President George W. Bush's popularity has fallen to new lows, Democrats have been swept into office, and a strong majority of Americans now opposes the war in Iraq, but ABC has decided the time is right to beef up with more conservative pundits on staff and to strike out against a liberal online critic who raised questions about the network's policy of broadcasting hate radio.
Last week spotlighted ABC and its unfortunate trend toward irresponsibility, as the broadcasting giant hired Glenn Beck -- a high-profile war cheerleader known for grade-school level name-calling of Democrats -- to comment on the day's events for Good Morning America. ABC last week was also dealing with the messy fallout from its wrongheaded decision to fire off a cease-and-desist letter to a little-known blogger named Spocko who had been posting audio clips from KSFO in San Francisco, an ABC-owned talk station where hosts have advocated violence against, progressives, Muslims, and Democratic members of Congress.
ABC warned Spocko the audio clips were posted in violation of copyright laws, although it appears ABC's real concern was driven by the fact Spocko was informing advertisers about KFSO's unique brand of extremism and that blue-chip advertisers were fleeing the station in disgust.
By trying to silence a liberal critic through legal intimidation, while at the same time hiring a pro-war talker as a network commentator, ABC once again advertised its allegiance. Sadly, the Beck and Spocko developments are not unique. In recent years ABC has regularly gone out of its way to curry favor with conservative ideologues while simultaneously disrespecting Democrats and progressives.
Consider the fact ABC and its parent corporation Disney:
- Recently aired the historically inaccurate miniseries Path to 9/11, which was created by a cadre of conservative filmmakers determined to blame the Clinton administration for not preventing the 9-11 attacks.
- Employs Mark Halperin as ABC News' political director -- the same Halperin who last fall in a series of interviews with right-wing media outlets, endorsed conservative conspiracy theories that mainstream journalists are "overwhelmingly liberal," "hate the military," are "blind" to their bias, and should use the closing weeks of the campaign season to "prove" their worth to conservatives.
- Let the network's online daily newsletter, The Note, run by Halperin, evolve into a sycophantic outlet of Bush/GOP spin.
- Refused to distribute Michael Moore's award-winning documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 because the company didn't want to be associated with a product so "political," despite the fact some ABC-owned talk radio stations and ABC-syndicated radio hosts traffic, on an hourly basis, in wildly partisan and often off-the-chart hate rhetoric.
- Give chronic, professional fabricator John Stossel a national, prime-time platform, where his opinions are always aired unopposed.
- Hired Rush Limbaugh as a football analyst only to have to remove the right-wing talker from the air after Limbaugh immediately inserted unwanted racial overtones into a broadcast.
- Used bogus reporting to help relentlessly hype the phony Whitewater scandal during the Clinton administration.
According to long-held corporate media standards, radicals on the right are good for business, but radicals on the left are simply ... radical. (Can you imagine The New York Times-owned radio station employing fringe, left-wing hosts who fantasized on the air about assassinating Republicans?) But fair warning, the days have now passed when corporate news entities like ABC can shrug off critics who call out its shameful pandering, like hiring a hate merchant to comment on current events or trying to crush a righteous blogger.
Beck: Hurricane Katrina survivors are "scumbags"
Glenn Beck can thank another corporate media giant, Time Warner, for getting him his new ABC gig. In January 2006, Time Warner's CNN Headline News signed Beck to produce a nightly hour-long talk show. Announcing the new hire, Headline News president Ken Jautz, trying to take the edge off Beck's fringe past, described the host as "cordial" and "not confrontational." Yet the previous year, when not fantasizing about killing film maker Michael Moore ("I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it"), Beck told his listeners that Hurricane Katrina survivors trapped in New Orleans were "scumbags," and that he "hate[d]" "9-11 victims' families." He also labeled Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) the "Antichrist," accused Al Gore of being like "Hitler," and congratulated a caller to his program who claimed to have tortured prisoners in U.S. custody by saying, "I've got to tell you, I appreciate your service. ... Good for you."
Since joining the CNN family ("the most trusted name in news"), Beck has continued with his often radical, incendiary ways. For instance, he's warned that if Americans don't wake up to the dangers of the "deadly enemy that is embedded in" our ranks -- radical Islam -- that the streets of Detroit, New York, and Chicago may soon erupt in flames as part of a "global religious civil war." Indeed, Beck has waged something of his own personal jihad, declaring that if "Muslims and Arabs" don't "act now" by "step[ping] to the plate" to condemn terrorism, they "will be looking through a razor wire fence at the West." And that "Muslims who have sat on your frickin' hands the whole time" rather than "lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head" will face dire consequences.
Beck garnered headlines with his one-hour special about radical Islam, Exposed: The Extremist Agenda. The program was built around the evident notion that Muslim extremists in the Middle East hate America. (Beck interviewed former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who confirmed Exposed's obvious premise.) To help boost interest in the special, Beck, on the eve of the Exposed showing, manufactured a controversy by inviting Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, to be on the program. Beck then sandbagged Ellison by asking him, after noting that Ellison is a Muslim, a war opponent, and a Democrat, to prove that he was not "working with our enemies."
The global news outlet then rewarded Beck by promising him guest appearances on CNN's Paula Zahn Now, as well as three upcoming one-hour news specials for Headline News. This, despite the fact Beck twice emphasized during Exposed that he is not a journalist. One of Beck's upcoming news specials will focus on the "myths" of global warming, which Beck insists is a natural phenomenon and not caused by humans or the pollution they generate. That's why Beck likened Gore to a Nazi propagandist; Beck did not like An Inconvenient Truth.
Yes, Beck's cable show has done well in recent months. ("The fastest-growing talk show in cable news," cheered the New York Post.) But let's put things in perspective. The reason ratings have gone up is because there was no way they could go down. When Glenn Beck debuted on Headline News last May almost nobody watched it. During its first month, Beck attracted just 80,000 viewers in the target demographic of 25-54 year-olds. (That's out of a possible 120 million Americans, 25-54.) It would have been mathematically impossible for Beck to lose lots of viewers -- of course his ratings had to go up.
Nonetheless, he's a huge ratings hit now, right? Not exactly. Beck currently attracts fewer viewers than Phil Donahue did in the winter of 2003, when MSNBC executives fired him for having such poor ratings. (How's that for a double standard? Liberal cable talker Donahue had 440,000 viewers and got canned, but conservative cable talker Beck attracts approximately 300,000 viewers of all ages and he's promoted.)
No matter, last week ABC, no doubt impressed by the buzz surrounding Beck's ratings success, announced it was adding the right-wing talker to its payroll. "Glenn is a leading cultural commentator with a distinct voice," announced ABC's Jim Murphy, senior executive producer of Good Morning America. "At times, he is the perfect guest for many of the talk topics we cover on morning news programs." (According to this report, GMA host Diane Sawyer personally invited Beck out to lunch and offered him the job as a GMA commentator, praising him for his "common sense.")
And what better topic for Beck to discuss on GMA than Islam? Not that Good Morning America ever mentioned Beck's around-the-clock obsession with Muslims or his McCarthy-like questioning of Ellison when the wake-up program invited Beck to appear on the air last November to talk about Islam. In fact, GMA invited Beck back again in December to talk about religious controversies and once again declined to even mention Beck's previous smears. I assume that tradition of playing dumb about Beck will continue at ABC.
Simple question: If ABC execs have no qualms about hiring Beck and are not embarrassed by associating themselves with his brand of often hateful info-tainment (where Katrina survivors are "scumbags") and ABC officials are completely confident morning (i.e. female) viewers won't be turned off by Beck's right-wing agenda, then the next time Beck makes one of his paid appearance on GMA why doesn't a host simply ask Beck about wanting to kill Michael Moore, or why he called one of the most powerful female politicians in the country the Antichrist, or why the former Democratic presidential nominee reminds him of Hitler? Why doesn't ABC discuss Beck's "distinct voice" and his "common sense"?
Instead, mindful of its larger corporate reputation, ABC scrambles to camouflage the dark side of the political spectrum it has embraced in a quest for higher ratings.
It was that need to obscure the truth that led company attorneys to send off a cease-and-desist letter against Spocko, the self-described "5th-tier" blogger who had been contacting advertisers and informing them about the blatant hate talk being broadcast on ABC Radio's signature San Francisco talk station, KSFO, where hosts recently mocked Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) as a "Halfrican," for having a white mother and a black father. (The hosts later apologized, but only after being publicly criticized for the racist remarks.) Additionally, the hosts:
- Suggested torturing and killing a Nebraskan criminal.
- Asked a caller to prove that he is not Muslim by calling Allah a "whore."
- Advocated the murder of millions of Muslims in Indonesia.
- Suggested that someone "dig ... up" late environmentalist Rachel Carson "and kill her all over again."
- Warned Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) that she had "a bull's-eye painted on her big wide laughing eyes."
Rather than publicly reprimand the radical talkers and explain to them the standards of broadcasting in this country, not to mention the damage they were doing the station, ABC Inc., a subsidiary of the Disney-ABC Television Group, decided it was the anonymous blogger who needed to be shown a lesson with a strongly worded cease-and-desist letter, under the threat of copyright litigation. (According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Spocko was well within his right to post the KSFO clips under the Fair Use doctrine, which allows copyrighted material to be reproduced when used for "purposes of commentary, parody, education, or artistic expression.")
Disney's heavy-handed approach scared Spocko's Internet provider into yanking his website. But within days he was back online with another provider and this time with the full support of the liberal netroots behind him.
As Tom Siebert noted on Online Media Daily last week, "The KSFO PR debacle is the latest black eye for Disney, and another straw on the camel's back as the company nears the tipping point: being branded in the public's mind as a tool of the right wing, just as that political brand is falling out of fashion."
Make no mistake: Last week ABC and Disney proudly sided with right-wing ideologues. We'll see if the media giant soon regrets that choice.