The best things in life are free

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new Think Again column called "Poll Faults" here, and the Guardian thing I did on the dangers presented by Bloomberg is here.

Dedman, walking:

MSNBC.com has published Bill Dedman's story in which he searched out the number of journalists who gave money to candidates and political organizations, here. I never give money, or participate in political fundraisers, because I don't want hassles from stories like this. But I don't see anything wrong with it either. The more information readers, viewers, and listeners have about the people who are providing their information the better, I say. Not giving money does not eliminate the views and feelings that inspire these contributions. It merely keeps the news consumer in the dark.

Dedman's story is misleading because its primary assumption is that journalists determine the content of the news. I think it would be a lot more useful for him to report on, say, the political contributions of the General Electric Co. that owns NBC and MSNBC, which, I would argue, is a great deal more influential than any journalist's particular feeling. Ditto the Walt Disney Company, Viacom, and of course Fox. (Rupert Murdoch has admitted, publicly, that he deployed Fox, et al, in support of Bush's war in Iraq.)

For instance, how well did MSNBC.com report on the story that then-GE CEO Jack Welch allegedly demanded that the NBC election desk call the 2000 election for George W. Bush in the hopes of getting a favorable ruling on GE's costly PCB pollution case? (I was told this, by the way, by an MSNBC.com producer, who was told, the person informed me, by a witness to the act itself.) And in mentioning Joe Scarborough, why did Dedman not report on the fact that the MSNBC host actually appeared, together with other Republican luminaries, on a podium with George W. Bush during the 2004 campaign while he was employed by the station to report and comment on the news? These stories strike me as a great deal more significant than the $500 contribution to Moveon.org by a New Yorker copy editor. (And I have not even bothered to look up PAC contributions and executive contributions made by these companies, which no doubt dwarf the tiny amounts given by individual journalists.)

Look, journalists are only one element in a story of what ultimately gets reported. Editors, producers, executives and, of course, the corporate people who hire and fire them are ultimately far more important. And while Dedman may have been thorough in his investigating (though he doesn't include journalists' spouses and children, which is how I would do it if I were looking to hide my own contribution from my employer and snooping journalists ...), it's a decidedly unscientific method to determine whether the media lean left or right, or even whether most journalists do. The number of journalists who give money is not, in any way, representative of the journalistic profession at large. The numbers are way too small. They are only representative of those journalists who feel empowered to give money, which is, if Dedman's reporting is thorough, infinitesimal.

And finally, what in the world does the fact that Orville Schell gave What Liberal Media? a favorable review in The New York Times have to do with a story about journalists giving money to political candidates? The answer is, obviously nothing. (And Schell was a dean, not a journalist, at the time.) Dedman appears to think that this review somehow demonstrates that Schell must be a liberal, as if no conservative or centrist could possibly have given the book a favorable review -- something that is demonstrably false since it received many such reviews. More than that, however, the fact that it was included despite its irrelevance demonstrates that Dedman intended this story to be a hit piece on the so-called liberal media (SCLM). Again, if it's a piece saying "these people gave this amount of money to these candidates," fine. I don't happen to agree with its significance, but there's plenty of room in the world for stories I don't think are important. But if it's Dedman and his editors saying, "Aha! Here's more evidence that the media are biased leftward," well, then, it's a feeble and failed attempt to do so. And seeing Dedman's inclusion of Schell's review of my book as somehow relevant to his case leads me to conclude, sadly, that it's the latter.

Altercation gets results: Man Bites Dog, Peretz Criticizes Israel. No one at The New Republic has (publicly) acknoweldged the existence of my TAP piece on Marty Peretz, but the same week it's published -- plus the addendum of more Marty insults on Altercation -- what do we get but Peretz actually taking issue with the Israeli government, here. (OK, it's only a sentence or two, but add this to his criticisms of their refugee policies and we're just about ready for a Matt Yglesias column called "Why Does Marty Peretz Hate the Jews?")

Did you know that, according to Arbitron, the national radio ratings company, more than 90 percent of Americans ages 12 or older listen to radio each week -- "a higher penetration than television, magazines, newspapers or the Internet"? Although listening hours have declined slightly in recent years, Americans listened on average to 19 hours of radio per week in 2006.

I didn't know that. And to tell you the truth, I tend to ignore talk radio. My impressions from the things I read and hear about it is that it is peopled by, well, people with whom I don't have much in common, given how racist, homophobic and just plain silly it is. But if it's most people, then what are we to make of the following:

Of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners, 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and only 9 percent is progressive.

And:

Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk is broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk -- 10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.

A separate analysis of all of the news/talk stations in the top ten radio markets reveals that 76 percent of the programming in these markets is conservative, and 24 percent is progressive, although programming is more balanced in markets such as New York and Chicago.

[...]

Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data. Quantitative analysis conducted by Free Press of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows. In contrast, stations controlled by group owners -- those with stations in multiple markets or more than 3 stations in a single market -- were statistically more likely to air conservative talk. Furthermore, markets that aired both conservative and progressive programming were statistically less concentrated than the markets that aired only one type of programming, and were more likely to be the markets that had female- and minority-owned stations.

The disparities between conservative and progressive programming reflect the absence of localism in American radio markets. This shortfall results from the consolidation of ownership in radio stations and the corresponding dominance of syndicated programming operating in economies of scale that do not match the local needs of all communities.

This analysis suggests that any effort to encourage more responsive and balanced radio programming will first require steps to increase localism and diversify radio station ownership to better meet local and community needs.

I learned all this reading "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio," a joint report by The Center for American Progress and Free Press. Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Tim Johnston
Hometown: Vancouver, BC

Eric -- In the ongoing saga of Marty Peretz and the purchase of TNR, little has been mentioned about CanWest (other than the Asper family's stridently pro-Israel stance). I've lived within the CanWest media universe for 13 years now. The corporation has a decidedly conservative political tone and is not known for its support of editorial independence. I can't see CanWest's ownership of TNR being liberalism's gain.

Name: Joanne
Hometown: Santa Barbara

You know I have written about this Dowd creature in the past, but she really makes me go crazy. She has such a valuable real estate spot with the NY Times to peddle her verbage and the rest of us must go to the Internet to stay sane. Between talking about earth tones and Al Gore and being so concerned about Clinton's apparatus, we got stuck with Bush and people like the loathsome Dowd played a big part in this whole disaster. She's a whiner who gets paid too much and people who think she's the bee's knees are delusional.

Name: Destiny Land
Hometown: San Francisco, CA

YouTube joined CNN for a bold experiment -- letting YouTube users upload questions for the 2008 candidates for President. But one week in, how's it working out?

The Washington Post rounds up the best videos they could find ... but 10 Zen Monkeys found the WORST!

I loved the hard-hitting questions from the audience during the Kerry/Bush debates -- but there's no evidence that YouTube's users can deliver enough good questions. In the end, this could trivialize the primary process rather than expand it!

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