Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ratings and The Yellow Journalism of Fox News 2/2

by Nomad
In the first part of this two-part series, we examined the intricate and intimidating Murdoch connections and how watching Fox News apparently makes you more ignorant than watching no news at all.

Roger Ailes, President of Fox News
Big-Time Cheating
In spite of the near continual boasting at Fox News, some (real) reporters have dared to question the Fox News ratings. Their suspicions were aroused by the simple fact that the numbers made little sense. Was it actually plausible?
How is it, they wonder, that Fox News can be so consistently in the lead despite their obvious niche programming focus on a narrow segment of the viewing audience. The decidedly right-of-center bias of Fox News corresponds to a rather small portion of the national electorate. Republican favorability has been hovering in the mid-twenties for years. So how does this negligible slice of the market translate into such a disproportionate ratings advantage?
It’s a very good question. Perhaps the answer can be found in the complex (downright incestuous) business relationship between Nielsen Media Research, which collects the ratings information and Murdoch.
It has recently been discovered that the Wegener Corporation, the manufacturer of the set-top devices that Nielsen uses, has a long association with Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation, the parent of Fox News. Wegener was founded by the former management of Scientific-Atlanta, a producer of set-top boxes for cable access and other purposes.
One of the other products in Scientific-Atlanta’s line was a device used by Gemstar to provide television program listings to cable operators and their subscribers. Gemstar was an affiliate of TV Guide, which in turn was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. So the executives who were responsible for developing and manufacturing Murdoch’s equipment for Gemstar became the principles of the company providing Nielsen with their ratings collection devices. And around that same time Fox News dropped their objections to the new People Meter service.
Incidentally, Scientific-Atlanta and Newt Gingrich, a former Fox News employee, had a colorful history together. Both Senator Sam Nunn and Representative Newt Gingrich nurtured partnerships between Atlanta's research universities, military concerns, political ties, and business outlets. Gingrich described Scientific Atlanta as "a model of the spirit of invention and discovery" in a series of university lectures he gave and which eventually got him in hot water with The House Ethics Committee.

(That interesting story will have to be saved for a different post, however.)

“The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”
We share his heart-felt desire that the Feds investigate this problem. We hope they investigate all the news channels, but let's just start with Fox.
On the other hand, so what? So what if Murdoch, News Corporation and Fox News want to play games with the numbers. It allows them to boast but then that’s what bullies do. It’s all unethical, yes. It’s a pack of lies, yes, that’s true. But, outside of defaulting on its claim of being a trusted news source, is it a crime?
Well, perhaps. 
The ratings are not only used to determine what to charge advertisers, they are also used in annual shareholder reports. False claims would be giving an unrealistic, deceptive picture of the company, amounting to fraud. According to News Corp’s 2011 annual report:
At FOX News, for example, Roger Ailes and his team have built television’s undisputed news leader – not just in cable network news, but in all television news. Later this calendar year, FOX News will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary, and I couldn’t be more pleased with its success. Over at the FOX Business Network our ratings are improving – and at certain times of the day we’re head to head with CNBC, and sometimes beating them.
When back in July 2002 then-president George W. Bush signed the Corporate Corruption Bill- which was supposed to make inflated claims to shareholders illegalhe told reporters:
This law says to every dishonest corporate leader: you will be exposed and punished; the era of low standards and false profits is over; no boardroom in America is above or beyond the law.

This law says to shareholders that the financial information you receive from a company will be true and reliable, for those who deliberately sign their names to deception will be punished
Still, given all we have seen from that pair, you can’t help wondering if Rupert Murdoch was standing over his shoulder when Bush was signing the bill.

Sinclair and the Monopoly of Self-Expression
Actually, there’s nothing all that new about the decline of the news media. Its the scale involved and the damage that this kind of yellow journalism causes that puts Murdoch in a league of his own.
The phrase “yellow journalism” was once attached to the media mogul William Randolph Hearst, a man that Rupert Murdoch in many ways resembles. For example, Hearst used his media power to promote the Spanish-American war, following the mysterious sinking of the battleship Maine. Murdoch banged the drums for the invasion of Iraq following the mysterious 9-11 attacks. And Murdoch with a vast media empire banged those war drums so incessantly that they managed to drown out the more prudent voices of restraint.
A year-long study by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) reported that Americans who relied on the Fox News Channel for their coverage of the Iraq war were the most likely to believe misinformation about the war, whatever their political affiliation may be. Those mistaken facts, the study found, increased viewers' support for the war.
According to Congressional Research Service, the approximate cost of the Spanish- American War in adjusted figures : $9,034 million and that lasted one year. Iraq invasion and occupation? $784 billion and eight years. 
As a term, “Yellow journalism” was coined during the epic battle between newspapermen, Joseph Pulitzer and Hearst. It was generally used to describe the kind of sensational - possibly imagined- story that was designed to attract readers regardless of the ethical questions. Today it is more widely used to refer to unprofessional or unethical reporting. One of Hearst harshest critiques came from the same author who had previously described the horrific conditions in the meat packing industry at that time. 

Upton Sinclair
Back in 1919, author Upton Sinclair wrote The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism, an expose which revealed the dangers of media monopolies. He criticized ultra-conservative papers, especially the Hearst and AP, which he claimed, conspired against the working class for the sake of their narrow political or business interests. 

He charged employees of Hearst newspapers with being “willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war." For newspaper writers, the word “socialism” was forbidden or, if mentioned, could never be portrayed in a positive light.

Sinclair’s words sound hauntingly true today.He wrote: 
Every day the chasm between the classes in America grows wider; every day the class struggle grows more intense. Both sides become more conscious, more determined--and so the dishonesty of American Journalism becomes more deliberate, more systematic. And what is to be done? It must be evident to any sensible man that the conditions portrayed in this book are intolerable. Mankind will not consent to be lied to indefinitely.
Today the problem is much the same.
Aggressive and uncalled-for brutality by police goes largely unreported (at least, until the journalists themselves become victims) for the sake of trivial and largely manufactured news about celebrities. The reporting on the Occupy movement was nothing short of an indictment of the mainstream media which did all in their power to ignore or to minimize its legitimacy. As far as Fox News, their slanders about the president or his family are practically a daily ritual. All without any regard for accuracy. 
We see so-called journalists like James O’Keefe or  Andy Breitbart making sensational and false claims without the slightest twinge of conscience. And when their claims are proven incorrect or highly exaggerated, they have already moved on to the next commotion. Hysterical Lies about rapist protesters (totally fabricated).  The lies on Fox News are too numerous to list and there is apparently no means of holding any of them to account. They are free to slander and libel at will. 
The difference is that today the world's resources are in the hands of a class, and this class has a monopoly of self-expression.
Sinclair also gave this warning if the trends continue and it is a warning that applies as much today.
I personally am not calling for violent revolution; I still hope for the survival of the American system of government. But I point out to the owners and managers of our great capitalist news-organs the peril in which they place themselves, by their system of organized lying about the radical movement. It is not only the fury of resentment they awaken in the hearts of class-conscious workingmen and women; it is the condition of unstable equilibrium which they set up in society, by the mass of truth they suppress.
If newspapers are in now decline and journalists on both sides of the political spectrum are held in low-esteem by so many, then they have only themselves to blame. They have chosen profit over all else. 
As soon as journalism became a commodity to trade, then truth itself was up for sale and ratings became simply the measure of what anyone would have to pay to own it .
Media Matters  has lately become a Fox News target,  And I've been wondering what exactly it's all been about. Today I found it. MM has a book coming out which promises to be close scrutiny of the goings-on over at Murdoch's news channel. 
From tracing the career of Fox News founder Roger Ailes as he learned to manipulate racial politics while working on the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush, to visiting a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean where a senior Fox News executive admitted to telling Fox News viewers that Barack Obama was a socialist even though he did not believe the charge to be true, The Fox Effect dismantles once and for all the notion that there’s any genuine meaning behind the network’s “fair & balanced” slogan.

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