Monday, January 31, 2005

Minding the Fallen keeps grim watch, in great and necessary detail, over our fallen. As of today, 1,606 soldiers have died there in 684 days. MediaCitizen once tallied the cost to American taxpayers per second of the war (more than $2,700). This website keeps a toll beyond calculation.

Annals of Advertising: I

Take Me to Your Consumer
Advertising, The Final Frontier . . .
Friday night newsroom switchboards across Durban, South Africa were jammed with callers reporting five strange green lights moving slowly across the sky. Had the aliens finally come to sort us out? Actually, it was a only carefully-choreographed publicity stunt to promote the launching of Qatar Airlines.

Serial Killer Ad Pushes Panic Button . . .
A British TV station which sent out fake dossiers telling people they were being stalked by a serial killer was branded "utterly reprehensible" by police chiefs last night. Channel Five's "sick gimmick" involved posting out packages, complete with hoax death scene photographs and chilling pictures of past "victims", warning the recipient that people with the same surname were being picked off by a multiple murderer.

Small but Tough
Undermined by a New Breed of Pirates . . .
Lee and Dan, the mysterious designers of the exploding bomber VW add wherever they are, are among a growing number of media savvy citizens who are creating unsolicited, often unwelcome advertising for companies. Others are going so far to pose as company executives and make statements before an unsuspecting press. Does this spell the end of Advertising as we know it?

2-01-05 Update: Lee Ford and Dan Brooks have apologized to the car company, and Volkswagen has agreed to call off its lawyers.

The New Media Police: II

The temperature is rising at Hot 97, the New York area radio station that on January 21 broadcast a musical parody that mocked South Asian tsunami victims, using racial slurs "chink" and "Chinamen," and calling drowned victims "bitches." The offending bit, called the "Tsunami Song," was broadcast during Hot 97’s "Miss Jones in the Morning" show.

The subsequent fallout has been severe, but -- many argue -- not severe enough. In the immediate aftermath of the public controversy, station manager John Dimick issued an apology saying that the show’s seven-person staff “has agreed to contribute one-week's pay to the tsunami-relief efforts."

Was this enough?

Many were dissatisfied with Dimick’s act of contrition and began an effort, led in part by hip-hop blogger “Jay Smooth,” to pressure advertisers to boycott the station; they inundated station advertisers with calls, emails and faxes. At least three, including McDonald's and Sprint, have temporarily pulled ads from the offending program -- leading the president of Hot 97’s parent company Emmis Radio, to issue a statement saying, "No company advertising on our station had any connection to the 'Tsunami Song'.”

Was this enough?

The station took a further step placing the show’s team on "indefinite suspension." Hot 97 assistant program director E-Bro said that the program’s lead DJ, “Miss Jones,” has become the target of "a media smackfest.” On Friday, about 100 students, Asian rights activists, local politicians and others assembled outside the Station’s West Village offices to call for the heads of the Miss Jones and her sidekick Todd Lynn.

Was this enough?

For her part, Jones has apologized for "my poor decision to go along with playing" the song, though she denies having anything to do with its creation. Where does the buck stop, then?

Had its listeners remained silent, Hot 97 likely would have done nothing. More and more Americans are taking media abuses into their own hands. This incident follows other recent actions, including the public outcry in Philadelphia, after Clear Channel-owned WUSL broadcast a "prank call" during which a DJ called an Indian customer service representative "a filthy rat eater." Elsewhere, Chicago radio “talent” Joel Murphy, aka "Java Joel" was fired from Clear Channel-owned WKSC after he talked on air about adopting "three black kids" and "taking them to the zoo to see where they came from."

Last year, we saw effective mobilizations to stop Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plan to broadcast a blatantly anti-Kerry documentary just weeks prior to the election. Another coalition, of which is a member, began a public campaign to pressure Sinclair to provide more balanced news programming or face a possible advertiser boycott campaign. And right bloggers took up the cause to send Dan Rather packing after CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast a segment featuring the now infamous memo on Bush’s military service.

For better or, in some cases (read Parents Television Council), worse, these campaigns have put broadcasters on notice that a listening and watching public stands at the ready.

But is an Internet energized public -- capable of using weblogs, forums and emails, to watchdog such media infractions -- enough?

Here’s something more they -- you -- can do. When it comes time for offending stations to renew their broadcast licenses with the Federal Communications Commission -- which grants them free access to our publicly owned airwaves – the public can demand that stations demonstrate that they provide programming in exchange for our spectrum that serves us all. This “public interest obligation” is vaguely defined as yet, I know, but it’s fair to say that a pattern of racist content does not qualify -- and should form reasonable grounds for yanking a station's over-the-air privileges.

Of late, an industry-friendly FCC has churned out license renewals with little regard for grantees' past performances. Beyond complaining via emails to the station, listeners can become more involved in the license renewal process -- by filing “petitions to deny” -- and forcing stations to prove their mettle as worthy stewards of our airwaves. (Unfortunately, this opportunity comes around only once every eight years; a circumstance that would change with the passage of newly proposed legislation). Nevertheless, if a station proves such outrageous disregard for its viewers, then their slice of the spectrum can be turned over to another broadcaster who holds us all in higher regard.

= = = = =
Feb 2 Update:

The Axe Falls : Emmis Communications announced the termination of morning show personality Todd Lynn and producer Rick Delgado, effective immediately. Emmis will also make a lump-sum donation of $1 million to Give2Asia to aid the organization in its Tsunami relief and recovery effort. Other members of the morning show crew -- Miss Jones, DJ Envy and Tasha Hightower -- have each been given two-week suspensions with their salaries being redirected to Give2Asia. A statement by Emmis said: "An internal investigation by Hot 97 and Emmis determined that the singularly egregious actions of Lynn and Delgado warranted termination from their employment at the station."

City Councilman John Liu (D-Queens), who staged a protest at the station last week, believes that more needs to be done. "Their statement is a joke," he told the New York Daily News. "They need to fire Miss Jones, but even more important, they need to accept corporate responsibility." He added that the $1 million pledge "should be $10 million."

Radical Geeks in Brazil

Creative Commons guru Lawrence Lessig witnesses a face-off between open source radio advocates and Brazilian-popstar-cum-minister-of-culture Gilberto Gil and realizes what he's seeing is what democracy ought to look like:
This was a scene that was astonishing on a million levels. I've seen rallies for free software in many placed around the world. I've never seen anything like this. There were geeks, to be sure. But not many. The mix was broad-based and young. They cheered free software as if it were a candidate for President.
The encounter, occurring on the eve of at Brazil's World Social Forum, had Gil explaining Brazil's aggressive new stance on open source systems to an unruly crowd of Porto Alegre activists whose free radio station was raided and shuttered recently by the same government.

It's just one story from the front lines of the global open source movement. The mobilization of popular support for open systems is being spearheaded by a new and emergent breed of radical geeks who were among the first to understand the potential of making software applications, broadband access most content and the means of media making and sharing free to all. (This post is just a primer on this. I'll follow the open source movement's every step and provide updates here moving forward.)

Free Software for President
Lessig is one of the leading voices of this new generation; his Creative Commons initiative has revolutionized applications for sharing creative content via the Web, much to the contempt of Bill Gates and most entertainment lawyers tasked with widening the moat around their clients' content fiefdoms.

Lessig was joined in Brazil's by John Barlow -- another of the pioneers -- who parlayed royalties earned as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead into the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocate organization for global netizen rights.

Please Lord, Stop the Bleeding
"Already, Brazil spends more in licensing fees on proprietary software than it spends on hunger," Barlow told an audience in Porto Allegre. Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says the open-source policy makes better sense for a developing country where a mere 10 percent of the 182 million people have computers at home, and where the debt-laden government is the nation's biggest computer buyer. In an attempt to staunch the bleeding, Bill Gates recently requested a meeting with Lula to argue that open-source software can be more expensive than Windows programs when service costs are factored in.

Gates clearly had Brazil on the mind -- even though he opted to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos instead. British journalists got their hands on a sheet of squiggles and words the Microsoft Chairman left behind at a Davos session and whisked them off to writing analysts for psycho-analysis. The graphologists' diagnosis: the author of the stream of random words -- among them "Debt cancellation", "Rich world" and "Porto Allegro" -- was "not a natural leader," but rather a day-dreaming "unstable man who is feeling under enormous pressure."

And its little wonder. China, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea also are pursuing open-source alternatives. This, potentially, imperils billions of dollars in future revenues for Microsoft, IBM and other proprietary software and service providers.

Before returning to the US, Lessig and Barlow visit the Forum's Youth Camp, where radical geeks are rolling out Brazil's "Thousand Points of Culture" project -- to build a thousand places around Brazil where free software tools exist for people to make, and remix, culture. "It is an extraordinary, grass roots movement devoted first to an ideal (free software) and second to a practice (making it real)," writes Lessig. "They have the culture to do it . . .They were instructing each other -- some about code, some about culture, some about organizing, some about dealing with the government -- as they built this infrastructure out."

Want to become involved? Here are three things you can do today:
  1. Join Public Knowledge's Action Center to receive their action alerts and news notices and to volunteer your time to spread the word.

  2. Join the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Action Center where you'll find alerts on technology and civil liberties issues and pending legislation where your action can make a difference.

  3. Stay tuned to for more analysis.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Buster's Blues

Striking Terror at PBS
I have been meaning to critique PBS for caving to pressure from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings -- the newest neo-nanny on the block -- and pulling an episode of "Postcards from Buster," which featured a cartoon character's visit to a real-life lesbian-run household. A tip of the hat goes to Richard Silverstein who beat me to the punch. Silverstein calls PBS's retreat a "craven and unforgivable breach of artistic and cultural integrity." Read on and follow Richard's links to write a letter of protest to your local PBS station for pulling the episode, and a letter of support to WGBH for running it. (If you live in Boston, of course, you need only do the latter)

This sort of thing has become an obsession with the well-funded Christian right. First it was a cohabiting Bert and Ernie, then a purse carrying Tinky Winky, then Barney the purple (heavens!) dinosaur. Now, they've fixed their crosshairs on a hand holding Spongebob and progressively minded Buster.

Are we so numb as a nation to allow James Dobson, Margaret Spelling, Don Wildmon, Brent Bozell and the other blinkered nincompoops to set the moral agenda? Their pseudo-righteous rantings make for mainstream news fodder -- and, frighteningly, have compelled timid politicians and broadcasters to act -- but its time we as a still free people started talking back. To start, take note of It's still in beta, but this grassroots reply to the uber-prigs may be the shape of good things to come. People for the American Way are often out front defending diversity in our media as well, as is our friend Gloria Tristani at the United Church of Christ. Sadly, we can no longer count on the shrinking violets at PBS to do the same.

And that's what is especially worrying about this instance. The involvement now of a cabinet-level administration official has had a profound impact on the Corproation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. Eric Boehlert writes in Salon:
But for PBS insiders and longtime supporters, the skirmish, and the speed with which PBS backed down in the face of threats from the Bush administration, mark a new low point for the broadcasting institution and a dangerous development for the public. Low because the content of the "Buster" episode was so innocuous. And dangerous because it highlights the inside-the-Beltway environment in which PBS is forced to operate, where funding concerns often trump programming decisions, and the fear of upsetting conservatives has become a driving force.
Jonathan Rintels of Creative Voices in the Media put it this way: "If you're a parent, this sorry censoring by Spellings should make you afraid for your children, not reassured. For free expression in this country, a core value every parent teaches his child, is under attack by those in power responsible for our nation's educational system."

Here's something you can do today: Let Margaret Spellings know what you think of her first act as a cabinet member by using this Focus on the Family form to send her a letter. Focus on the Family provided this function so their retrograde members could praise Spellings for being intolerant like them. You can use it to send the opposite message. Here's my letter to Spellings:
Dear Secretary Spellings,

I am writing to criticize your shameful effort to block the airing of the "Postcards from Buster" episode that features a lesbian-run household. It is incumbent upon our media to portray the diversity of lifestyles that make up America's great democracy. Your attempt to cut this episode and appease intolerant and un-American members of the right wing does a grave disservice to our country and Constitution.

Do not waste another cent of taxpayers' money on such silly and narrow-minded endeavors. If this is what we are to expect from you going forward, please resign your post effective immediately.

A free America will not allow you to serve our country in such a disgraceful fashion.
Let her have it and then post a copy of your letter into the comment thread below.

= = = = =
2-01-05 Update
: WGBH which produces "Postcards form Baxter" says at least 24 of the 349 PBS stations plan to air the show; many others are still deciding what to do. WGBH's vice president for children's programming, Brigid Sullivan, says the show is a "direct response to a request" from the Ready to Learn program, which PBS administers on behalf of Spellings' DoE, for a show about "diversity and tolerance in modern America for school-age children."

In the 40 Buster episodes that were made, families have included Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and evangelical Christians. "The show is about children," Sullivan says. "It's not about their parents. It's about letting children validate children as children, regardless of the family they live in."

Natatcha Estebanez, a co-producer of the Buster show told the Boston Globe: "In the context of the whole CBS controversy, it's easy to say 'OK, we'll back down.' . . . This is not the most creative climate right now in television." Another producer Pierre Valette added, "There was always intensive pride when you walked in the door at WGBH. Now there are just goosebumps."

= = = = =
2-01-05 Update: In a related and equally worrisome development, conservative media watchdog Accuracy in Media has called on public television and radio to give up their $400 million in taxpayer subsidies. AIM Editor Cliff Kincaid says that it is obvious that the liberal media are only against taxpayer subsidies for journalists when they are conservative. This, of course is a feeble attempt to deflect negative coverage away from the payola pundit scandal involving Republican columnists accepting government money to shill for White House policies. Is this just a transparent conservative ploy of drawing false equivalences and deflect attention from the real matter at hand? Watch this development carefully. While it appears ridiculous on the surface, it may become part of their "liberal-media" mantra as defense against the mountain of evidence that suggests our mainstream media is nothing of the sort.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Michael Powell Monkey Business

Monkey Business
Now, the truth can be told. Jonathan Rintels of Center for Creative Voices has tipped Mediacitizen off to a grainy picture that may very well have precipitated FCC Chairman Michael Powell's hasty departure. Dr. Dobson of Focus on Family has called for a full investigation.

It was the evangelical preacher-psychologist, Dobson, who last week aimed his zeal and moral outrage at SpongeBob Squarepants saying that any cartoon character that holds hands with his sidekick -- in this case Patrick the starfish -- is clearly fronting a campaign to spread homosexuality among children. Did you get that?

A part of Chairman Powell's legacy will be his own moral "outrage" in the wake of Janet Jackson's now infamous 2004 Super Bowl reveal. This onetime live-and-let-live libertarian thought it prudent to jump on the nanny bandwagon and level a series of FCC fines against big media that didn't fly straight. If you think Powell overstepped on this, his was nothing compared to the wave of self censorship that subsequently washed over the industry.

More recent FCC decisions, however, indicate that Powell is now lifting the agency's boot off the neck of broadcasters. It would seem all along that Powell's heart was never in the fight. The picture above tells the rest of the story.

It was posted on Chairman Powell's official FCC website early in 2004; but was since deleted (prudent move Michael). It lives on to see this new light of day thanks to's Ed Molton -- who cadged and posted the image on his blog after hearing Howard Stern mention it over the air.

The picture was also mentioned as an aside in Al Kamen's Post story, yesterday, which got Jonathan snooping for evidence.

While uber-prig Dobson may be appalled, the good people at the United Church for Christ have embraced SpongeBob. Reverend Bob Chase wrote to say that "the United Church of Christ today (Jan. 24) said that Jesus' message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants -- the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with his friend Patrick, a starfish." . . . and his friend Michael, it is now known.

"While Dobson's silly accusation makes headlines, it's also one more concrete example of how religion is misused over and over to promote intolerance over inclusion," UCC Reverend John H. Thomas added. Amen!

[1-31-05 Update: Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus On The Family” have reopened the can of worms that is SpongeBobGate, by launching a spam war against Keith Olbermann, “and in so doing embarrassed themselves and undermined the validity of their own concerns,” writes the MSNBC anchor. Dobson, led the right-wing cavalry charge against the cartoon sponge in order to get headlines. When those headlines turned against him -- mocking the neo-nanny for taking on such a silly campaign -- Dobson promptly ran immediately to the easiest scapegoat: he blamed the big old ugly media.]

Clash of the 'Titans'

I'm scoring the brawl between bloggers Eric Alterman and Jeff Jarvis. The point of conflict is Alterman's suggestion that there are ties between pro-American Iraqi bloggers and the CIA, made while he was a guest on MSNBC Wednesday night. While speculative, the charge that the government might consider greasing Iraqi palms to shill for the occupation is not beyond bounds. Though, it would have been nice of Alterman to have backed up his comment with specific facts. He did not.

Jarvis, also a guest on the broadcast, took great offense at Alterman's suggestion. After all, it was Jarvis who has written glowing accounts about Ali and Mohammed -- the two bloggers at issue -- and their occupation-friendly blog, IraqThe Model. He called Alterman's comment "irresponsible and dangerous." Later in a posting on Buzzmachine, Jarvis wrote: "That's the worst of tabloid, tin-hat, anti-intellectual, ammoral [sic] rumor-mongering. That's Eric, the rumor monger. What he did was, let me repeat, not journalistic."

I'm Shocked, Shocked!
Jarvis has fashioned himself as the patron saint of Iraqi Bloggers, recently skewering the New York Times' Sarah Boxer for an admittedly sloppy piece on the same two pro-American Iraqi bloggers. In the article Boxer speculates that the blogging duo were CIA operatives. A deeply shocked Jarvis called Boxer's article, "irresponsible, sloppy, lazy, inaccurate, incomplete, exploitive, biased, and -- worst of all -- dangerous, putting the lives of its subjects at risk."

Through it all, Jarvis fails to weigh the consequences of another event: Prior to Boxer's story, the bloggers in question received an invitation to come to America and meet President Bush at the White House -- a friendly encounter that was widely covered in mainstream press -- which likely did much more to imperil the pair than anything written in The New York Times.

Back to Alterman. I've been in the same room when someone questioned his journalistic chops -- something that seems to occur every time I mention Eric's name -- and his response was not pretty. My theory: the shrillness of the defense is proportional to the accuracy of the charge. Alterman's reporting seems too closely in step with the DNC agenda now being championed by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, where -- surprise, surprise -- he serves as a Senior Fellow.

On the other hand, Jarvis seems to fancy himself as the fresh prince of blogdom, routinely boasting of his various media appearances via his best-selling blog Buzzmachine.

Blogger Pundits Grapple for Dominance
Too often, mainstream media draw from a shallow well (a short list of bloggers which includes Jarvis, Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox, Andrew Sullivan and Alterman) when booking talent for their ubiquitous talking-pundit formats. They've been called upon so frequently that the intense heat of the kliegs is starting to swell some heads.

As evidence of this, take note of the grappling between these two 'Titans' of the ring. I'm scoring it as Jarvis: 3, Alterman: 2 -- using the FILA standard for Greco-Roman wrestling, of course.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Fox News Uber Alles: II

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman yesterday called Ted Turner "a recidivist" in response to a Las Vegas speech in which Turner likened the ratings success of Fox News to Hitler's popularity before World War II. Turner "hasn't learned from his past mistakes,” Foxman said in a release, referring to a 1996 incident, when the then Time Warner Vice Chairman likened the News Corporation head to "the late Fuhrer."

"Once again, Ted Turner can't seem to learn his lesson," Foxman says. "You tell him it's wrong, it's offensive, it's inappropriate, it's degrading to the memory of the six million. He apologizes -- then does it again.”

Richard Silverstein responded to my earlier post by providing more info on the ADL's tendency to lash out at liberals who make such comments while remaining blinkered to sometimes more egregious Nazi equivalences drawn by the right.

Foxman: Fair and Balanced?
Case in point: right wing bomb thrower Grover Norquist's equating the estate tax as a "Holocaust" against the rich. "How does anyone in their right mind say that Democrats are persecuting the rich in the same way that Nazis hunted Jews?" Silverstein asks. "The fact is that the ADL and Abe Foxman are the darlings of conservative Republicans. They are not dispassionate keepers of the flame when it comes to protecting Jewish interests and fighting anti-Semitism. And in this case they're guilty of selective prosecution."

I wrote about a similar instance last year after the right media attempted to lynch for sponsoring an anti-Bush ad content, which featured two contestant submissions that likened Bush to Hitler, while ignoring a New York Post column by militarist commentator Ralph Peters that compared Howard Dean to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and Dean followers to Nazi Brownshirts and the Gestapo.

It's worth noting that Radio Icarus (see previous post) built his career on such glib comparisons. Limbaugh's stock value was built on such trademarked terms as "feminazis," which his slavish listeners parrot with glee. Has Foxman's once lowered the boom on Limbaugh for the use? No.

Used in careful proportion, Nazi references can help illustrate a point. I often refer to the Parents Television Council as "uber-prigs" and "neo-nannies," both allusions to the fascist zeal with which the organization scans our airwaves for the slightest "indecency" and then mobilizes their shock troops to hammer the FCC and congress with silly complaints. It works for me. I wonder what Foxman would say. Given my occasional progressive slant -- yes, I'll admit to it -- I'm certain he would not be pleased.

Black Gold

Sign of the Times
I take comfort just knowing that there are 110 Starbucks within two miles of MediaChannel's 38th and Eighth Avenue office. That's 8.75 Starbucks per square mile, or the highest caffeine density anywhere in the world. Here's how I did the math:

Starbucks' store locator identifies 110 outlets within two miles of our address. A circle with a two-mile radius has an area of 12.566 square miles (pi times radius squared). 12.566 square miles goes into 110 Starbucks 8.75 times, or 8.75 Starbucks per square mile.

Put in terms the business world can appreciate that equals annual coffee sales of $6,615,000 per square mile of midtown Manhattan. And that's not counting the many Dunkin Donuts and "mom-and-pops" that line the block.

"What Starbucks has created around coffee is an extension of the front porch. If you look at the UK, the English pub is an extension of people's homes but for a different beverage. Our stores have become a gathering and meeting place in addition to the coffee," Howard Schultz, Starbucks' five-cup-a-day chairman tells

Starbucks have also transformed into ad hoc new-media hubs offering power outlets, wireless access and a caffeine charge for citizen journalists on the beat. Love it or hate it, the coffee giant has done much to propagate the notion of wireless ubiquity, setting up a network of urban hotspots with nodes on almost every street corner.

Until very recently, Starbucks built this empire without national print, radio or TV advertising campaigns. Instead the company drove customers to its $4 cappuccinos, frappuccinos, espressos and lattes using community-based marketing, charitable event sponsorships and location, location, location. And in 2005, it plans to add 1,500 new stores worldwide, crossing the ten-thousand-Starbucks threshold by Fall.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

This Space To Let

This Space to Let
This on the AP: A Web-page designer who auctioned off the use of his forehead for advertising space is letting it go to his head. Andrew Fischer, 20, of Omaha, who put his forehead for sale on eBay as advertising space, received $37,375 on Friday to advertise the snoring remedy, SnoreStop.

VW To Sue Bomb Ad Mystery Duo

Small but Tough
Volkswagen is trying to take legal action against a mystery duo who made the controversial faux ad that shows an Arab blowing himself up in a VW Polo car. But the company admitted that it cannot locate Lee and Dan, the London-based duo who dreamed up the film, which has been seen around the world via the Web.

Jeff Jarvis thinks VW is missing the point. The viral popularity of this ad, tasteless though it may be, is a good thing, Jarvis argues: "You are no longer in control of your message, advertisers. You can fight it or you can embrace it. . . If you embrace this, I'll just bet you will find something amazing happen: You will find that your customers are better at marketing your products than you are. "

Lee and Dan, wherever they are, are among a growing number of media savvy citizens who are creating unsolicited, often unwelcome advertising for companies. Others are going so far to pose as company executives and make statements before an unsuspecting press.

Earlier this year, one half of the now infamous duo the "Yes Men" posed as a Dow Chemical spokesman to claim, in front of BBC cameras, that the company would take full responsibility for the 1984 Union Carbide cyanide gas leak that killed 10,000 people in India. In restitution, Dow would pay billions of dollars in compensation to victims, the pseodo spokesman said. BBC World bought it, broadcasting the interview via its global satellite news channel only to discover later that they had been set up.

But Jeff's point, that the centralized advertising industry is facing the same "exploding" threat as television, music and other media industries, is well taken. As yet, no one knows Lee and Dan's motivations for making the unauthorized ad. We do know, though, that the project has likely drawn more public recognition of VW's "Polo" brand than any of their efforts via traditional advertisers. Whether that's good for the bottom line, remains to be seen.

1-31-05 Update: From phony UFO sightings in Durban, to faux suicide bombers and serial killers in the UK, advertisers are pushing the limits of media, and taste, to infiltrate their products into the public mind. But is any of it working? Read more . . .

2-01-05 Update: Lee and Dan have apologized to the car company, and Volkswagen has agreed to call off its lawyers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Fox News Uber Alles

Ted Turner called Fox a propaganda tool of the Bush administration and indirectly compared Fox News Channel's popularity to Adolf Hitler's in Germany before World War II.

The pink-slipped media maven -- who has locked horns in the past with fellow mogul Rupert Murdoch -- spoke to a room full of media execs in Las Vegas about Fox's pro-Bush stance: "There's nothing wrong with that. It's certainly legal. But it does pose problems for our democracy. Particularly when the news is dumbed down . . . leaving voters without critical information on politics and world events and overloaded with fluff."

Who's Crazy Now
Commenting on his feelings about Fox News topping CNN in the ratings, Mr. Turner said being the most popular wasn't always important. "That's not necessarily a bad thing, though I'm not happy about it. Adolf Hitler was more popular in Germany than people who ran against him. Just because you are bigger doesn't mean to say you are right." The remark reportedly elicited laughs from the audience -- and, later, a windy rebuttal from radio Icarus Rush Limbaugh.

Fox didn't see the humor, however. "Ted is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network, and now his mind," a Fox News spokesperson told Broadcasting & Cable. "We wish him well."

This is not the first time Turner has seen shades of the Third Reich in Murdoch's empire. In 1996, after a cable deal had gone sour, the then Time Warner Vice Chairman likened the News Corporation head to "the late Fuhrer" and called him a "scumbag." Murdoch's New York Post returned volley by questioning Turner's sanity. Turner later suggested that they settle their differences in a boxing ring, winner take all.

This latest insult seems somewhat benign by comparison. But let's see how the tabloid press plays it. This tempest might well spill beyond the teacup.

1-27 update: Reacting to Ted Turner's remark, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman calls Turner "a recidivist who hasn't learned from his past mistakes,” referring to the 1996 Murdoch-Hitler comparison made by the former Time Warner vice chairman. "Once again, Ted Turner can't seem to learn his lesson," Foxman says. "You tell him it's wrong, it's offensive, it's inappropriate, it's degrading to the memory of the six million. He apologizes -- then does it again.” For more see MediaCitizen's new post above.

The Payola Pundit Returns

Playing Journalist on TV
Armstrong Williams thinks that the time has come to begin anew, to move past the controversy surrounding his accepting money to shill for the White House's No Child Left Behind program and return to the lucrative Washington practice of slinging influence for fun and profit.

In a speech before a hometown crowd in South Carolina, Williams called the investigation into the $240,000 deal a "witch hunt" and vowed to continue the fight to restore his standing in the DC community that has served him so well. The audience gave their native son a standing ovation.

Williams maintained he was acting as "an entrepreneur" who had no formal training in journalism. That's funny, he seemed more than willing to play a journalist on television. He should have let on that he was just giving us the business.

He added that the FCC has no jurisdiction over him because he isn't a licensed broadcaster, a statement that seems blind to the FCC’s own rules on payola, which state “If record companies, or their agents, are paying persons other than the licensee to have records aired, and not disclosing that fact to the licensee, the person making such payments, and the recipient, are subject to fine, imprisonment or both.” [my emphasis]

Williams intends not to pay back any of the money he'd received unless forced. So let it be done.

Williams sad bid to restore his reputation in and beyond the Beltway seems to prove Edward Wasserstein’s point, made in a Monday Miami Herald column, that “the commentary arena is little better than an ethical brothel” where columnists have come to regard themselves immune to the consequences of their influence pedaling.

Williams was paid money to sell Bush’s controversial education policies to Black America. He did so in an egregiously dishonest fashion that violates any acceptable standard of journalism -- and, possibly, of federal law.

It’s not a time for barn raisings but humility, honesty and cooperation with the investigators who are sure to come knocking at Williams’ Northeast Capitol Hill door. If Williams knows of other media pundits on the dole -- as he claimed in a recent aside to Nation columnist David Corn -- let’s hear about them [Update]. The White House and members of the PR community who brokered these deals could open their books to the public. And if they’re not willing to help, our friends in the media reform community can persuade all actors that full disclosure is good for us all.

This is not about scoring partisan points. It’s about restoring honest politics to a system that has become tainted by easy money and cynicism. This is not a “witch hunt” as Williams and others have claimed, but an honest effort to reassert the standard that American journalism cannot be bought and sold. ///

[Jan 27 upadte: President Bush on Wednesday said the $241,000 deal between the Department of Education and Armstrong Williams was a mistake, one the president said he had made clear that other federal agencies should not repeat. President Bush also said the White House had not been aware of the payoff to Mr. Williams. " All our cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying, you know, commentators to advance our agenda," President Bush said. "Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."]

[Jan 28 Update: One day after President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries to stop hiring commentators to help promote administration initiatives, and one day after the second high-profile conservative pundit was found to be on the federal payroll, a third embarrassing hire has emerged. Salon has confirmed that Michael McManus, a marriage advocate whose syndicated column, "Ethics & Religion," appears in 50 newspapers, was hired as a subcontractor by the Department of Health and Human Services to foster a Bush-approved marriage initiative.]

Googly Eyes

The company everyone loves knows more about you than you might realize. And that’s just for starters, writes Dan Kennedy. “According to Lauren Weinstein, an Internet activist and privacy expert based in Southern California, Google keeps track of every search that’s made, as well as the Internet location of the computer from which the search is taking place -- and then it stores that information for possible future use.”

Weinstein offers Kennedy an additional wrinkle: he claims Google is actually storing all your data so that it can go back and conduct, say, market research or develop new products. "Or, you know, respond to that subpoena." Maybe the Google database will give some bite back to "Carnivore," the FBI's recently abandoned program to monitor our digital meanderings.

Googling Your TV

Internet rivals Google and Yahoo! have opened a new front in their battle to be our portal to all things media, unveiling competing efforts to let users search for, sift and select the content of television shows. Although it's unclear how these initiatives will fare, many say video searches could provide an entirely new way for people to view television programming. Traditional broadcasters see this as both an opportunity to reach larger audiences but also as a threat to their central-cast, advertiser-driven business model.

Google and Yahoo's moves are just a first step in their efforts to blast a path to our content-on-demand future, a time when viewers will choose what and when they watch, all at the click of a mouse.

Though in their early stages, its new service underscores Google's ambitions to digitize otherwise analog content and make it fully searchable for users. It also foreshadows a heated race between Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to be the de facto service for finding information wherever it resides: the TV, Internet, cell phones or other convergence devices.

"We think TV is a big part of people's lives," Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's vice president of product management told CNET. "Ultimately, we would like to have all TV programming indexed."

Google, for its part, has a ways to go. Its new search service works by archiving the closed-captioning text, which broadcasters provide for the deaf. Users can read excerpts from shows that turn up in a search and see stills from the program. But they don't yet permit people to watch the video segment on their computers. With this conservative approach, Google appears to be showing off the potential for video search while avoiding a legal tussle with television executives who see their futures disappearing down the broadband pipe.

Copyright issues pose a spate of additional problems related to video searching and viewing. Google and other Internet video providers such as ShadowTV must clear digital rights with broadcasters. And broadcasters in turn must secure Internet rights with actors, producers and musicians. This could get very ugly.

"TV search is going to be a large advertising revenue driver in time," Sean Morgan, CEO of Critical Mention told CNET. "But broadcasters are still wondering if the search engines could cannibalize the TV viewing itself."

A pay per view model might be the solution.

For their part, Google and Yahoo believe that the popularity of the application will support sales of their successful keyword search services. This rejuvenated online advertising model fueled tremendous revenue growth for both companies in 2004, growing approximately 55% over 2003 to become a nearly $4 billion market in the US alone, according to emarketer.

Chris Anderson writes that the decentralized distribution platform for video content will break the broadcast monopoly on TV. But is a system that frees viewers from the top-down programming of the networks a good thing? Anderson thinks so, but with some conditions:

. . . it's more likely to lead to an open marketplace in which anyone can play. I don't, however, think that an entirely bottoms-up self-service market such as eBay will dominate. Programming is not a commodity and the quality of the shows, which is the most important thing, is not easy to ascertain without trusted advice and recommendations. Instead, what seems to work best for entertainment media is a somewhat more structured environment, such as Amazon and iTunes, where critics' reviews, customer comments and expert taxonomies can all combine to help people find great stuff fast.

And Jeff Jarvis shares Anderson's view. He also throws user-created and uploaded content into the mix (more on this to come):
In the future of exploding TV, a few months away, anybody can create video programming and do it inexpensively with new equipment and tools; they can distribute it online and they can "market" it (that is, it can be found) thanks to metadata and search and links. All this levels the playing field.
The challenge before consumer groups is to ensure that the costs for a content-on-demand future are kept low by an open, fair and diverse marketplace.

FCC Spares the 'Rod'

The FCC yesterday rejected 36 complaints filed by the right-wing neo-nannies at Parents Television Council concluding that none of the segments in question were “patently offensive under contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.” Most of the complaints focused on primetime broadcasts that featured use of the word "dick." Apparently, PTC has legions of TV watchers who have fine tuned their radar to catch every such utterance over our airwaves.

Jeff Jarvis theorizes on the forces behind the agency’s apparent change of heart:
“. . . the people in the FCC -- including even lame prude Michael Powell -- are secretly embarrassed that they have turned themselves into the nation's chief prigs and mouth-washers, that they have kneecapped the First Amendment, and that their tenure will be marked in history for the stupidity of following along with what they thought was a political movement but turned out to be only a few religious nutjobs with no lives.”
The PTC's executive "nutjob," Tim Winter responds:
FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s Commission has sanctioned the following content during the so-called family hour: a high school teacher refers to one of his students as ‘a big dick’; criminals hire a prostitute to have sex with a horse; and jokes about pedophilia and Michael Jackson’s penis. By what community standard is it not patently offensive during the family hour to broadcast these things?
For an added thrill, Jarvis goes on to list all of the rejected complaints, "all of them filed by PTC prudes who have no life and nothing better to do than listen for the word 'dick'." My personal favorite: During the September 18, 2002 airing of “Fastlane,” one character threatens another by stating: “. . .in my next life I’m coming back as a pair of pliers and pull off your nutsack.” Ouch!

Meanwhile, Winter takes the opportunity to promote the neo-nannies' choice of Commissioner Kevin Martin to replace Chairman Powell at FCC's top spot. Martin Joined Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps to dissent on parts of yesterday's rulings.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Parsing Terms, Picking Sides

A dispute over language and politics has given the news industry Orwellian fits. It centers on the President's social security plan and whether the media should describe the plan's process as a "privatization" of retiree accounts. The "ownership society" White House doesn't like the framing and has declared any use of the terms "privatization" or "private accounts" to be partisan and deeply unfriendly to the Bush agenda.

Last week, Josh Marshall reported that Karl Rove has been trying to bully reporters out of using the word "privatization" when referring to Bush's social security plans: "At Rove's prompting, President Bush tried to pull this trick when Washington Post reporters asked him about 'privatization' during a recent sit-down interview," even though the president himself was heard recently using the word.

On Monday, NPR discusses the president’s preference to frame these issues as part of his vision of an “ownership society.” Are we all speaking the same language here? If not, Tom Toles puts it into pictures (via Evan Derkacz), as does Nick Anderson.

Later, AP reporter David Espo writes about an argument between the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)and Republican pollsters over a poll that found Americans unreceptive to a Social Security system with "private accounts." Republican John McLaughlin argues that the AARP poll used slanted wording including the phrase "private accounts" to describe the plan. McLaughlin's and the White House's choice of words: "personal accounts."

Thomas Lang writes: “This debate, as some in the blogosphere have noted, has a far greater purpose that the exchange of hot air between a pollster and a lobbyist. Rather, this a debate directed at the press. as each side works to frame the debate around its preferred jargon.”

And the White House appears to be gaining the upper hand. According to Josh Marshall:

The Times and NBC may have adopted "personal accounts" over "private accounts" at the bidding of the Republican National Committee. But the AP's Nedra Pickler is standing firm with "private accounts." Reuters, meanwhile, tries to be half-pregnant with "personal stock and bond accounts", while Bloomberg ups the ante on the White House with "private stock accounts".

So which is it, "personal" or "private?" By using one or the other's choice of language is a news organization picking a side in the debate, or merely trying to get at the truth?

Appearing on the Al Franken show opposite Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz, Josh Marshall asks whether the use of "privatization" and "private accounts" wasn't appropriate as these were the words that Republicans and other "phase-out supporters" themselves came up with, and have used to describe the program as recently as two months ago. Luntz disagrees saying that journalists who choose these words to describe the new social security plan are picking the Democratic side in the debate.

Marshall concludes: "So whereas it was okay two months ago for reporters to use the term 'private accounts' they must now refer to them as 'personal accounts' because the president has now decided that that is the proper word."

Matthew Iglesias has a plan:
The only way to get the media to refer to private accounts as "private accounts" is if the media is convinced that "private accounts" is a neutral third-way term between the Bushian "personal accounts" and some other Democratic alternative term. This calls, basically, for someone at the DNC . . . to hire someone to do some focus groups and come up with a serviceable term [that is] worse than private accounts. Then you send around a memo getting all Democrats to start calling them "X accounts" while the White House calls them "personal accounts." Then "private accounts" will look like a decent compromise and it may well get back in the stories.
Ezra Klein builds on Iglesias' suggestion: "Happy Freedom Accounts" anyone?

Better yet, why don't the Washington gaggle move beyond their timid game of false equivalence and tell Americans what the new social security plan really means -- in straightforward and concise language that gets at the truth of the story.

Instead, many are just regurgitating the spin as presented by both sides, ignoring the plurality of other perspectives. I suppose this is easier said than done, but mainstream media too often confuses bipolar journalism with "objective" reporting.

Scott Libin of the Poynter Institute comments that few issues have only two sides. We just tend to stop investigating the issue after presenting opposing views, he writes: "Sometimes the best alternative is the third or fourth or fourteenth -- if we bother to find it. That's why, as journalists and as leaders, we need to get over bipolar thinking. It leaves too many important ideas unexplored.”

The 'Victims' in Power

Plucking heartstrings with the Victim-in-Chief
Jennifer Buckendorff stokes the ongoing debate over progressive message control, writing in Salon that liberals need to learn from Oprah Winfrey if they hope to instill their beliefs in the hearts and minds of red-meat America.

The key to Oprah's success, according to Buckendorff, is her ability to win over an audience not by cold recitation of facts, but by plucking at their heartstrings with weepy anecdotes about victimization and Scarlett O'Hara-styled perseverance. Buckendorff adds that the right media has played the victim card well, casting the big, bad "liberal elite" as villain:
On right-wing media outlets like Fox News, personal tales of victimization -- by "liberal elites," professional academics and Hollywood libertines -- abound. Witness the many network news segments that have profiled Christian teens ‘shut out’ of their high schools, unable to conduct public prayer meetings . . .The right spins these stories, making big agenda issues absolutely personal, and garnering empathy for presumed victims.
One of the most outspoken "victims" on the right side of the dial is the Wall Street Journal's Madame DeFarge, Peggy Noonan, who frequently has told a tale of meek right-wing causes besieged by a media monopoly of "a relatively small group of a few hundred liberals who worked and mostly lived on an island off the continent [aka Manhattan]."

But the tides are shifting, Noonan writes:
Charolette O'Hara on the Hudson
. . .in the past decade the liberals lost their monopoly. What broke it? We all know. Rush Limbaugh did, cable news did, the antimonolith journalists who rose with Reagan did, the internet did, technology did, talk radio did, Fox News did, the Washington Times did. When the people of America got options, they took them. Conservative arguments rose, and liberal hegemony fell.

And to think that Peggy and her "people" had been victimized for so long. This from a media figure who received $75,000 to help write speeches for "victimized" Enron executive Kenneth Lay; who served as a speechwriter for "victimized" Republican presidents Reagan and Bush I, and who lives out her victimization as arguably the most read editorialists at the world's most influential business paper -- just a short limo ride from her multi-million-dollar home in Brooklyn Heights (Tara on the East River).

Besieged by Northern 'Liberals'
Despite all that, Noonan has mastered the craft of framing her pet causes as stories of oppression at the hands of the "liberal establishment." Buckendorff at Salon argues that the left needs to frame their social issues in the same way -- by telling stories that enable Oprah America to weep for their oppressed.

Buckendorff has a good point. But in order for these stories to be told, progressives need to find a sympathetic ear with the gatekeeper to the masses: mainstream media. And therein lies a bigger problem.

We live in an environment where media moguls and marquee journalists have joined the political and moneyed elite that they, as the Fourth Estate, are supposed to challenge on behalf of the disenfranchised. Right wing ranters like to think that the "liberal establishment" -- represented by Hollywood on the left coast and New York media and Ivy Leaguers on the right coast -- is all powerful. And that they, the conservatives, are the underdogs in a system that is hard-wired to favor a "liberal agenda."

Last time I checked, though, most real power (Fortune 500 corporations, financial institutions and the branches of gov't -- legislative, judicial and executive) rests in the hands of those that hold a center right to far right perspective. And that a commercial media system, which depends on favorable rule making and friendly corporate advertisers to protect its elevated status and bottom line, is leaning rightwards -- towards the powerful -- as a result.

Buckendorff's call for the left to tell heart rending, human-interest stories about the social issues they want to influence -- for example, homophobia, racism, war and xenophobia -- will go nowhere with a mainstream media that has becomed blinkered to the plight of real victims.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The New Media Police: You and Me?

On-air personalities at a NY hip-hop radio show joined the ranks of other racist DJ’s when they aired a musical parody that mocked South Asian tsunami victims, using racial slurs "chink" and "Chinamen," and calling drowned victims "bitches." WQHT/Hot 97 broadcast the "Tsunami Song" during the "Miss Jones in the Morning" show. Station Manager John Dimick has since issued an apology saying that the show's seven-person staff “has agreed to contribute one-week's pay to the tsunami-relief efforts."

Is that enough? asks Tom Biro:
Sometimes I'm amazed (should I say frightened?) that incidents like this one continue to happen. This isn't about "pushing the envelope," which I'm pretty much all for. I'm a card-carrying member of the Jeff Jarvis "change the channel" club, and don't want any further restrictions and regulations put on various media outlets. At the same time, I think they have to think before they do something.
WQHT's apology was late in coming and occurred only after angered listeners responded to a segment of the offending broadcast featured on its website.

A similar case occurred in Philadelphia, after Clear Channel-owned WUSL broadcast a "prank call" during which a DJ called an Indian customer service representative "a filthy rat eater." This clip aired without incident on December 15. It was only after an employee posted it on the station’s Web site that a public backlash began. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the station pulled the clip from its website after receiving over 130 email and phone complaints -- reportedly the most complaints the station had ever received in response to a single incident.

The offending Philadelphia DJ's -- Star and Buc Wild -- received a one-day suspension. Though, Later the same week, they announced that they had finalized a deal to air their daily show in the lucrative New York market -- at Hot 97's rival hip-hop station Power 105. The incident registered hardly a misstep on their path to reach even more listeners.

Biro has faith in this newly energized public’s ability to use tools, such as weblogs, streaming audio and forums, to curtail such media infractions. To which I ask Biro: Is that enough?

I subscribe to the “change the channel” school as well. . . with one catch: When it comes time for these stations to renew their broadcast licenses with the Federal Communications Commission -- which grants them free access to our publicly owned airwaves -- they must demonstrate that in exchange for our spectrum they provide programming that serves the “public interest.” This interest is vaguely defined as yet, I know, but it’s fair to say that the above content does not qualify -- and a repeated pattern of such abuse should form reasonable grounds for yanking a station's over-the-air privileges. I'll have to check on this with our coalition partners over at communications law firm Media Access Project.

Of late, an industry-friendly FCC has churned out license renewals with little regard for grantees' past performances. Beyond complaining via emails to the station, listeners can become more involved in the license renewal process -- by filing “petitions to deny” -- and forcing stations to prove their mettle as worthy stewards of our airwaves. If a station proves such outrageous disregard for its viewers, then their slice of the spectrum can be turned over to another broadcaster who holds us all in higher regard.

Is that enough?

SIDEBAR: Racist-cum-media pundit takes to the air in Pittsburgh.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Pyongyang on the Potomac: VI

Brought to you by American tax dollars

Disgraced media commentator Armstrong Williams is working overtime to restore his standing within Washington's political establishment. On Inauguration Day, Williams welcomed infuential conservatives into his Capitol Hill home for a breakfast to pay homage to seven prominent black Republicans, according to a story in the Washington Times.

"These are the people who are the architects and builders of the black conservative movement," Mr. Williams told a correspondent from the Times after he had presented honorees with a commemorative coin in appreciation of their service. In exchange, Williams' guests consoled the fallen pundit, whose direct line to the networks stopped ringing on January 7 when USA Today revealed that he was being paid taxpayer money to flack on air for White House policy. “I wanted him to know that he still has a lot of friends," said honoree Robert Brown, a former assistant to President Nixon.

Among those attending the breakfast was Sinclair Broadcasting chief David Smith, owner of the 62 local television stations that played a role in spreading Williams’ taxpayer subsidized propaganda to the masses. Armstrong and Smith are long-time friends, according to a recent story by Eric Boehlert. “[Smith’s] a huge Armstrong fan and he made him a priority at News Central” going so far as to offer the company limo to whisk Williams from home to studio appearances. How much had Smith known about Williams' $240,000 deal to shill for the White House? Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has written the Sinclair CEO to learn more.

The Washington Times fluffer goes on to downplay the ongoing controversy, writing that Williams had apologized for his "misstep." In this, the conservative Times joins the non-chorus of other right-wing media that have taken a pass on covering the Williams payola story. Terry Krepel of ConWebWatch writes that "NewsMax has contorted itself into positions previously considered humanly impossible to gloss over Williams' acceptance of $240,000." Elsewhere, Cybercast News Service, the faux news wing of arch prude Brent Bozell's Media Research Center, "has yet to devote an original news story to the Armstrong Williams scandal."

On Friday, Bozell's hatchet man Tim Graham wrote in to Jim Romenesko's journalism forum at Poynter to complain that the Williams story should have been back of the book news -- words for Graham to be impaled upon, if the resulting response from the Poynter community is any guide. Timothy Boone of the Advocate puts in this perpsective:

I wonder if Mr. Graham thinks news of a liberal pundit getting $240,000 from the government to push Clinton administration policies on TV, radio and print would [be] worthy of only a C-3 story. I could only imagine how conservatives would have reacted to tax dollars being used for that purpose.

Fair enough, but a government's buying favorable views from a member of the press should not be framed in conservative or liberal terms -- but as a clear violation of every conceivable standard of journalism -- and, possibly, of federal law. This is about neither right nor left, but right and wrong.

Meanwhile, Williams seems to think that the scandal ended with his January 9 apology via his website. His act of contrition, though, hasn’t turned the FCC from pursuing an investigation into illegal payola, a decision brought on in part by the nearly 18,000 letters of complaint sent by members of coalition partner Free Press.

A more genuine gesture from Williams would be to repay the $240,000 sum to the US Treasury. When asked earlier this month about this, Williams responded: "Why would I do that?."

Yesterday's party indicates that he's making better use of the money to grease society’s skids for a return to business as usual.

SIDEBAR: Follow this link for a taste of Williams in action.

Pyongyang on the Potomac: Part V
Part IV
Part III
Part II
Part I

'Fair and Balanced' Meltdown

Stick to the script!

Oliver Willis posts a clip from Fox News coverage of yesterday's festivities, which includes anchor Brigitte Quinn’s fair, balanced and apoplectic response to Judy Bachrach’s suggestion that the president ought to have scaled back the $40 million inauguration. It's been linked to from left bloggers -- including Daily Kos and Democratic Underground -- as further evdience of Fox News' service as the propaganda arm of the White House.

Others argue (see Willis' comment thread) that Bachrach veered off topic (the segment was supposed to be about the pomp and ceremony of the inauguration) to get in a dig at the White House's expense, and that Quinn was merely reining in an unruly guest.

Really? Since when were guests supposed to toe the line of tightly scripted news shows? Let's encourage more guests to ambush the choreographed news flow -- especially during segments that are designed as patriotic fluff and twaddle. Shouldn't guests have the right not to play along with Brigitte?

Watch and decide for yourself.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Pyongyang on the Potomac: V

Are bloggers missing in action? Jay Rosen criticizes the Pit-Bull Terriers of the blogosphere for not “chomping down” on the Armstrong Williams corruption case and investigating issues related to payola and the press. Rosen writes:
Bloggers are supposed to be a little more curious than most. They are supposed to apply a second degree of scrutiny as they do 'their job' in the new ecosystem of news. When the press pack goes that-a-way they ought to look this-a-way more."
So, where is the blogger style investigation to expose other "Payola Pundits?" Can the blogosphere launch a collective inquiry that rivals the right-bloggers furious response to Dan Rather's "60 Minutes" report on Bush's military service? Instead, many bloggers have become mired in a comparitively miniscule cat fight over whether a few of their own should have pocketed money from the Dean campaign -- even though they diclosed the arrangement to their readers at the time. Get over it! If anyone is willing to take up the more important investigation of payola, please let me know.

Coming Soon to a Mob Near You: II

“Anonymous Protestor” Andy Carvin sets up his first road test for “mobcasting” -- combining mobile phone-enabled podcasting with smart mob-like group action so citizens can cover events simultaneously and from a variety of perspectives -- on the streets of Washington DC, as protestors gather to voice concerns at the dawn of GWBII. The blog provides an easy “how to” for those wishing to ignite the mobcasting revolution.

Meanwhile, Cory Bergman reports that mainstream media is trying to get in on the trend.

Mobcasting 'The Dear Leader'

From the North Korean exile newspaper DailyNK, comes a remarkable video. The tape, which is the third to emerge from North Korea in two weeks, appears to be the first ever of an anti-government demonstration in North Korea, a crime punishable by death. On the 35-minute segment North Koreans are seen carrying banners that NKZone translates to read: “Overthrow Kim Jong Il! Let’s rise up, my fellow citizens, and throw out Kim Jong Il!”

Rebecca Mckinnon speculates that now that they’re importing so many cheap Chinese mobile phones, regular North Koreans can start their own citizens journalism efforts and tell the world about Pyongyang abuses.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Inaugural Equivalences

Lots of political hay has been made weighing the $40 million sticker price for Thursday's inaugural extravaganza against related costs. For example, did you know that $40 million could feed the 5,000,000 left homeless by the tsunami for three days? I find these numerical calisthenics ridiculous but irresistible. With that, here are Mediacitizen's own false but true inaugural equivalences:
  • 16: Number of 30-second Super Bowl spots that could be purchased from Fox with the money for the inauguration.

  • 2.5%: Cost of the inauguration expressed as a percentage of the cost of all televised political campaign advertising in 2004.

  • $600,000: Amount of money donated to support the Bush Inauguration by media companies Time Warner ($250,000), Washington Television Center ($250,000) and the The Washington Post Co. ($100,000).

  • One: Number of times that a journalist writing about the Bush Inauguration for the above companies has provided full discloure of his/her parent company's donation.

  • $160 million or Four Inaugurations: the amount of money Washington lobbyists have pocketed from big media companies to support dismantling rules against media consolidation.

  • 45 seconds: The amount of time the "big three" networks have devoted thus far to covering the widespread inaugural protests planned for January 20.

  • Four: Number of years NBC could continue to employ Tom Brokaw (at his reported $10 million 2004 annual salary) using inauguration money.

  • 166: The number of "Payola Pundits" that the White House could buy to push Bush's policies over mainstream media (based on Armstrong Williams' going rate).
Send Mediacitizen your own equations.

Reverse Payola

Post Ombudsman Michael Getler reveals that The Washington Post Co. is among the more than 100 companies that have donated large sums of cash to support President Bush's $40 million-dollar inaugural gala. According to Getler, The Post gave $100,000 to ensure that it would have enough tickets to the nine balls, three candlelight dinners, two church services, one parade, and single congressional brunch planned for the day. "Readers who wrote to me said they viewed this as inconsistent with the role of a hard-nosed news organization," Getler writes. "I would say they have a good point. "

$250,000 to waltz with the Bushes
Other media companies chipping in to fund Thursday's extravaganza include His Royal Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Washington Television Center ($250,000) and Time Warner ($250,000). In the spirit of good journalism, shouldn't they have pasted a disclosure onto their every report on the inauguration? Don't stop there. Why don't these news organizations provide full disclosure of their Bush largesse on every single story they write about this administration? The people have the right to know that there's a lot more to Big Media than meets the eye.

[For more on the extent of Moon's DC influence peddling make frequesnt visits to John Gorenfeld's brilliant investigative blog.]

MediaChannel's Danny Schechter wonders whether any "hard-nosed" Post, Washington Times or CNN journalists exchanged their ball gowns and tuxedos for a camera and a pen to cover the major street protests planned throughout the day. The only news organizations that appear to be paying attention to the protests are their breathless detractors in the right press, including this predictable swipe from Cybercast News Service's Kathleen Rhodes, who brands the protestors as communist backers of Cuba's Fidel Castro and North Korea's Kim Jong Il.

SIDEBAR: Communications companies are also footing the bill, hoping perhaps to find a favorable ear in Washington as Congress gets set to rewrite the 1996 Telecom Act. Those on the Inaugural A-list include AT&T ($250,000), Qualcomm ($100,000), SBC Communications ($100,000), Cisco Systems ($100,000), Clearwire ($100,000) and Oracle ($100,000). Think about that the next time you pay your phone/cable/Internet bill.

Blood on the Cable Bill

Bunnie Riedel “fries her biscuits” on a recent behind-the-scenes study of cable operator Comcast’s rationale for charging customers annually increasing rates. The report, prepared by consultants Garth Ashpaugh and Dick Treich, skewers, point-by-point, Comcast's reasoning for billing customers in the aggregate way that they do. Ashbaugh and Treich conclude that Comcast has set up a system to systemically rip off their customers while, at the same time, refusing to offer more Public, Educational and Government (PEG) programming on grounds that they're eager to preserve lower customer costs. Riedel comments: “It is time to end this tyranny of rate gouging and maybe it’s time for Congress to be horse-whipped for letting these fiends get away with bloody murder.”