Broadcast nightly news shows completely ignored the day's landmark court ruling striking down federal net neutrality regulations, an omission that deals a huge disservice to the public audience and a boon to the news outlets' parent corporations.
Net neutrality -- the principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers -- was dealt a serious blow the morning of January 14 when the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidated the Federal Communications Commission's requirement that providers offer equal access to online information, regardless of the source. Prior to the ruling, the FCC prevented internet providers from blocking (or slowing down access to) content in order to benefit their own business interests.
That evening, neither NBC, CBS, nor ABC acknowledged the ruling in their evening news broadcasts.
Here's why that's important -- NBC is owned by Comcast Corporation, which bills itself as the nation's largest high-speed Internet provider. CBS' parent company is CBS Corporation, which also owns multiple sports networks and Showtime, while ABC is part of The Walt Disney Company empire, also the owner of ESPN.
This is a huge conflict of interest for the broadcast news channels, as their parent corporations all have a vested interest in striking down net neutrality laws and promoting their own content at the expense of competitors that lack an advantage in size or Internet service. As PCWorld explained:
From the January 5 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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2013 got off to a promising start when perennial conservative huckster Dick Morris was finally fired from Fox News.
But any hope for year free from scandal unraveled as conservative outlets like Fox, and venerable institutions like CBS and CNN, found themselves mired in ethical morasses of their own making.
Media Matters looks back at the year in media ethics:
Tonight CNN will air an hour-long interview its employee S.E. Cupp did with Glenn Beck, who is also her boss at Beck's own news network. CNN failed to disclose this conflict of interest while promoting the special in an interview with Cupp.
CNN will air the interview on the December 20 edition of Piers Morgan Live. Cupp, a co-host on CNN's Crossfire, is also a contributor on TheBlaze TV, the conservative news network Beck founded and heads.
CNN's New Day gave Cupp a platform to promote the special without mentioning the conflict of interest during a December 20 interview on New Day. At no point during that segment did Cupp or hosts Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan note that Cupp also works for Blaze TV, that Beck is her boss, or the inherent ethical conflict in having her interview Beck over the CNN airwaves.
On New Day, Cupp said that her boss is "funny, he says it how he means it," which is "why people love Glenn." She also acknowledged that Beck has said some "controversial things," and concluded that the fact that he supposedly "abstains from the political process ... makes him a very honest critic but for those of us who work within the political process and would like to make it better that's a little frustrating."
Media Matters has previously suggested some questions that a credible interview between Cupp and Beck would include.
From the December 6 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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After 60 Minutes ran a flawed report on President Bush's National Guard service in 2004, CBS News and its parent company formed an independent panel to investigate the segment and instituted many of the panel's recommendations, including firing several of the responsible parties. This stands in stark contrast to the aftermath of 60 Minutes' recent flawed report on the Benghazi attacks.
From the October 27 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the October 7 edition of MSNBC's Politics Nation:
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From the September 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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The Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Order, which puts net neutrality principles in place for U.S. internet providers, is getting its day in court. Immediately after the FCC voted to approve the order in 2010, internet providers sued to have the order thrown out, arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority. After years of false starts, some suspect briefs, plaintiff changes, and sundry delays, oral arguments in the case begin today.
Before those arguments actually get going, it's important to nail down precisely what the Open Internet Order does and doesn't do, and what exactly is going on with all the legal wrangling. It's complicated stuff and easy to tune out, but it's an important case that will have far-reaching effects both on U.S. internet policy and the role of the FCC in regulating the broadband industry. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) called net neutrality "the most important First Amendment issue of our time," and there are many people on both sides of the net neutrality debate who agree with that sentiment.
At its most basic, the idea behind net neutrality is that the person who decides what content you can access online is you. The companies that provide your internet access -- Verizon, Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, etc. -- have an interest in controlling how you use the internet in order to boost profits.
Let's take as a hypothetical example two popular streaming video services: Netflix and Hulu. Right now, you can access both competing services at the same speed. But let's say you get your internet through Comcast, which owns 32 percent of Hulu and provides 20-plus percent of residential broadband subscriptions nationwide. Comcast wants to boost Hulu's competitiveness, so it starts offering you "preferred access" to Hulu over other streaming video services (faster downloads, not counting Hulu's data against your monthly data allowance, etc). Netflix would flip its lid, and rightly so. Comcast would have leveraged its role as internet gatekeeper to tilt the competitive balance in favor of its own interests. You, as a Comcast subscriber, would be incentivized to patronize Hulu over Netflix not because Hulu offered better service, but because Comcast was rigging the market. (Scenarios like this happen in the real world, as I'll explain below.)
Net neutrality argues that Comcast must treat traffic from Hulu or Netflix or wherever equally, so as to not confer an artificial advantage on certain online entities over others. Its purpose, to borrow a popular phrase from conservatives, is to keep internet providers from picking winners and losers -- a very real concern given that many internet service providers also produce online content.
The FCC's Open Internet Order is the federal government's attempt to establish net neutrality principles for U.S. internet providers. The FCC commissioners approved the rules in December 2010 after a 3-2 vote that was split along partisan lines (three Democrats and two Republicans.) The order divides broadband internet into two categories -- fixed, for internet delivered via cables; and mobile, for internet delivered wirelessly -- and sets rules for ISPs for the provision of both.
For fixed broadband, the FCC says ISPs can not block subscribers from accessing legal online content, nor can they prohibit subscribers from accessing the internet on a "nonharmful device." ISPs are allowed to conduct "reasonable network management" -- slowing traffic to relieve network congestion or address security issues, for example -- but they have to publicly disclose whatever network management steps they take. The rules also prohibit ISPs from engaging in "unreasonable discrimination" when transmitting network traffic along fixed lines. Simply put, this means no ISP can prioritize or discriminate against lawful online content for financial reasons or political considerations (the provision that would prevent the Comcast/Hulu scenario described above).
For mobile broadband, the rules are less stringent. ISPs can't block subscribers from accessing legal websites on a mobile device, and they are not subject to the prohibition on "unreasonable discrimination."
Megyn Kelly's move to primetime will mark a shift in the very essence of Fox News, away from the hate of right-wing radio and towards something more effective at shilling conservative misinformation.
Recent rumors indicate that Megyn Kelly may take over Sean Hannity's 9 p.m. time slot on Fox News. But the factors in play are much bigger than one hour a night. The imminent Fox News primetime shakeup is more about Fox News' own brand of misinformation being set to surpass the blunter approach of Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio hosts.
For a brief bit of historical context before we get to the rumor itself, Fox News' approach in many ways grew out of Rush Limbaugh's short-lived television show. Roger Ailes famously produced the show and would take lessons from there to Fox News where he is still the CEO. (As well as taking lessons from his time as a Republican operative, which are well-documented.) And the further back you look at Fox, the more it resembles the worst aspects of Limbaugh's show. But as Fox has grown, it's adapted, allowing it to more effectively advance a political agenda.
This adaptation was on full display in Roger Ailes' 2011 admission to Howard Kurtz, who has since moved to Fox, that Fox News needed to make a "course correction." The big picture result of this is Fox still pushing demonstrable misinformation, but doing so in a way other news networks will be more likely to pick up rather than mock. Their audience might not have had a problem with the old Fox News (at least, Roger Ailes gave no indication that they did), but the network's reputation was in tatters. (As an aside, CNN's recent pushing of right-wing Benghazi myths only emphasize the risk of Fox's revised approach.)
Sean Hannity is in many ways a product of an iteration of Fox News that is slowly fading away. His willingness to push any argument any Republican ever once had has eroded Hannity's credibility over time. The Republican congressman who coined the term "terror baby" recently guest-hosted Hannity's radio show. Cumulus reportedly isn't even bothering to renew his radio syndication contract. Hannity declared himself as birther-curious, went all-in during the 2012 election on the story that President Obama once hugged a guy that right-wingers didn't like, and even dabbles in secession.
But the new face of Fox News primetime, Megyn Kelly, is a much more pernicious purveyor of political propaganda. Kelly has the unique ability to pluck misinformation and imbue it with a veneer of legitimacy that Sean Hannity has long since lost, if he ever had it at all. She can have a great moment chiding Fox colleagues Erick Erickson and Lou Dobbs for sexism, only to turn around and push the New Black Panthers scandal as something serious. Megyn Kelly can cover gay rights in a way that is occasionally not abominable, and then push Benghazi falsehoods that have long been debunked. Megyn Kelly will rebuke Dick Morris and Karl Rove, but then hosts a climate change denier during the president's climate address. Kelly smacked down Mike Gallagher on family leave, but she also defended Newt Gingrich's bizarre suggestion that schools should use children as janitors. The examples go on and on -- but the key for Fox is that her positive moments always get more press than her more dishonest moments. It's no surprise that Howard Kurtz declared her future bright.
Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country's largest operator of local television stations, is purchasing seven broadcast TV stations and NewsChannel 8, a regional cable news network, from Allbriton Communications. Sinclair has a history of using its stations to promote a conservative messages and also attempted to influence the 2004 election in favor of the Republican Party.
According to the New York Times, Sinclair plans to purchase the stations for $985 million and "explore the rollout of a national cable news channel using NewsChannel 8 as its core." The purchase includes WJLA, the ABC network affiliate in the Washington, D.C. media market. The Times reports that Sinclair's stations reach "about 35 percent of households in the United States."
In the past, Sinclair has used its stations to promote a conservative, anti-progressive message.
Politico reports that Cumulus Media plans on dropping Rush Limbaugh's show at the end of the year.
Cumulus has reportedly decided not to renew Sean Hannity's contract either.
Cumulus carries Limbaugh and Hannity's shows on more than 40 of its stations, including Limbaugh's longtime flagship WABC in New York as well as stations in big markets like Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Dallas.
Limbaugh's show has been plagued with woes ever since advertisers began fleeing in the wake of Limbaugh's multi-day attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke; the majority of national advertisers are now boycotting Limbaugh's show. In fact, the backlash from advertisers has been so strong that it has spilled over, injuring digital streaming advertising as well as other similar programs (Sean Hannity's, for example).
Advertisers big and small continue to flee Limbaugh's show. In just the last few weeks alone, several recognizable companies have taken action regarding their ads and Rush Limbaugh...
After a CVS ad appeared during Limbaugh's show, CVS advised that it won't happen again, explaining: "The Rush Limbaugh show is not a program on which we typically advertise & a recent commercial was aired on this program in error."
Upon learning its ads were running during Limbaugh's show, Disney On Ice promptly removed them, stating: "The advertisements you are referring to have been pulled and should no longer be airing during Rush Limbaugh's show."
Citing Limbaugh's indecent content, fast food chain Bojangles also removed ads. The apologetic chain noted that it didn't purchase the ads directly but as part of a package, adding: "A number of our loyal guests have told us they were offended by some of the content on the program in question. We have looked into that content, and as a result we have taken the steps necessary to ensure our ads do not run on this program indefinitely."
AAMCO went so far as to make an exception to its policy of leaving advertising decisions in the hands of locally owned franchisees in order to remove ads from Limbaugh's show.
Advertisers have been taking action similiar to the aforementioned examples for more than a year, which accounts for the scope and scale of the financial damage.
A few days before the May 2013 investors call, a "source close to" Limbaugh's show attempted to soften the blow by denying that Limbaugh was having any negative effect on advertiser sales and warned that Limbaugh would walk if Cumulus continued to blame him. After announcing $2.4M in quarterly losses, Lew Dickey rebutted the assertion that Limbaugh wasn't hurting ad sales, stating: "The facts are indisputable regarding the impact certain things have had on ad dollars."
Cumulus isn't the only radio company reporting financial losses associated with Limbaugh's show either; other radio companies have also reported significant losses directly attributable to either Limbaugh's show or the intensifying advertiser fallout.
Noam Pattiz, CEO of Courtside Entertainment, best summarized the industry wide effect, noting that a "tremendous chunk of advertising revenue was wiped out in terms of support for national talk radio programs." Pattiz added that "the movement in talk radio to some degree is moving away from conservative talk radio and into other genres."
Indeed. During an interview with Bloomberg TV back in February, Dickey seemed to confirm Pattiz's assessment and signal the possibility of a shakeup, saying: "We're sort of seeing a shift in spoken-word radio from political-based talk over to sports." Dickey was sure to note that sports radio is popular with advertisers.
For his part, Limbaugh has done little to reassure wary business interests that it's safe to go back in the water. To the contrary, he gives advertisers daily cause for concern by filling his airtime with the same bigotry, deceit and chicanery that have come to define his brand.
In April, after spending a year dismissing the massive advertiser losses as a couple of french fries that weren't hurting anyone at all, Limbaugh acknowledged that he was having a problem. But instead of accepting any responsibility, he lashed out and blamed his woes on a conspiracy perpetuated "liberal feminists" in the media buying industry. (I imagine this didn't go over well at the next ad sales meeting).
In the days following the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, Limbaugh vividly illustrated his volatility when he gleefully announced that he can now say "'nigga' with an A'" because "it's not racist." Limbaugh would argue that he was innocently commenting on an interview that Trayvon Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel had conducted with CNN. But given his odious track record of racially charged attacks, it seems Limbaugh felt like he had an opportunity to finally say the n-word on air with impunity. After all, he has been tiptoeing toward that point for some time. Regardless of the reasoning, the fact that he went there reinforces the concern that he hasn't really done anything to address the recklessness that created this mess to begin with.
Aside from Limbaugh's recklessness, the consequences his show has experienced are due in large part to hundreds of independent organizers, like the Flush Rush and the #StopRush communities. Their participation matters and is having a tremendous effect.
Whether Cumulus ultimately drops Rush Limbaugh remains to be seen, but one thing is irrefutable: Rush Limbaugh has proven to be bad for business. In the past, Limbaugh's renewal and an increase in subscriber fees would have been almost a sure thing, but not anymore. And, with good reason.
After devoting more than 51 minutes to reports about a listserv where progressive journalists supposedly "coordinated" attacks on Republicans during the week the story broke, Fox News has yet to mention the report that conservative members of the media -- including Fox News contributors -- participate in a listserv whose members meet weekly "to concoct talking points" and "coordinate messaging."
On July 25, Mother Jones' David Corn reported on Groundswell, a coalition of prominent right-wing activists and journalists who use a listserv and regular meetings to coordinate a "two front war" against both progressives and Fox News political analyst and former Bush aide Karl Rove, who the group believes is insufficiently conservative.
In addition to influential conservatives from major right-wing organizations, the group has included Fox News contributors Sandy Rios, John Bolton, and Allen West, Breitbart News Network Executive Chairman Stephen Bannon and reporters Matthew Boyle and Mike Flynn, Washington Examiner Executive Editor Mark Tapscott, and National Review contributor Michael James Barton.
Tapscott told Mother Jones that he left the coalition after one or two meetings, explaining: "The implication of attending is that you're participating in their planning, and, as a journalist, I don't think that's appropriate. Other journalists may think differently."
In 2010, right-wing media outlets, led by the Daily Caller and Breitbart News, devoted substantial attention to Journolist, a listserv of liberal, centrist, and conservative journalists, opinion writers, and academics engaged in running debates about current events. Conservatives claimed, with little evidence, that this was a left-wing cabal devoted to coordinating messages to destroy conservatives. In his report, Corn noted that the right-wing's allegations about Journolist had actually been brought to pass on the right through Groundswell.
Fox News previously devoted substantial attention to Journolist in the week following the Daily Caller's initial July 20, 2010, report on that listserv, with reports on programs including Glenn Beck, Special Report, On The Record, America Live, America's News HQ, The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News Watch, and The Journal Editorial Report. But as of posting time, the network has not so much as mentioned Groundswell.