Monday Reads: Fairness, Awareness and the death of the Fairness DoctrinePosted: April 2, 2018
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I often wonder how different our political, economic, and science discourse would be if the Fairness Doctrine were still in place. This reflection seems more relevant than ever given the appalling number of voters that fell for ‘fake news’, lies, and promises of virtually impossible policy outcomes. Both the tariffs and tax bill inflicted on this economy are going to send us to very dark places quite rapidly. All those crazies in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and the rest of Farm country are about to see an Agricultural Crisis as we relearn the Great Depression lesson, once again, of how every one loses Trade Wars. (It’s already sending the markets down as China retaliates big time.) Craziness is also ensuing as Trump and Bernie Sanders both demonize Amazon with either personal or no reason. Amazon stocks are taking off–after an initial plunge after Trump’s Tax threats–while it appears that Trump’s net worth crash is partially due to the successful business model built by Bezos. Property in the Manhattan shopping districts isn’t doing so well.
All you have to do is sort the media in to “normal” vs. right wing propaganda and you see what’s what. Still, it’s hard to understand how even “normal” media does what it does in the age of false equivalence of facts. But,how about this little blurb in the local in Hutchison, Kansas where small is still sometimes best?
Consider federal deficits, which are now at a trillion dollars a year and headed still higher. The big reason are GOP tax cuts, although new spending, mostly for the U.S. military, also is adding red ink.
As the tax cuts were being proposed, Congress was warned by its own staff that they would not, as Trump claimed, pay for themselves by fueling additional economic growth.
Not even the White House believes that anymore. A year ago, White House officials vowed their tax cuts would create such energy that the country’s GDP would grow by 4 percent in 2018. A few days ago, the White House announced that it expects 3 percent growth this year.
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve predicts the U.S. GDP to grow by 2.5 percent this year.
It’s also worth noting that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has argued that tax cuts – of any kind – won’t create even a 0.4 percent difference in economic growth.
The story is much the same on other issues: Changing goals, squishy principles and lots of finger-pointing substitute for achievement.
The latest spending bill pushed through late at night with little debate illustrates the lack of sound reason or policy.
NY Mag has a feature up on Trump’s record of massive corruption. It’s a must read. The Presidential Pig is on the cover snout and all.
Since Trump took office, his pledge to ignore his own interests has been almost forgotten, lost in a disorienting hurricane of endless news. It is not just a morbid joke but a legitimate problem for the opposition that all the bad news about Trump keeps getting obscured by other bad news about Trump. Perhaps the extraordinary civic unrest his presidency has provoked will be enough to give Democrats a historic win in the midterms this fall, but it is easy to be worried.
Trump’s approval rating hovers in the low 40s: lower than the average of any other president, yes, but seemingly impervious to an onslaught of scandals that would have sunk any other president, and within spitting range of reelectability.
“Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people?” argued Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s primary economic adviser, in 2016. “Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.” The administration seems to have set out to refute this generous assumption. The sheer breadth of direct self-enrichment Trump has unleashed in office defies the most cynical predictions. It may not be a surprise that he continues to hold on to his business empire and uses his power in office to direct profits its way, from overseas building deals down to printing the presidential seal on golf markers at the course near Mar-a-Lago. It is certainly not a surprise that Trump has refused to disclose his tax returns. What’s truly shocking is how much petty graft has sprung up across his administration. Trump’s Cabinet members and other senior officials have been living in style at taxpayer expense, indulging in lavish travel for personal reasons (including a trip to Fort Knox to witness the solar eclipse) and designing their offices with $31,000 dining sets and $139,000 doors. Not since the Harding administration, and probably the Gilded Age, has the presidency conducted itself in so venal a fashion.
It is hardly a coincidence that so many greedy people have filled the administration’s ranks. Trump’s ostentatious crudeness and misogyny are a kind of human-resources strategy. Radiating personal and professional sleaze lets him quickly and easily identify individuals who have any kind of public ethics and to sort them out. (James Comey’s accounts of his interactions with the president depict Trump probing for some vein of corruptibility in the FBI director; when he came up empty, he fired him.) Trump is legitimately excellent at cultivating an inner circle unburdened by legal or moral scruples. These are the only kind of people who want to work for Trump, and the only kind Trump wants to work for him.
Paul Waldman–writing for the American Prospect–believes US voters will essentially toss the lot of them because of a sense of fairness. This assumes a lot.
At this point, it’s unlikely to change. People are already getting whatever tax cut they’re going to get, and it’s hard to imagine that six months from now many workers will say, “Wait a minute—I am getting more take-home pay! Thanks, Republicans!” Not only that, recent polling shows the tax bill to be a wash at best, with about the same number of people saying they approve of it as disapprove of it, with more usually in the latter camp.
Even if you do approve of it, are you going to rush to the polls to express your gratitude to President Trump and the Republican Congress? If you’re getting another 20 bucks a week, it seems unlikely, especially if you know how much corporations and the wealthy got.
That isn’t to say that the alternative to this bill wouldn’t have been worse for the GOP. When it passed, they breathed a gigantic sigh of relief, knowing that despite the chaos of the Trump presidency and their lack of meaningful accomplishments in this period of one-party rule, at least they could go home to the voters and tell them that they got something done.
But it’s hard to convince people that you just changed their lives for the better with a tax cut if they aren’t seeing the rewards—and they know who is. According to a new reportfrom the Tax Policy Center, people in the lowest income quintile will average a $40 tax cut from the law, or $1.54 per two-week pay period, just like Paul Ryan’s lucky secretary. Those in the middle quintile will average $800, or about $30 per paycheck. And those in the top 1 percent? Their average cut is almost $33,000.
Which is about what everyone expects from a Republican tax plan. And when you play right into people’s expectations, it doesn’t take much to convince them that you have in fact done exactly what they expected you to.
That’s not to mention the fact that if they were looking to win people’s approval for a change to the tax system, they would have done exactly the opposite of what they did. For years, polls have consistently found that what bothered people the most isn’t the amount they have to pay in taxes, even if everyone might like to pay less. The chief complaint voters have long had is that the corporations and the wealthy don’t pay their fair share. So Republicans lowered taxes on corporations and the wealthy, making the system even less fair than it was before.
So, let me just say that all this. All good news coverage and analysis depends on its availability. The idea of understanding all this unfairness assumes that Dear Reader isn’t reading crap put out by Russian Troll Farms or propaganda broadcast by certain news outlets. It also assumes journalists do due diligence with their sources. What good is an interview with a Senator if it’s just a lot of lies and nonsense? Shouldn’t you fact check them all on the spot?
Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter broke the news that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner or operator of nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., would be forcing its news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.
You might remember Sinclair from its having been featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight last year, or from its requiring in 2004 of affiliates to air anti-John Kerry propaganda, or perhaps because it’s your own local affiliate running inflammatory “Terrorism Alerts” or required editorials from former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn, he of the famed Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that failed to mention Jewish people. (Sinclair also owns Ring of Honor wrestling, Tennis magazine, and the Tennis Channel.)
The net result of the company’s current mandate is dozens upon dozens of local news anchors looking like hostages in proof-of-life videos, trying their hardest to spit out words attacking the industry they’d chosen as a life vocation.
Now, let’s look at something most Fox watchers have probably no awareness about. Monmouth University has a polling institute. It provides opinions and analysis. This is the one today: “‘Fake News’ Threat to Media; Editorial Decisions, Outside Actors at Fault”.
The news about “fake news” is not good, according to the Monmouth University Poll. Large majorities of the American public believe that traditional media outlets engage in reporting fake news and that outside sources are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media. When it comes to the meaning of “fake news,” a majority believe that it involves editorial decisions as well as inaccurate reporting. The public feels that social media platforms are partly to blame for the spread of fake news and are not doing enough to stop it. The poll also finds that Pres. Trump continues to be less trusted than the major cable news outlets as an information source.
More than 3-in-4 Americans believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report “fake news,” including 31% who believe this happens regularly and 46% who say it happens occasionally. The 77% who believe fake news reporting happens at least occasionally has increased significantly from 63% of the public who felt that way last year.
Just 25% say the term “fake news” applies only to stories where the facts are wrong. Most Americans (65%), on the other hand, say that “fake news” also applies to how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report.
“These findings are troubling, no matter how you define ‘fake news.’ Confidence in an independent fourth estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Ours appears to be headed for the intensive care unit,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The belief that major media outlets disseminate fake news at least occasionally has increased among every partisan group over the past year, including Republicans (89% up from 79% in 2017), independents (82% up from 66%), and Democrats (61% up from 43%). In addition to the fact that a clear majority of Democrats now believe that traditional media outlets report fake news at least occasionally, the poll also finds that a majority of Republicans (53%) feel this happens on a regular basis (up from 37% in 2017).
A plurality of the public (42%) say that traditional news media sources report fake news on purpose in order to push an agenda. Fewer Americans (26%) believe that major media sources tend to report these stories only by accident or due to poor fact checking. Another 7% feel both reasons are equally prevalent. The remainder are either not sure or do not feel that fake news is reported by traditional media outlets. The number who believe this type of false reporting is done on purpose has not changed much from a year ago when it stood at 39%. The number who say it is done accidentally has increased from 17% a year ago as more people feel that the traditional media engages in reporting fake news stories.
Fully 83% of Americans believe that outside groups or agents are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media. Two-thirds (66%) say this is a serious problem – including 74% of Republicans, 68% of independents, and 59% of Democrats.
And about the Death of the Fairness Doctrine:
The Fairness Doctrine sustained a number of challenges over the years. A lawsuit challenging the doctrine on First Amendment grounds, Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission , reached the Supreme Court in 1969. The Court ruled unanimously that while broadcasters have First Amendment speech rights, the fact that the spectrum is owned by the government and merely leased to broadcasters gives the FCC the right to regulate news content. However, First Amendment jurisprudence after Red Lion started to allow more speech rights to broadcasters, and put the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in question.
In response, the FCC began to reconsider the rule in the mid-80s, and ultimately revoked itin 1987, after Congress passed a resolution instructing the commission to study the issue. The decision has been credited with the explosion of conservative talk radio in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. While the FCC has not enforced the rule in nearly a quarter century, it remains technically on the books. As a part of the Obama administration’s broader efforts to overhaul federal regulation, the FCC is finally scrapping the rule once and for all.
The 1990s’ deregulation of media illustrates the effectiveness of the Antidemocracy Movement in convincing Republicans and Democrats alike that a narrow, market-driven, anti-government approach was imperative, even if it led to oligopoly.
As the media became a multibillion-dollar industry, a frenzy of mergers continued, wiping out hundreds of competitors. So today most of what Americans watch and see is controlled by just a handful of companies—all preoccupied with their shareholders’ wealth, not our society’s health. The result is a downward spiral of programming. One telling narrative? By 2000, the average length of presidential candidates’ soundbites on the network nightly news had shrunk to seven seconds, less than a fifth of their length in the 1968 presidential election.
As Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the media-focused public interest group Free Press, explained to us:
Years of rubber-stamping merger deals plus the removal of and raising of ownership limits in the 1996 Act did tremendous damage to the media landscape.
Next to no issue coverage means a bigger microphone for Donald Trump.
The undermining of media as a public good and its parallel consolidation helped take us to the election of Donald Trump. A narrow focus on profitability led to this shocking finding by longtime news analyst Andrew Tyndall: In 2016, from the first of January through October 26, the three major television networks’ evening newscasts together “devoted just 32 minutes to issues coverage.” That’s roughly one-seventh of what it was in 2008. What did they cover instead? Heading into the primary season, sensational Trump stories were all but ubiquitous. By March of 2016, he had received nearly $2 billion in free media coverage. But virtually none of it touched on the serious issues our country faces.
Moreover, our hunch is that many of Trump’s lies were never seriously challenged simply because digging might have interrupted the “excitement” of the election, dimming media’s profits from political advertising. In 2012 such profits accounted for about 20 percent of TV station revenues, as much as four times the share of ten years earlier. Another reason: As online news outlets and social media have taken off, newspaper journalism—long entrusted with investigating in the public interest—has taken a big hit, with its workforce shrinking by 39 percent in 20 years. So even if many outlets wanted to expose Trump’s lies, they had little staff to investigate.
Concurrently, more Americans are choosing self-reinforcing news sources, from blogs to websites—creating an echo chamber that alternative narratives can’t penetrate. As Wired (11/18/16) warned, “We develop tunnel vision [and] eventually become victims to our own biases.” So too has talk radio become increasingly polarized, insular, and narrow-minded, and abetted, unsurprisingly, by essential players in the Anti-Democracy Movement. From 2008 to 2012, the Heritage Foundation, the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity and related groups provided approximately $22 million in sponsorships to extreme right-wing talking heads, including Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. Many of these radio figures, especially Beck—and the local radio hosts they inspire—were critical in stirring up resentment and providing guidance to Tea Party activists from 2009 onward, as chronicled by journalist Will Bunch in his book The Backlash.
Let’s end with another of the little guys. This an editorial out of Greensborough.
Sometimes you hear this label applied to news reports that are clearly false and meant to mislead. But other times you hear the cry “fake news” just because the person reading facts does not like what he/she reads.
So with actual as well as perceived “fake news” around, what constitutes real news, news that’s reliable, trustworthy journalism? And how have we gotten to the point of needing to debate whether news is real or not anyway?
Speaking at the Bryan Lecture Series a few weeks ago, Ted Koppel, former ABC News anchor and former host of “Nightline,” gave us a quick history lesson about American journalism. For many years our journalism was kept relatively trustworthy by “gatekeepers,” such as noted TV anchors and well-known editors and publishers.
The FCC wielded more influence through its “Fairness Doctrine,” which, as Dylan Matthews explains, “required that TV and radio stations holding FCC-issued broadcast licenses to (a) devote some of their programming to controversial issues of public importance and (b) allow the airing of opposing views on those issues.”
With the relaxing of Fairness Doctrine enforcement in 1969 and its repeal in 1987, the floodgates were opened for unapologetically biased news and talk shows. Now we find ourselves in a time when factual news is being replaced with more and more opinion writing and greater focus on entertainment. Americans are losing access to hard facts and careful reporting.
How can we begin to get ourselves out of this fix?
You can go read the suggestions along with the rest of today’s linky goodness!
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?