Arch-conservative watchdog Cliff Kincaid worries that Fox News Channel has abandoned its base
and is now a propaganda front for "extreme" liberal views -- like the harebrained notion that global warming is really happening.
"Accuracy in Media [Kincaid's organization] has led the way in reporting on concern among conservatives that the Fox News Channel is drifting to the left," crows Kincaid. “Perhaps the most egregious example was the global warming program on Fox featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a ‘special correspondent.’”
According to Kincaid, Fox News Channel has now joined forces with the dark side by reporting on an issue that's accepted as faith by an overwhelming majority of the world's scientific community. As proof of this drift, he offers a handful of email complaints sent to his AIM offices from fellow members of the radical fringe.
"I have abandoned Fox News the same way they have left the conservatives," one laments. "It was too good to last," writes another.
Last December, I was paired on an NPR talk show opposite AIM “media analyst” Roger Arnoff
, who called FNC's Bill O’Reilly a strident liberal, while offering no evidence to support this view. I nearly fell out of my seat but recovered in time to clear away some of AIM's smoke.
The left-right banter that dominates much of our discourse about the media is all a matter of perspective, I replied during my turn at the microphone; as someone once said, balance all rests on where you place the fulcrum. AIM places that fulcrum so far to the right that nearly every utterance in the mainstream media is, to them, on par with Chairman Mao’s little red book.
There’s some history behind this. Accuracy in Media (AIM) is a thinly veiled effort
to portray all mainstream media as part of a vast left-wing conspiracy. Their pseudo-objective media monitoring is all smoke an mirrors. Real analysis has little to do with it. The organization receives almost all of its financing
from a host of conservative foundations. It was launched during the Nixon administration to shield the White House from media criticism on Vietnam and Watergate. The group’s “research” is conducted with a single aim: spreading the gospel of a “liberal media” agenda in an effort to discredit and downplay uncomfortable truths about the right-wing establishment.
Any first-year student of scientific procedure will tell you that placing conclusions before ascertainment of data is not research but sophistry.Bias a Big Media Side Show
But put aside the endless push and pull over American media bias for now. It's just a side show. Behind the scrim of Kincaid's banter lurks an even more insidious threat to our independent media system: Its destruction at the hands of corporations that put shareholder profits before quality journalism and public service.
The corporatization and consolidation of media
has had a stifling effect on independent, diverse and skeptical voices in mainstream media. Our nation’s founders understood that information was the lifeblood of democracy. No matter what you care about most — the economy or the environment, civil rights or gun rights — media influence all issues by shaping the beliefs, values, and opinions of the public. When viewpoints are cut off and ideas cannot find an outlet, our democracy suffers.
Most of the media that we see and hear is produced to make a profit — not necessarily to provide useful information and quality entertainment that accurately represents our society or fosters a healthy democracy. The left-right banter that's become a staple of political newscasting is just a cheap production stunt -- painting a thin veneer of concern over the issues. It's far less costly to pull two pundits into the studio to bloviate about politics, than it is to send actual investigative reporters into the field to talk to real people and get at the truth.
As Big Media companies control more local outlets and streamline their operations for profit, citizens become shut out of the debate over issues that matter to them most.Profit Trumps Politics
Since 1975, two-thirds of independent newspaper owners and one-third of independent television owners have disappeared. Only 281 of the nation’s 1,500 daily newspapers remain independently owned. The three largest newspaper publishers control 25 percent of daily newspaper circulation worldwide.
Newspapers have been kept away from consolidating even further by a FCC ban on big broadcast companies owning newspapers in the same market. The only newspaper-broadcast cross-ownerships are in large cities, which were grandfathered in when the FCC imposed its ban in 1975. But Now the FCC is considering rules which might do away with this ban. A change in FCC rules will play out poorly for newspapers as the largest players (Tribune, Gannet and Knight Ridder) are now making moves to “synergize” operations
across their newspapers by downsizing local newsrooms and centralizing operations.
- Less than 20 percent of our newspapers are independent and locally owned;
- In 1983, 50 corporations owned a majority of the news media. In 1992, fewer than two dozen owned 90% of the news media. In 2003, the number fell to a total of six;
- Minority ownership of broadcast media is now at a ten-year low — a mere 4 perecent of radio stations and less than 2 percent of TV stations are owned by people of color;
- The number of radio station owners has plummeted by 34% since 1996, when ownership rules were loosened. That year, the biggest radio owners controlled fewer than 65 stations. Today, Clear Channel owns more than 1,200.
Bad things happen when media conglomerates swallow up independent voices: Quality is diminished, local news and investigative journalism disappear, differing points of view vanish, community service becomes an afterthought, and jobs are eliminated. All are sacrificed in an incessant drive for ever-higher margins.Real Problem: Big Media
Whatever your complaint about media, one thing is certain: There are underlying structural issues at work that give rise to these problems. Attacking a single symptom — such as programming some might say is biased — does not cure the disease. We must look deeper at the root causes . . . and address them.
Through mergers and takeovers, a handful of extremely powerful corporate giants have swallowed up independent media companies, reducing the diversity of voices in the media market while intensifying the conglomerates’ influence.
This process of "creative destruction," as it has been called by some, isn't as egalitarian and organic as you might think. Our media system is not the product of a natural evolution or market forces. It’s the result of policies created by Congress and other decision makers — under heavy influence from Big Media lobbyists.
Through well-financed lobbying operations, media corporations have overwhelming influence in Washington. Media policy is shaped in closed-door meetings with policymakers. So, even though we own the airwaves, they decide how media is created, financed, and distributed.
Radio and television broadcasters spent $222 million to lobby government officials from 1998 to 2004. All told, total lobbying expenditures by Big Media (radio, television, cable, telephone and newspaper companies) from 1998 through 2004 were more than $957 million. In comparison, the oil and gas industry spent $396 million over the same period.Hijacking Democracy
One of Kincaid’s writers did, essentially, get Fox News Channel right: "It seems to me that a lot of conservative news/political junkies don't understand the nature and character of News Corp and Rupert Murdoch," she wrote
. "His news division does lean right, but this I believe has less to do with politics and more to do with business: there was an untapped market for 'fair and balanced' news, and Murdoch wisely hired [Roger] Ailes to help him capture it. Murdoch is a mogul, and he only cares about profits and whatever benefits his company, and if that means appeasing Chinese communists, Saudi princes, or left-wing politicians, so be it."
Ummm . . . well, yes. But there's more to the story.
The media industry and their high-paid lobbyists in Washington work with policymakers to re-shape our media system into a cash cow that fattens the wallets of moguls like Murdoch -- even when doing so isn’t in the public’s interest. The result thus far has been policies that allow for the rampant consolidation of independent local outlets under fewer and fewer owners.
As voters, citizens, and constituents, we have the power to turn this around and influence policymakers to safeguard a media system that serves the people. Many of the public interest organizations
that engage Big Media in this fight can’t match the massive funds of the big industry lobbies. We fight, instead, with people power.
The struggle for a media system that provides more diversity, skepticism, accountability, and independent voices in the media isn’t a battle pitting left against right. It’s a movement that seeks to amplify the voices of all Americans by creating a media system for a more dynamic and participatory democracy.
Who would disagree with that.