Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 6, 2009


Daiv Sirota, Open Left - The New York Times story about MSNBC's corporate parent, General Electric, forcing the network to soften its criticism of Fox News has generated a lot of buzz over the weekend. . .

What the Times story and the aftershock gossip focuses on is the personality feud and new detente between MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. That's supposedly the "news." And yet the real story is the heavy-handed intervention by the CEO of General Electric effectively forcing MSNBC's news team off a crucially important set of stories - namely, Fox News' politicization/Republicanization of media.

For years, Establishment media voices like Charlie Rose (yes, the same Charlie Rose who the Times story says played a direct role in the corporate parents' intervention at MSNBC and Fox) have insisted that it's a black-helicopter-style conspiracy theory to assert that corporate parent companies pressure/impact/limit the newsrooms they control.

But, of course, the evidence has become overwhelming in the last 15 years. The three most obvious that come to mind are:

- 1995: CBS' 60 Minutes backs off it's expose of the tobacco industry, due, in part, to pressure from its parent company and the tobacco industry. This sordid affair was made famous by the movie The Insider.

- 2001: NBC's president engages in direct political lobbying against a government order that would force NBC's parent company, General Electric, to clean up its mess in the Hudson River. At the same time, environmentalists noted that NBC did not give the Hudson River cleanup story nearly enough attention.

- 2009: The Washington Post's parent company offers corporations and their lobbyists "off-the-record access" to its reporters and editors in exchange for direct financial contributions of up to $250,000.

This, of course, says nothing of the even more nefarious and arguably more widespread practice of these same corporate media outlets promoting as "objective" voices reporters and editorialists who have secret financial interests in the news they cover - all without any disclosure. Just a few examples:

- Richard Wolffe: This former Newsweek reporter is now a paid corporate PR consultant. Yet, he appears on MSNBC as a disinterested "political analyst," even hosting Olbermann's show. Wolffe, in fact, publicly sells his media prominence on MSNBC as a reason for corporations to hire him. . .

- Doug Bandow: In 2005, Business Week reported that this senior fellow at the Cato Institute "resigned from the libertarian think tank on Dec. 15 after admitting that he had accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients." . . .

- Armstrong Williams: In 2005, this syndicated radio host and columnist took a quarter million dollars from the Education Department to promote President Bush's controversial education policy "on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same," according to USA Today.

- Thomas Friedman: This New York Times columnist has become the single most prominent media voice in support of the multinational corporate agenda and the ultra-wealthy - and his credibility is based on the perception that Friedman is a completely disinterested commentator. However, Friedman - by marriage - is a member of the Bucksbaum empire, one of the biggest real estate conglomerates in the world.

- Former Generals: David Barstow of The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for "reveal[ing] how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended."

More. . .


Anonymous Mairead said...

It seems clear to me that many more forms of speech need to be classified as "commercial", with people who fail to note that they're doing it for hire being fined 150% of their compensation for the first offence, and then 200% + jail time for subsequent offences. Those who hire them need to lose their jobs and pensions, and be barred from working in the industry.

People like Limbaugh et al. need to have the commercial-speech metrics, including truth-in-advertising, applied to what they say. Because since they're doing it for hire or reward, it's as commercial as any other advert.

August 6, 2009 1:11 PM  

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