Media Structures & Regulations

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  • Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity, And What Fox News' "Course Correction" Really Means

    Whatever Primetime Slot Megyn Kelly Settles Into, Fox News Might Be About To Get More Dangerous

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Roger Ailes, Megyn Kelly, Sean HannityMegyn 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.

  • Right-Wing Sinclair Broadcast Group Buying Allbritton TV Stations

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    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.

  • REPORT: Cumulus Plans To Drop Rush Limbaugh From 40 Stations

    Still Losing Advertisers, Limbaugh Remains Bad For Business

    Blog ››› ››› ANGELO CARUSONE

    LimbaughPolitico 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).

    The Fallout Continues

    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. 

    "The Facts Are Indisputable."

    Every quarter for the past year, like clockwork, Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey has hopped on a call with business investors and announces millions in financial losses associated with Rush Limbaugh's show.

    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.

    Still Bad For Business

    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.

    Onward!

  • WATCH: After Trumpeting Journolist Claims, Fox Silent On Groundswell

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    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."

    Chart

    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.

  • Broadband Boosterism At The NY Times

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    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."

  • Potential Koch Tribune Takeover Sparks Concerns at National Press Club Event

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Koch brothersFears 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."

  • NY Times Leaves Industry Disclosure Out Of Op-Ed Celebrating Broadband Mediocrity

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    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."

  • Roger Ailes Accepts Prize By Pushing Fox Falsehoods

    Blog ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    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:

    P091112PS-1971

    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."

  • ESPN Wants To Pay-To-Play

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    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."

  • On Limbaugh's Advertiser Losses, Cumulus CEO says: "The Facts Are Indisputable"

    Blog ››› ››› ANGELO CARUSONE

    RushOn 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:

    • Cumulus isn't the only company reporting losses associated with Limbaugh
    • It's being reported that the majority of national advertisers are currently boycotting Limbaugh's show
    • Even Limbaugh himself recently acknowledged his advertiser troubles, blaming it on "liberal feminist" media buyers

    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.

    Onward.