Something curious happened on the New York Times' op-ed page last week. On June 16 the paper featured an op-ed from a fellow at a (cable lobby funded) telecom think tank that talked up the United States' middling broadband connectivity, massaged a few data points to make the case, and took a swipe at Susan Crawford, one of the more prominent critics of the state of America's broadband infrastructure. A few days later, they featured another op-ed, this one by Verizon chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam, that talked up the United States' middling broadband connectivity, massaged the same few data points to make the case, and took a swipe at Susan Crawford.
So what's going on here? Internet policy has briefly broken into the news cycle with the likely confirmation of former telecom lobbyist Tom Wheeler as the next Federal Communications Commission chairman. Crawford, who served as President Obama's special assistant for technology, has been harshly critical of the state of America's internet infrastructure, which she says is dominated by a few big cable providers that work to stifle competition. McAdam, who obviously has a stake in promoting the health of our broadband networks, writes that Crawford's "criticisms are misplaced" and the telecom industry is hunky-dory.
To make that argument, McAdam throws a few statistics our way:
More than 80 percent of American households live in areas that offer access to broadband networks capable of delivering data with speeds in excess of 100 megabits per second. Almost everyone in the country has several competitive choices for high-speed broadband service (with wireline, satellite and wireless options). Verizon offers 14.7 million consumers, in parts of 12 states and the District of Columbia, speeds up to 300 megabits per second via our FiOS network, which is poised to provide even greater speeds in the future. Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are also investing in their infrastructure.
Let's focus on this "competitive choices" argument as it relates to broadband access. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation senior fellow Richard Bennett similarly argued in his June 16 Times op-ed that "a competition policy that encouraged cable and phone companies to improve their networks" has "propelled America's networks forward." The case they both make is that the U.S. broadband market is plenty competitive if you include wireless providers, which is a pretty big "if."
Fears that David and Charles Koch will buy Tribune Company's major regional newspapers sparked a lively discussion at the National Press Club today among those who worry the conservative billionaires would misuse the influential properties.
The event, titled, "Should the Koch Brothers Own the Tribune Newspapers?" was sponsored by the Newspaper Guild and drew an audience of about 60 reporters, union leaders and concerned media observers.
"In just 2011 and 2012, more than 6,000 U.S. newspaper workers were laid off or accepted buyouts," Guild President Bernie Lunzer said in a statement at the event. "This not only affects workers; it dramatically affects communities and their access to information via qualified, experienced journalists. With the appearance on the scene of the Koch brothers, many people and organizations are raising new concerns."
As Tribune Company emerges from bankruptcy, it has indicated plans to sell its eight regional daily newspapers. Charles Koch has indicated an interest in the brothers' company, Koch Industries, acquiring media outlets, and the company reportedly may bid on the Tribune papers, which include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Charles Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government.
As The New York Times detailed earlier this year, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the strategy called for investing in the media.
Charles Koch recently told the Wall Street Journal that their company would seek to purchase newspapers to provide a "focus on real news, not news with an agenda or news that is really editorializing." But current and former staffers at the Tribune papers told Media Matters in April that a purchase by the Kochs "scares people" and puts the credibility of those outlets at risk.
Those concerns were on display at the National Press Club event.
Christopher Assaf, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun who is also the paper's guild leader, said the Kochs' past history of political influence through PACs and other outlets is a concern as it could affect the newspapers' standing in the community.
"We have goodwill and we have credibility and if people start leaving in droves and they see changes...they will know and the goodwill will help to kill it," said Assaf. "The Sun will become something else, it may become a mouthpiece, a national mouthpiece, but it will lose that credibility. Credibility plays a large part in what a newspaper does and we have to protect that credibility."
"The Kochs very explicitly have a mission to influence public policy, that's what they do," offered Tia Lessen, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and producer of Citizen Koch, a documentary that had been slated for PBS broadcast but was dropped. "If the question is will David and Charles Koch influence how news is covered? I think the answer is yes."
Complaints about the poor quality of customer service from big internet providers like Comcast or Time Warner are often punctuated with an exasperated variant of "I'm paying XX dollars every month, how can they get away with this?" The short answer is because they can, because in all likelihood there's no real broadband competition in your area, because cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner are strengthening their grip on broadband and aren't feeling much pressure to improve your service.
The salt in the wound is that even though you do pay quite a bit for connectivity to the internet, what you're getting in return probably isn't all that great, at least when compared to the rest of the developed world where faster, cheaper internet connections abound. But the mere adequacy of cable-delivered U.S. internet is not without its defenders. Richard Bennett of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) inked an op-ed for the New York Times this weekend arguing that we're actually doing pretty OK on the cable broadband front. Bennett's arguments, however, require a little scrutiny and clarification.
First and foremost, some disclosure is needed. Between 2009 and 2011 (the most recent data available) the ITIF received nearly $100,000 from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the cable industry's chief lobbying group. (The NCTA's 990 forms for the relevant years can be found here, here, and here.) Over that same time period ITIF also received $122,500 from CTIA -- The Wireless Association, which lobbies on behalf of the wireless telecommunications industry. (990s here, here, and here.) The New York Times identified Bennett as a senior fellow at ITIF but did not disclose these donations, which are relevant given his promotion of America's broadband systems, which are dominated by the cable networks, and mobile broadband development.
UPDATE: The Times has responded to Media Matters' inquiries on the financial disclosure aspects of Bennett's op-ed: "We are entirely confident that this essay was handled correctly and we do not intend to comment further on it."
Fox News president Roger Ailes used the platform provided for him while accepting a prize from a right-wing foundation to repeat discredited claims that the Affordable Care Act will create 16,000 armed IRS agents and that President Obama was absent on the night of the Benghazi attacks.
Ailes was honored during the 2013 Bradley Prizes, awards given by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which gives tens of millions of dollars annually to a "Who's Who" of right-wing movement organizations. The prize, which recognizes "individuals of extraordinary talent and dedication," includes a stipend of $250,000, which Ailes said he was donating to a charity for senior citizens.
According to remarks posted on the Fox News website, Ailes said that "The federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce healthcare." He also said, "I have come to the conclusion that even I don't care what the president of the United States was doing that night. However, I would like to know what the commander in chief was doing that night."
Both of Ailes' attacks have been pushed by Fox News -- and both are based on falsehoods.
On the April 16, 2010, edition of Fox & Friends, then-Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich attacked reports that approval for health care reform was growing by claiming the law would hire "16,000 IRS agents as health police":
GINGRICH: But my general experience is that, you know, you don't have people walk up to you in an airplane and start attacking you very often, or you're in really deep trouble. I think what [Sen.] Harry [Reid] ought to do is get in a car and drive around Nevada, where people are overwhelmingly opposed to hiring 16,000 IRS agents as health police.
The figure, which was based on a report by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, was described as "wildly inaccurate" by FactCheck.org which described the claim as coming "from a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation":
The GOP analysts assume that the $10 billion would not be spread evenly over the decade, but would reach $1.5 billion annually in later years. That's reasonable, given that major provisions of the new law don't take effect until 2014. But even accepting that, the peak figure could just as easily be $750 million a year, if the CBO's lower guess proves to be correct. So the number of new IRS workers implied by the GOP's own logic could be closer to 5,000 than to 16,500, after adjusting for overhead costs and inflation.
Ailes' second attack -- that Obama was missing on September 11, 2012, during the attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya -- also appeared regularly on Fox News, where Fox figures repeatedly demanded to know where Obama was during the attacks. In addition to reports by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that White House staff was "engaged with the National Military Command Center pretty constantly" throughout the attack and testimony by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Obama gave orders to deploy forces immediately after learning about the attack, the White House Flickr page shows Obama meeting with aides in the Oval Office on the night of the attack:
Ailes also said during his remarks: "Traditional American culture influenced me greatly as I created the Fox News Channel for Rupert Murdoch. We knew that a fair and balanced news channel could succeed, as long as no views were rejected and conservative views were allowed to be heard."
From the May 21 edition of Current TV's Viewpoint:
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From the May 19 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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The dream of wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T -- or any company, really -- is to be able to charge twice for providing the same service. In working towards that goal they're getting a big assist from ESPN and tearing down net neutrality in the process.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that ESPN is in talks with "at least one" major U.S. wireless internet provider to "subsidize wireless connectivity on behalf of its users." This means that they're willing to pay a wireless carrier like AT&T a significant chunk of change to enable ESPN viewers to stream unlimited sports programming to their mobile devices without having to worry about exceeding the carrier's monthly data caps. So wireless subscribers would pay AT&T for access to the internet, and ESPN would pay AT&T for access to the customer. One service, two charges.
And if AT&T does end up pairing with ESPN on this scheme, that wouldn't be surprising given that AT&T has been trying to work out ways to double-charge for their services for quite some time. Last February the Journal reported that the wireless carrier was scheming out a way to charge developers of data-intensive mobile apps for the traffic AT&T subscribers incurred while using their products, and on May 15 AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told investors that he expects those plans to be in effect soon. They also tried to double-charge customers for the privilege of using Apple's FaceTime videochat app -- a potential violation of the almost-impossible-to-violate Open Internet rules. They eventually made FaceTime available to all subscribers except those who still have unlimited data plans grandfathered in from before AT&T switched over to tiered plans with data caps.
That should give you an idea how much wireless carriers love data caps and how central they are to their future business models. It's a lucrative proposition for them: set up the cap, charge customers who go over it, and charge companies who can afford to pay to get around it. And that's where the net neutrality concern comes in: wireless carriers who allow companies to circumvent their data limits are, in effect, prioritizing the content of those companies and disincentivizing subscribers from seeking out content from companies who haven't paid for the exemption. As Public Knowledge put it: "Imposing data caps on consumers and then allowing wealthy content holders to buy their way around them is a recipe for stagnation online."
From the May 8 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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On its first quarter earnings call with investors, Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey reported a $2.4 million dollar decline in revenue associated with syndicated talk (which is a polite way of referencing fallout from the Rush Limbaugh's loss of advertisers without calling Limbaugh out by name). Dickey has reported millions in losses associated with Limbaugh in previous quarters as well.
Anticipating this report, a "source close to" Rush Limbaugh's show began making the rounds insisting that Limbaugh is not to blame for the losses, while indicating that Limbaugh is considering walking away from Cumulus, which currently carries his show on 40 of its stations.
Asked to address the Limbaugh issue during today's earnings call, Dickey flatly rejected the notion that Limbaugh is blameless, explaining: "We've had a tough go of it the last year. The facts are indisputable regarding the impact certain things have had on ad dollars."
Indeed. As I explained yesterday, this Limbaugh source's contention doesn't stand up scrutiny:
In fact, Limbaugh has become so toxic that he's hurting other conservative talk shows. At a Talkers forum last year, Norm Pattiz, CEO of Courtside Entertainment, summed up the destructive effect Limbaugh has had on the entire industry, 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."
Limbaugh has done nothing to signal to advertisers that he's not going to put them in a damaging situation, like he did to so many of his advertisers last year when he engaged in a three-day rant against Sandra Fluke. Instead, he's continued with same bigotry and recklessness that forced advertisers to walk away in the first place.
Limbaugh is just as volatile as ever. It's why he's having so much trouble filling his ad space. And, this volatility is why Rush Limbaugh remains bad for business.
Aside from Limbaugh's recklessness, the consequences his show has experienced is due in large part to scores of independent organizers, like the Flush Rush and the #StopRush community. Their participation matters and is having a tremendous effect.
Currently, Cumulus Media carries Limbaugh's show on 40 of its stations, including Limbaugh's flagship WABC in New York as well as stations in Chicago, Washington DC and Dallas. If Limbaugh and Cumulus part ways, it would represent a significant reduction in Limbaugh's overall footprint and serve as yet another reminder that Limbaugh's brand is bad for business.
Limbaugh doesn't appreciate how Cumulus' CEO keeps telling investors that the radio host is hurting ad sales and costing the company millions. So, the weekend before Cumulus' first quarter investor meeting, "a source close to" Limbaugh's show went public with word that Limbaugh will walk if Cumulus' CEO continues to speak about the host's negative impact on business.
Indeed. If I were Limbaugh, I wouldn't want the CEO of one of my major affiliates consistently informing the business community that my show is causing millions of dollars in losses every quarter.
This Limbaugh source argues that Cumulus' problems begin and end with Cumulus and insists that Limbaugh's show is not causing any issues in the revenue department. But, reality and Limbaugh's own words demonstrate otherwise.
Cumulus isn't the only radio company reporting significant losses attributable to Limbaugh. Dial Global has also attributed millions in losses to Limbaugh. Many others in the industry report negative consequences resulting from Limbaugh's recklessness. Consequently, this Limbaugh source's contention that Cumulus' advertising problems have nothing to do with Limbaugh falls apart when we look at the rest of the industry. What would this source say in response to the ills faced by other companies in connection to Limbaugh's show? That it's all their fault too?
Additionally, Mediaite reports that "the vast majority of national advertisers now refuse to air their ads during Rush Limbaugh's show." This is consistent with what industry observers have been saying for months as well as my own experience.
Further, Limbaugh himself recently complained about his advertising troubles. Although, Limbaugh blames his advertising woes on mainstream media buyers "trying to harm" him, warning that they "are young women fresh out of college, liberal feminists who hate conservatism."
So, on the one hand, we have multiple radio companies reporting losses directly attributable to Limbaugh's show as well as Limbaugh himself complaining about media buyers. On the other hand, we have an unnamed source close to Limbaugh's show denying reality about Limbaugh's advertiser woes and attacking one of the host's biggest affiliates.
At this point, it doesn't really matter who you believe. The fact that Limbaugh's affiliates are consistently reporting losses and that Limbaugh is now attacking them is evidence of the one thing that has become undeniable: Rush Limbaugh is bad for business.
Onward we go...
The Wall Street Journal continued its questionable disclosure practices with Karl Rove by publishing a column in which Rove advocates that the Republican Party adopt a strategy that a group backed by him -- the Conservative Victory Project -- has been pursuing, without noting his role in the group.
In a May 1 Journal column, Karl Rove highlighted what he felt the Republican Party should do in order to win enough seats to gain the majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014. He argued that Republicans need to out fundraise Democrats and that Republicans need to nominate electable candidates:
Republican success will depend on having quality Senate candidates. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock self-destructed last fall, and other candidates squandered important opportunities.
Fundraising is important. Last year, Democratic Senate candidates outraised Republicans by $60 million (not including the Connecticut and Pennsylvania races with GOP self-funders). The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised its GOP counterpart by an additional $20 million. Republicans won't make big pickups if there's a disparity like this in 2014.
The quality of GOP campaigns will matter as well. Republicans must go toe-to-toe with Democrats on ObamaCare, spending, deficits, the president's social agenda and, where appropriate, their opponent's character. But even done effectively, this won't be enough.
The Journal disclosed that Karl Rove "helped organize the political action committee American Crossroads," but did not disclose that he is reportedly involved with the Conservative Action Project -- an effort by conservatives to raise money to help nominate electable candidates, that The Hill reported is "being operated independent of" American Crossroads. A February 2 New York Times article described the Conservative Victory Project as an attempt to raise money in order:
[T]o recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party's efforts to win control of the Senate.
The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.
The Conservative Victory Project, which is backed by Karl Rove and his allies who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races to try to weed out candidates who are seen as too flawed to win general elections.
The project is being waged with last year's Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin's comment that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country. In Indiana, the Republican candidate, Richard E. Mourdock, lost a race after he said that when a woman became pregnant during a rape it was "something God intended."
The Journal's past disclosure problems have been widely criticized. With Rove, the Journal for months failed to disclose Rove's affiliation with American Crossroads in columns in which he attacked President Obama and advocated for action that was being taken by his political groups. After current and former editorial page editors at major national and regional newspapers deemed the Journal's lack of disclosure "negligent," the Journal ultimately corrected this problem in September 2012.
Additionally, during the 2012 presidential election, the Journal had similar disclosure problems with numerous op-ed writers who were not identified as Romney advisers in pieces that criticized Obama or praised Romney. Editorial page editors also criticized this practice.
From the April 30 edition of MSNBC's Martin Bashir:
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Glenn Beck is engaging in a bit of revisionist history concerning his Fox News exit. At an April 27 event at New York University, Beck portrayed his departure as self-initiated and suggested that Fox CEO Roger Ailes pleaded with him to stay, explaining:
"If you stay in it too long, you become Norma Desmond. I remember feeling, 'If you do not leave now, you won't leave with your soul intact.'"
"At the end, when we were leaving, it was a long process. Roger said to me, 'You're not going to leave.' And I said, 'I am.' And he said, 'Nobody does,' meaning leave television....And I said, 'I'm fortunate because I haven't been in it that long.' I knew what this big, huge Fox empire brought to the table, and I had to leave before I became too enamored of that."
A Fox News spokesperson issued a sharp rebuke contradicting Beck's claim, instead citing Glenn Beck's advertiser losses as the major cause of Beck's exit, saying:
"Glenn Beck wasn't trying to save his soul, he was trying to save his ass. Advertisers fled his show and even Glenn knows what that means in our industry. Yet, we still tried to give him a soft landing. Guess no good deed goes unpunished."
Indeed. Following a series of grassroots efforts beginning in July 2009, around the time Beck accused President Obama of being a "racist," advertisers began fleeing his Fox News show. A Media Matters study revealed that the number of paid advertisements during Glenn Beck's show plummeted and never recovered as a result of those grassroots efforts:
Advertiser rates for Glenn Beck's Fox News program suffered as well. According to an analysis of industry data, the same ad, from the same advertiser cost between three and six times more to run on other comparable Fox News programs than it did to run on Beck's program:
While I was active in the StopBeck effort, detractors and even Beck himself would dismiss the effects of the advertiser losses. I long maintained that the losses were in fact costing Fox News money and were severely limiting the viability of Beck's program. And, now Fox News has all but confirmed it.
Matt Drudge has long been conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' biggest ally. According to a Media Matters review, the heavily-trafficked Drudge Report has promoted at least 50 separate articles at Jones' Infowars website in 2013, and has linked to at least 244 different articles on the site in the past two years.
Drudge announced this week that he had privately told friends that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones." Considering Drudge's penchant for promoting Jones and his Infowars website, those comments are more of a promise than a prediction.
Alex Jones is a radio host famous for pushing absurd conspiracy theories about a host of issues, including that the U.S. government perpetrated or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Colombia disaster, and the Aurora movie theater shooting.
Jones has lately made headlines for his most recent conspiracy that the Boston Marathon bombings were a "false flag" attack staged by the government. Drudge has provided several links to Jones' site in the days since Jones started floating Boston conspiracies, including an article highlighting the father of the bombing suspects claiming his sons had been set up.
The links to Jones' site in the wake of the Boston bombings are not surprising; he has sent a steady stream of traffic there in 2013.
Among the fifty Infowars pieces promoted by Drudge so far in 2013: a story mulling over claims that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have been "surreptitiously" given cancer, possibly by the U.S. government; numerous articles promoting conspiracies about supposedly ominous ammunition purchases made by the Department of Homeland Security; and a story comparing Obama to "other tyrants" -- including Stalin, Hitler, and Mao -- that have "used kids as props."
Drudge has been consistently linking to Jones' site for years (Drudge Report also features two permanent links to the Infowars mainpage). Among the 244 Infowars articles Drudge has promoted since April 2011:
Fox News host Heather Childers failed to disclose her employer's financial ties to NASCAR and controversies over the National Rifle Association's sponsorship of a NASCAR race during an interview with NASCAR chairman Brian France.
On the April 15 edition of America Live, France responded to allegations made by driver Brad Keselowski that he was unfairly targeted by NASCAR officials because of incidents leading up to the April 14 NRA 500 race. After France denied Keselowski's allegations, Childers allowed him to talk about NASCAR's Going Green initiative.
Childers failed to mention, however, that Fox Sports -- like Fox News, a division of News Corp. -- has a multibillion-dollar contract with NASCAR to televise races. Last year, Fox and NASCAR extended their contract to 2022. Fox will pay NASCAR a total of $1.76 billion to NASCAR under the terms of the current contract, which expires in 2014, and will pay an additional $2.4 billion under the eight-year extension. France stated regarding the extension:
NASCAR has been in very good hands and has enjoyed tremendous success the last 12 years in large part because of our fantastic partnership with Fox and Fox Sports Media Group.