Friday, February 17, 2012

Ratings and The Yellow Journalism of Fox News 1/2

by Nomad
At the turn of the century, writers searching for the soul of America looked at the country through the new lenses and found much to criticize. While the nation had become a world power with a great navy and mounting wealth, the journalists sought to prove that much of the wealth was gained through cheap labor that kept the laboring class subservient, poor and unhealthy.

Millionaires... had developed a powerful economy enjoyed by the few. What rights should workers have? What education should be afforded child laborers? What quality and safety were afforded the working class in their homes, their food? Through the lens of these news ideologies, early twentieth century journalists re-examined the relationships among politicians, business tycoons, and laborers.
The Public Press, 1900-1945: The History of American Journalism, by Leonard Ray Teel
That quote refers to a time over a hundred years ago - fondly called the Progressive Era- and yet what has changed since that golden age of journalism? In some ways, America as a nation is stuck in the right-turn lane. 
A full century has passed and the battle between the wealthy- now super-wealthy- and the middle laboring class- now called the 99%- has re-commenced. Or has it ever really ended?
One essential difference is, of course, the state of American journalism- the once disinterested crusader for the people’s interests. The press- along with the promise of reform it once represented- has been absorbed into the system and what's left when the capitalists got through with it is, well,  Fox News and CNN. Journalism's last remaining refuge is the Internet and even that  has lately become the target of  corporate control and legislative suppression. 

It’s to be expected. As soon diversified multi-national corporations took over the business of news reporting, that fundamental impartiality- key to unbiased coverage- dissolved. Truth has not just taken a backseat. It had been forced to ride on the roof.

After all, how can journalists be allowed to examine the complicated relationships of politicians, tycoons when the tycoons and political players are the bosses. Fox News president Roger Ailes, for example, was once a media strategist for Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. presidential campaigns. Speaking about the job, he announced:
We’d like to restore objectivity where we find it lacking and certainly there could be that interpretation because of my background but I left politics a number of years ago and have running this organization for the last two years. So we just expect to do fine, balanced journalism.
Well, we have seen where that went. Even then, it goes far deeper than that.

The Voice Rarely Heard
News Corporation’s owner Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with Tony Blair was summed up by Lance Price, a Blair’s media adviser to from 1998 and 2001, Rupert Murdoch, he writes, "seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet. His voice was rarely heard ... but his presence was always felt." 
Much has been said about Murdoch’s influence in politics, not much has been favorable. Lesser known is Murdoch’s business relationship with Dick Cheney and the Rothschilds. Media Matters reports:
Murdoch joined the "strategic advisory board" of Genie Energy and purchased an equity stake in Genie Oil and Gas, which consists of Genie Energy's interests in oil shale initiatives on federal land in Western Colorado and in Israel's Elah Valley.
Genie Energy -- which is a division of IDT Corporation, a global telecommunications company -- has attracted several other high-profile advisers and investors, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, Lord Jacob Rothschild, and Michael Steinhardt, a prominent hedge fund investor and philanthropist.
(Only a man like Murdoch could connect the Rothschilds- whose family foundation actually gave the Knesset and the Supreme Court buildings to Israel -with News Corporation’s second largest shareholder, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talat. That, in itself, a remarkable bit of maneuvering. After all, The Prince gave a reported $27 million in cash to help the families of Palestinian "martyrs"- meaning suicide bombers.)
Frank Rich’s brilliant article in New York Magazine sums up the philosophy behind the Murdoch empire thus:
This ethos would never be tolerated for long at most public companies, but News Corp. is a faux-public company thanks to the Murdochs’ special tier of controlling shares. What’s being illuminated daily by the News of the World revelations in London are the broad parameters, still sketchily filled in, of News Corp.’s definition of business-as-usual: the compulsive lying (James Murdoch’s testimony before Parliament is of a piece with that interview Rupert gave to the Times in 1976); the wholesale buying of police and politicians; the thuggery employed to invade the privacy of cheesy celebrities and the 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler alike to pump newspaper sales; and the dizzying array of cover-ups, from the sham News Corp. “investigations” and “independent committees” to the hush money that rains down on victims, discarded employees, and cops.
That’s just the British investigation. Imagine what the picture looks like on the other side of the pond. (Of course, considering all his influence and all of the weaknesses of Washington, that kind of investigation seems unlikely in our lifetimes.)

As Rich points out, Murdoch has many tools at his disposal in order to get his way or to prevent others from blocking his plans.
One classic example occurred in 1995, after the Federal Communications Commission questioned whether Murdoch had misled it in 1985, when News Corp., then based in Australia, secured Fox broadcast licenses despite a federal law limiting foreign ownership of local stations to 25 percent. The matter died soon after the News Corp. book division HarperCollins offered the then–Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, a $4.5 million advance. True to form, Murdoch claimed to have no idea that the book deal was ever in the works—even though he conceded having met with Gingrich just a few weeks earlier to discuss the FCC inquiry.
And there’s no question that all these convoluted relationships have their effect. Murdoch’s penchant for interference in news reporting at Fox News is well-known and barely hidden. As one anonymous Fox News employee explained Robert Greenwald film, Outfoxed:
I think that if you don’t go along with the mindset of the hierarchy in New York, if you challenge them on their attitudes about things, you’re history.
And another unnamed source says:
You’re either one of us or one of them, and in leaving Fox News, for example, there were a number of people at the organization, at the head of the organization, tried to ruin my career simply because I was leaving, because I didn’t leave on their terms, because I refused to sign a confidentiality agreement, that was another reason for them to try to keep me from getting my next job.
That sort of vindictiveness should surprise nobody. It’s only a mild form of what they generally do to people or organizations that they target.

It doesn’t stop there. Inciting violence is also fairly common and Fox News’ brand of vigilantism has been implicated in at least one murder and various death threats aimed at their targets. When a then-employee of Fox News, Glenn Beck often crossed that line. O’Reilly has been implicated in inciting the murder of a doctor who performed abortions. Fox Nation, the online face of Fox News, allows discussions of murder in its comment section and, as one source points out, hosted the open discussion murdering the Occupy protesters and finding it "funny" when an Occupy Oakland protester got hit by a car. 

The line between journalism- such as it is at Fox News- and politics has been turned upside down. Even conservatives pundits would agree that the results are becoming a major headache. 
“Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we’re discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party."
A very interesting remark, indeed, and perhaps it puts the hopeless Republican battle for the nomination in this year’s election in a different light. Is unhealthy influence of Fox News and Murdoch empire in general in the American political process destroying the Republican party? At one time, Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich, Santorum, were all on Fox News payroll. That line-up, the kind of politician that appeals to Murdoch and Roger Ailes, the mentality they have demonstrated, is precisely the problem the Republican party now must face up to

Rants for Ratings
If you watch Fox News for any length of time, you will become accustomed to the false equation between ratings and legitimacy. That idea perhaps provides us with an insight to the real problem at Fox and all of the major media outlets. Despite the often-heard boast that high ratings mean high quality or being “the most respected,” the logic behind this claim is never precisely explained. What do high ratings actually mean?

High ratings show only that, for one reason or another, somebody is enjoying or approves of the content that is being broadcast. Questions about accuracy or respect do not really come into. Audiences may, for example, enjoy watching circus clowns but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have any particular respect - or even wish to have one marry your daughter. Think of the highly-rated show, Jackass, for example. Watching deranged young men doing all manner of embarrassingly silly and often dangerous stunts can be entertaining but nobody could possibly claim - O”Reilly regularly brags of Fox News- that any of them are respected. 

As the great advocate of modern journalism W.T. Stead said back in 1886, in his essay, The Future of Journalism:
Circulation is all very well, and the larger circulation any newspaper has the better for its proprietor; but influence depends not half so much upon quantity as upon the quality of its subscribers. Newspapers with only ten or fifteen thousand circulation have often ten times as much influence as papers with 200,000, the difference being in the character of the readers of the paper. Hence, if the object is to influence the politics of a town, it is better to be read regularly by ten men of the right sort than to circulate a thousand a day among the ordinary news-paper buyers.
Of the right sort? Hmmm..
According to one poll, when asked general questions about current events, such as a few very basic questions about the Arab Spring, respondents who watched Fox News actually did worse than people who watched no news at all. Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll had ths say about the results:.
The results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all.
Data from Nielsen Media Research gives us more information about the average Fox News watcher. A mere 1.38% of Fox News' audience is black with an average age of 65 years old. That’s an average, too. it’s viewers are even older than viewers of Hallmark Channel, Military Channel and Golf Channel. So basically, the average viewer is old, white and uninformed.

And the future isn’t exactly bright. In spite of its high ratings, of the three main cable news networks, Fox News is the only one that went down compared to their ratings in 2010. And a double-digit decline at that. 

Could it be that the viewers are simply dying of old age?

Mirage of the Fox
Fox News loves to hype its ratings advantage but it's helpful to take a closer look at the "hows" and the "whys."  In the article, The Ratings MirageSteve Rendall, writing for Fair and Accuracy in Reporting, points out:
With few exceptions, stories about the media business report a single number for ratings (often expressed two different ways--as "points" or "share"). This number is often presented as if it were the result of a popularity contest or a democratic vote. But it is actually the average number of viewers watching a station or a show in a typical minute, based on Nielsen Media Research's monitoring of thousands of households. 
The average is arrived at by counting viewers every minute. Heavy viewers--those who tune in to a station and linger there--have a greater impact, as they can be counted multiple times as they watch throughout the day. 

When an outlet reports that CNN is trailing Fox , they are almost invariably using this average tally, which Fox has been winning for the past two years. For the year 2003, Nielsen's average daily ratings show Fox beating CNN1.02 million viewers to 665,000. 
But there is another important number collected by Nielsen (though only made available to the firm's clients) that tells another story. This is the "cume," the cumulative total number of viewers who watch a channel for at least six minutes during a given day. Unlike the average ratings number the media usually report, this number gives the same weight to the light viewer, who tunes in for a brief time, as it does to the heavy viewer.  
According to this information,  a heavy viewer is a television in any public area, a waiting room, for instance.
Here's another point.Another blogger uncovered this bit of intrigue:
Last week I was staying at a friends house out on Long Island, and to my dismay, every time we turned on a television set in any room in his huge house with huge flat screen TVs , FOX news came on, it was in fact the de-facto, default start up channel on each and every set!
I was disgusted and made a few calls to the cable operator, Cable Vision, iO, or Optimum, all the same company according to the technician who I eventually got on the line after calling 1-866-541-0548.
SO what I found out was that this cable company remotely rebooted all my friends TV's from their headquarters earlier in the year, and at that same time all customers got a new pre-set start up channel: ... racist, xenophobic, America hating, Obama Bashing piece of sh+t, FOX NEWS!
If the blogger's discovery is true,  then every time a viewer turns on the television (while it is monitored by Nielsen), it would add to the overall "cume." Even if they changed the channel immediately. It could go unnoticed, too, since the ratings are not based on ALL televisions, but just the ones in households Nielsen has chosen to monitor. The rest of us wouldn't notice anything.
It's a interesting theory, and it would explain a lot. 

In the second part of this post, we will take a closer look at the Fox News rating hype/hoax and we will return to yesteryear with a look at a writer who exposed the dangers of media monopolies back in... 1919.
Here's an interesting clip about the rise of the Ultra- Conservative Media and how it has been allowed to hijack the public forum. (H/T to Media Matters.)

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