you spare me some accurate convention coverage?

I have so much about media bias in these pages that at some point I'm going to have come back and add all of the links to my earlier articles at the bottom of this page somewhere. But, what I'm going to talk about now is something completely different. Up to now, I've simply been summarize and compiling other people's reports on media bias. Now I'm going to do my own reporting about something that I have yet seen exposed in the media. Fox News is biased. Everyone knows they are biased. They are run by Republican operatives. This is not the type of media I'm talking. It is not the type of media bias I experienced today, or yesterday, or the day before attempting to get some simple, good old convention coverage (with a Republican bias if necessary) in my car radio. I didn't end up with a biased report. I ended up with something that reminded me of radio in Saddam's Iraq, or in Eastern Europe, or in Nazi Europe, or on Toyko Rose. This was not journalism. Not even the most biased journalism (as Fox News is.) I live in the largest or second largest radio market in the United States in the greater AM area broadcasting out of Los Angeles, in one of the most liberal states in the nation, and I could not receive any sort of rational coverage that was in any way connected with reality.

I want to be very careful in describing so that Republicans reading this understand exactly what I am talking about and that I am not describing Fox News. I am describing something much worse and much more serious and something which even my Republican readers have an interest in doing something about.

Fox News is biased. Up to John Kerry's acceptance speech, unlike all of the other major networks, they did everything in their power to distract the reader from listening to the other speeches. They were only major network to violate their agreement with the DNC and discuss speech experts from their advanced copies before Kerry's actual speech. They covered the speech itself (reluctantly), and then they immediately broke into criticism. And they have been repeating all of the Republican points ever since then. And Bush gives his convention you can be sure Fox News will give it its rapt attention and fawning coverage afterwoods. And although they are extremely selected of the facts and extremely biased in their viewpoint, this is journalism. It is extremely biased journalism, but is journalism. They are not fabricating facts (most of the time), merely being extremely selective in their presentation and interpretation of the facts they present.

If you go to Fox News's website, this is how (approximately) they present John Kerry's speech, a major newstory on all other big networks today. John Kerry gave a speech. Here is a link to the transcript. End of first paragraph. And then they go on for the remaining five paragraphs to discuss other "top stories," mainly involving obscure celebrities. In other words, they are devoting five times as much space to distracting you from the story as reporting the story. And when Bush gives his speech they almost certainly will give it their full attention. But they did report the fact that John Kerry gave a speech yesterday.

Are other local news outlets biased? I understand that some local TV stations are owned by Republicans, as are some local newspapers. They've strongly supported Republican candidates in the past. But I listened to their coverage today. They all reported Kerry's speech as a major newsitem. They had good things to say about Kerry. A local liberal Republican paper even seemed to like him. They could live with a Kerry presidency; Bush hasn't been good for California. The more conservative Republican didn't like him, but had good things to say, together with GOP talking points. The Republican-owned TV station interviewed local Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats had very good things to say, the Republican didn't. The report seemed very fair and even-handed. It was good journalism, and there wasn't even a detectable bias. God bless those even-handed Republican journalists. The ones who aren't working for Rupert Murdoch.

As I was trying to get convention coverage on my radio on Wednesday, I first turned to an old radio network. This particular affiliate was broadcasting out of Los Angeles. I had grown accustomed to this radio network in other parts of the country. It was the CNN of its day. Its powerful AM transmitters boomed out across much of the country. It was the place to go for 24 hours news. It was slightly left of center, but it was always fair. You could trust them to report major stories accurately.

Today, it has been acquired by a large corporation anxious to repeal FCC rules and thereby gain greater profits and market share. It did not report the convention at all. (Or if did it gave it very little time.) It is a "newsradio" station but it doesn't mention the convention at all on its "top stories" homepage. (It does mention minor celebritie's doings, just like Fox.) It doesn't mention Bush's campaigning either, so at least there is no equal time violation. But when Republican candidates were doing well here in California they covered that election.

That's right. Remeber that speech yesterday by John Kerry? Well, according to the website of this "newsradio", a part of what was once a proud left-of-center newsradio network, that speech didn't happen. And today's campaigning didn't happen either. Or they weren't top stories. Some minor celebrities doings were the top stories, as was some business news. But they do link their old affiliate, a major television network, which, to its credit, did cover the convention, and has somehow maintained its left-of-center viewpoint (and associated audience). You would think this radio network would be anxious to keep its old audience, but apparently it is not.

This was the first radio station I turned to for convention coverage. It didn't even mention, in its top stories, that the Democrats were having a convention. So I needed to surf somewhere else.

I hit the scan button on my radio. There were many music stations, but I did find two or three other stations that seemed to be covering the convention.

This day we only got biased journalism. The true proganda (in every sense of the world) started later, when the greed corporate owners of these radio stations began to become visible desperate that a Kerry victory might mean huge FCC fines for laws they are already violating.

The first channel was covering the Al Sharpton speech on Wednesday. Sort of. It wasn't actually broadcasting the speech, although you could hear Al Sharpton speaking (almost) in the background somewhere. They were using Al Sharpton's speech in the background to criticise Al Sharpton and the Democrats. They explained that, in 1860, the Republicans nominated Abe Lincoln, who promised to end slavery. Yes, but that was 1860. This is 2004. As I wrote earlier, if you nominated Abe Lincoln today, I'd vote for him too. You've nominated George Bush, or should I say Nixon II, who picked many of the same cabinet officers as Nixon I, including the identical Secretary of Defense.

OK, so you say, this was one station, and it was merely Republican biased, like Fox News. Many journalists are biased. There have always been Republican and Democratic newspapers, you say. I could just surf to another channel, right?

The problem was that I couldn't. The only reputable newsstation (anxious, I guess, not to lose that repubtation by showing its political bias), owned the same corporate olgiopolgy that owned these other stations, wasn't covering the convention. At all.

There were some independent and liberal stations broadcasting on FM, but their range is more limited. (There's also satellite XM, which has great range, but is expensive, with monthly fees, and even the liberal broadcasts seem controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who is into satellites, as you might imagine.) AM is nice in the car because it has a huge range, so I can drive some distance and still listen to the same station for news coverage. Maybe my car radio "scan" feature can only pick up very strong stations, but I could find extremely biased AM stations broadcasting out of Los Angeles, or a "newsradio" station that felt politics wasn't a major story on the main day of the Democratic convention..

I found two other, similar AM stations broadcasting out of Los Angeles. I was unable to discern any difference in content between these stations, so I labelled them "Tokyo Rose." I mean there were some minor differences between them. But, it was like the old anti-Rupert Murdoch TV commerical, where someone keeps the changing the T.V. channel, but each new channel, although different, carries the same face of Rupert Murdoch, almost like the giant talking head in the famous, old Apple Macintosh target="_blank">1984 commerical, droning on remorselessly to the oppressed, identical worker drones, who are forced to watch this propaganda. The stations were very similar, and I think of them as basically the same thing. Which is what they are.

I became angry. They have deprived me of my radio choice. And people here do listen to the radio. I am living in one of the most liberal parts of the country --- Kerry is extremely strong here, even among Republicans, because Bush has mostly not been very good for our high-tech economy. I am living in one of the largest AM radio markets in the United States, in Southern California. It is perhaps #2 or #1. Perhaps 20 million people live in AM radio range of Los Angeles.

Yet there is apparently not a market for a single, liberal AM talk radio station.

Normally, as economists will explain, market forces would introduce a competitor, who would compete to attract liberal listeners, and even Republicans unhappy with the completely biased coverage. End of bias.

Is this because people in Los Angeles with radios in their cars aren't liberal, or don't less to radio, or because there isn't a market here? No. It is because a handful of greedy companies have bought up all the talk AM stations, and, apparently working in collaboration with the Bush-controlled FCC, have apparently prevented new entrants. They believe they can make more money with greater media concentration, since they will be able to replay the same content to more stations. Eager to prevent existing FCC rules on media concentration from being enforced, they have apparently fired all the liberal and independent commentators. These aren't my theories, but theories of respected journalists whose articles I link to in other parts of this blog.

That's what I thought Wednesday afternoon. They've deprived me of my choice. I can only hear this biased Republican-leaning journalism that won't even let me hear the speeches. But, like Fox News, it was at least actually journalism.

Then I tuned in again later that Thursday night after Kerry's speech, only very briefly. Now it was no longer journalism. It was true "black propaganda." They had brought on a fake liberal, as I described earlier. The bogus liberal explained that Kerry was a liberal war hero because he hid behind trees and, sympathethic to the Vietnamese cause, he killed as few enemy soliders as possible, thus earning Pentagon medals. This was before she began hurling insults at the fake Vietnam veteram, also being "interviewed." This fakery, not journalism but true "black" propaganda in every sense of the word, was an insult to listeners. But there was no where else to turn on the AM dial here in the #2 AM radio market in the nation in one of the most liberal parts of the country. So I wrote about this in my earlier blog posting.

This morning, I listened again. For all but 30 seconds, believe it or not. I heard a famous national radio personality. He explained that he was "covering this morning" the "bizarre" Kerry speech as his top story. He claimed that the Democrats had nominated "some guy" who had tried to convince the public, in his acceptance speech last night, that 911 did not happen. (And that therefore there was no need for war in Iraq.)

This was no longer biased journalism, nor "black" propaganda. This was slander. And it was probably actionable slander at that. The statement is false on two accounts. It repeats the big lie that Iraq was not Bush's personal military misadventure, but had something todo with 911. That's not actionable slander. But the statement that Kerry tried to convince the American people that 911 did not happen in his acceptance speech is probably actionable slander. It is slander because anyone with a copy of Kerry's acceptance speech (e.g. from the Fox News website), or anyone of the millions of Americans who listened to it, knows that Kerry spoke gravely about 911 and the indeed to respond effectively to it.

We in American believe in Freedom of Expression, especially in political debate, so my understanding is the barrier for arguing slander against a public official like John Kerry is higher than for an ordinary American. But this is an open and shut case. And, imagine, if I get these snippets in just 30 seconds of listening, statistics suggest it goes on all day like this, with slanderous and "black" propaganda segments one after the other, on radio stations all over the nation run by these corporations that syndicate him.

Normally, market forces would deal with this. People would switch to other AM stations. But all the other AM stations have similar content because the Bush administration, apparently in bed with these companies, has reportedly not been enforcing the FCC rules fairly.

Also, radio stations like this likely lose money. One indication is the amount of airtime the "newsradio" spends on commercials. (Most of it.) But the oligopoly doesn't seem to care, because it likely thinks that by losing money on these radio stations it will ultimately gain greater share and make this money up elsewhere. So, as a result of media concentration, these huge stations are able to take the loss, which is effectively an unregulated campaign contribution.

Then there is the FCC. The AM airwaves are the property of the American people, only held in trust by these companies, which is why the FCC regulates them. The FCC has rules about news coverage. News must clearly be distinguished from ads or infomercials. News presumably must have some bearing on reality (in this case, it no longer does). Over-the-air talk "news" programs must give "equal time" to major candidates. Radio stations cannot be used to slander individuals.

Then there are the federal campaigns and the FEC. Equal-time laws and regulations on campaign advertising (which this really is). Remember how the Republicans brought Michael Moore before the FEC because his ads mentioned Bush? And we are talking about ads for a movie that one had to pay money to get into, that everyone knew in advance was biased (because the Republicans spammed everyone telling them so), not a bunch of AM radio stations using the airwaves that officially still belong to the American people.

Obviously, Michael Moore was very careful with his facts. Even the Bushies don't deny his facts are accurate. (If they weren't accurate, he could be sued for slander.) The only thing in question is his interpretation of the facts.

Yet the Republicans made a huge deal about his biased presentation. They even spent huge amounts of money hiring a PR firm, posing as a grassroots citizen's group, to spam me and millions of other Americans, quoting quotes from the film that weren't in the film, and urging me to intimidate teather owners into not showing the film. All because Moore's selection of facts was supposedly biased.

But every day, Republicans have Fox News, spewing out a completely biased selection of facts. But they are at least facts. Usually.

And then they have, it seems, every AM news radio station that my car "scan" can pick up either not reporting even the existance of the Democratic convention, or engaging in bias, true "black" propaganda, and what sounds like actionable slander against John Kerry.

Now, I'm not an expert in public policy, or an attorney general, or an expert on slander or FCC regulations, or even an politican or political consultant. I don't know what should done about this. They are trying to tamper with democracy by taking away our choice of viewpoints. In the Bush-oligopoly radio mix, federal laws were probably broken, so it wouldn't surprise me (given what they've done) if it wasn't possible to someday subject someone to criminal prosecution by going over everything that they've done with a fine tooth comb. Certainly, it should be possible to get a huge slander judgement out of them, or hit them with huge FCC or FEC fines. (Update: Or SEC or FTC fines for anti-trust violations if the new telecommunications law haven't passed the media anti-trust authority to the FCC.)

But this is not a Banana Republic. We don't like it when the new guy sends the old guy's cronies to jail, as does happen frequently in Banana Republics, because it tends to make the old guys ruthless, and encourages things like assassinations and takeover of media. But then again, a lot of blood has already flowed in this administration (albeit in other parts of the world), and we already have ruthless things, like what may have happened in Florida (in part thanks to Fox News coverage, apparently), and what certainly has happened on the AM dial all across this nation.

And a slander lawsuit might just bring these guys more attention, more listeners, and make them profitable. (Look at what all the Republican whining about Moore did for him.) The Republicans, it seems, may have purchased a monopoly on AM talk radio here (at least as far as I can tell) anyway, so suing one station or one guy for slander might not solve the problem, when we are dealing with a vast sea of this stuff.

Perhaps we should just insist that, when the Democrats come back to power (and surely you must realize they will come back to federal power again), they will insist on enforcement of existing FCC rules, and huge fines and disvestment of market share for the companies that have violated them. Maybe that's enough.

But, then again, I'm not a prosecutor or judge or public policy expert or slander attorney or even a poltician. I'm just a blogger, and I'm just trying to report what I see. It will be other people's jobs to figure out what to do about it.

But, I will say to those who support this (or those Republicans who like this media bias on Fox News, and this "black" proganda monopoly on AM talk radio, and think it is somehow appropriate, or in interests of the nation, or even believe in the myth of a "liberal" media when mass media is controlled by giant corporations): what is it you are trying to accomplish?

Do you want a one party state, like in the Banana Republics? Or in Sadam's Iraq? Or communist Europe? Or Europe under the fascists? Do you believe this will make you safer someone, or wealthier? Are any of these places wealthier than us? No, they are all poorer.

Why are they poorer? Because their system of government has deprived them of choice. Choices at the ballot box and choices in their media viewpoints. By depriving them of choices and viewpoints in their media (to benefit a tiny number of individuals) they have made the vast bulk of their population poorer.

Bush today mischaracterized Kerry's speech by saying Kerry wanted to raise everyone's taxes, while Bush wanted to "keep them low." Asside from the fact that Bush's massive spending increases (mainly benefitting Republican cronies, who are indeed getting wealthy) have created the largest deficits in history (translation: higher taxes down the road) and Bush is considered by fiscal policy experts as the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of our nation, do you believe that a one party state will keep your taxes low?

As Warren Buffet, the second wealthiest man in the U.S. has pointed out, our taxes are high because we are wealthy. Poor parts of the world don't pay much tax. That is because they are poor. They pay low taxes because they are poor, and, in turn, they are poor because they pay so little taxes. In order to wealthy, you have to spend to invest in yourself and invest in America. You have to build up an infrastructure, educate your populace, &c. This all costs money, but we do it because we believe the returns will eventually outweight the costs. We have high taxes in America because are prosperous, and we use those taxes ultimately to invest back in ourself (after we've first paid Bush's Republican crony contractors) to keep ourselves rich. Therefore, we should all hope (according to Buffet) for high tax payments, because it will mean we are prosperous.

A one-party system (which these companies seem to be aiming for, and have artifically created on the AM dial) will not make us prosperous. It will make us poor, because it make us poor in options for our future by making us poor in viewpoints. We are already viewpoint poor on the AM dial.

It may lower our taxes, however, by successfully impoverishing us as a nation. It has already improverished the AM dial.

If you support this AM talk radio scheme, ask yourself, is this really want you want to do?

The two party (or multi-party) system has always been the American way. It has made us rich, because it has made us rich in viewpoints. It has, in turn, made us the wealthiest nation on Earth. It has made us safe and secure, and it has kept our taxes low --- as low as possible given our constant desire to further improve ourselves and invest in ourselves.

This is what the two party system has done for us. It is the American way. Why do you want to kill it?

Why have you already killed it here in Southern California on the AM talk dial?

Update: 2004/07/31: The "newsradio" is now covering the campaign! Most of latest polls show Kerry leading beyond the margin of error over Bush, which they of course don't mention. Insteda, they describe huge, "enthusiastic", "cheering" crowds meet Bush, whom they spend most of their time on.

Then, they give a little tiny sliver of their time to the Democrats (who are now have the largest support.) And then give a huge chunk of time to this left-wing fringe candidate (whom only a tiny minority support) who blasted the Democrats for being controlled by corporations. The left-wing candidate is, incidentally, getting most of his support from Republicans and the same greedy corporations he accuses of controlling the democrats, who even helped get him on the ballot in Michigan after his own supporters there couldn't find the signuature!

It seems the real reason this fringe candidate is of any notewortiness of all is that he allows these media corporations to circumvent the equal time laws and customs. Normally, they'd be forced by FCC regulations to give the Democrats and Republicans equal time on the air. (This is true of news "talk"; not sure about over-the-air de facto news, as this claims to be, althogh there are traditions of journalism). But the equal time laws (and customs) don't actually say that, and, by bending the rules, they can claim that the fringe left-wing candidate (who is, in fact, being supported by big, greedy, right-wing corporations) is Bush's main opposition, and use the air time that would normally be given to the Democrats to cover the fringe candidate accusations that the Democrats are corporate controlled.

If you look at my very first postings, which cover my theory of Democracy, you'll see that these systems only work if a candidate can gover a majority. Pluralities ultimately don't work, because they allow significant distortion of the system. (You want to give the nation a choice between going more to the left or going more to the right, or, which is the best candidate, and if you allow multiple choice you will often end up with a winner who only has minority support, is not considered the best candidate, and wants to move the country in a direction not supported by a majority of the people.)

In some European countries, they have "instant run-off election", where people rank candidates, and a computer ultimately eliminates unsuccessful candidates, so that the winner always has majority support. In the U.S., we have a very old system which pre-dates computer technology. We have a primary two-party system, whereby the primary will filter out most candidates (albeit not as well as a modern "instant run-off election" or even some of the run-off systems being used in some mayoral races), and the public will eventually get to choose between only two candidates, ensuring majority support for one.

There is nothing wrong with a two-party system. It has been used successful in England for centuries, and is perfectly compatible with democracy because it allows choice. And competition between the two parties for votes will always ensure that there is a choice. There will always be corporate money in politics, because politics is an expensive business; nothing wrong with that as long as there is competition for the people's vote. (What the corporations apparently want to do is fund fringe third parties so as to create a one-party system, where is no choice.)

Although it would be nice to replace our presidential election system with a modern system capable of handling more than two parties and still ensuring the winners had majority support, the real problem is that the two party system has been written into law in other places. Equal Time Media laws are only practical when there are two main candidates. Corporate America is using these fringe parties not to give you more choice, but to give less choice, because no they have the option not to give slanted coverage, but to give no coverage at all to a candidate currently favored by the American people.

This isn't about the AM dial. These same companies want oligopolies in FM, television, newspapers, and, ultimately, the Internet (through control of which websites get good bandwidth access from their broadband subscribers). The AM dial is just the first they managed to completely control. Ultimately (and already), this isn't about media. This is about control of our government.

15% is normally the threshold for S.E.C. action. These companies are complaining that 35% and 55% control of local media markets isn't enough for them. They would like for two equally minded, conservative companies to be able to control an entire local market, as they already do on AM in many places. Can't we hit some of them with S.E.C. or FTC action action? My guess is, they've been careful to ensure the new telecommunications act precludes this (by transferring anti-trust media authority to FCC), but, if not, by all means hit them with SEC of FTC anti-trust action because they are true monopolists.

If you like what you're seeing on the AM dial here in Southern California and across the nation, imagine your choice of political candidates in Washington being as limited as the viewpoints on talk AM radio these days.

The Manchurian Candidate isn't running for the White House. We are the Manchurian Candidate. A few greedy corporations intend to control us by controlling our media in order to make a few extra bucks. They already splash their blood-drenched rheotoric over the AM airwaves, which it now seems they already control. They think they can control us and eliminate our choices by using fringe candidates to circumvent equal time laws. This year, it is clear they are telling us to vote for George W. Bush, even though this is an irresponsible choice, completely against the interests of the vast majority of Americans.