Sunday, August 16, 2015

EDITORIAL: Progressives Must Make Our Own Media

The “mainstream” media lost another progressive populist voice at the end of July when Ed Schultz was cut loose from MSNBC.

MSNBC had the excuse of low ratings as it got rid of Schultz, along with other daytime hosts. His show, which aired at 5 p.m. Eastern and 4 p.m. Central time, was rated as having just 25,000 viewers in the prized 25-54 demo in May, one-tenth of Fox News’ The Five, which had 245,000 and a quarter of the 95,000 who viewed CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Schultz’s total audience was 372,000. Rachel Maddow has MSNBC’s highest-rated show, with 147,000 in the 25-54 demo and 621,000 overall.

But in the eyes of MSNBC’s conservative owners at Comcast, Schultz was extra expendable because of his focus on blue-collar economic issues. He frequently featured Sen. Bernie Sanders and other populist legislators and labor leaders, and Schultz was virtually the only corporate TV host who tried to break the corporate media silence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell might continue to cover progressive social issues, but they usually keep clear of economic issues that would rile the corporate overlords at Comcast.

As of May 10, when Congress was preparing to vote on whether to grant President Obama “fast track” authority to finalize terms of the massive “free trade” deal, Schultz was the only major cable TV host who had consistently covered the secret negotiations and aired progressive activists’ fears that the deal would lead to lower labor, health and environmental standards.

From Aug. 1, 2013, to May 10, 2015, Media Matters reported, MSNBC mentioned the trade negotiations in 124 evening and primetime segments, with 103 of those mentions coming during The Ed Show. Fox News trailed far behind with just 12 mentions of the TPP during the same period, with 10 of those mentions since Feb. 1, 2015. CNN registered only 2 mentions of the trade negotiations.

Media Matters also found that ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC’s Nightly News completely ignored the trade negotiations and related policy debates from Aug. 1, 2013, through May 10, 2015. Only PBS’s NewsHour devoted substantive coverage to the TPP, with 14 segments.

The network news media also have been largely ignoring the “net neutrality” issue at the Federal Communications Commission.

Broadcast news ignored an appeals court ruling Jan. 14, 2014, that struck down federal net neutrality rules that had prevented Internet providers from blocking access to services, throttling Internet speeds or forcing one service to be prioritized over another.

The broadcast news shows also ignored an FCC announcement on April 23, 2014, of plans to propose new rules to allow companies to pay internet providers to speed up customers’ access to their websites. As the Washington Post reported, the proposal “could give high-speed Internet providers more power on what content moves the fastest on the Web based on which firms pay the most.” That proposal later was sidelined as Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler embraced net neutrality.

Emily Arrowood of Media Matters noted that all three networks have a conflict of interest, as NBC is owned by Comcast Corporation, which bills itself as the nation’s largest high-speed Internet provider and is leading the lawsuit challenging net neutrality; CBS Corp. also owns multiple sports networks and Showtime; while ABC is part of The Walt Disney Company empire, also the owner of ESPN.

“This is a huge conflict of interest for the broadcast news channels, as their parent corporations all have a vested interest in striking down net neutrality laws and promoting their own content at the expense of competitors that lack an advantage in size or Internet service,” Arrowood wrote.

When President Obama on Nov. 10, 2014, issued a statement asking the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality,” ABC World News Tonight did not cover the story. CBS and NBC reported on the announcement, and NBC disclosed that service providers like its parent company Comcast would be affected by the policy.

After the FCC Feb. 26 passed net neutrality rules that satisfied the appeals court’s objections by declaring that Internet service providers were common carriers and thus could be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, Fox News attacked the new rules as a government “power grab” that will result in consumers having slower Internet service.

In fact, the public overwhelmingly supports net neutrality, as the FCC received a record 3.7 million comments on the topic and fewer than 1% of the first 800,000 public comments were opposed to the net neutrality enforcement. Tech experts have called net neutrality the guiding principle that made the Internet successful and the new rules promote competition, allowing Google Fiber and municipalities to install broadband fibers to compete with monopolistic telecoms, such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable (which the Obama Administration prevented from merging).

The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments Dec. 4 in the lawsuit challenging the FCC’s Open Internet order. Republicans in Congress also are trying to put a rider on the appropriations bill that undermines the FCC’s authority to regulate the Internet. Failing those, a Republican administration in 2017 could reverse the FCC action that classified ISPs as common carriers and let the monopolists run riot.

D.R. Tucker noted at Aug. 9 that 44 years ago, on Aug. 23, 1971, Lewis Powell, then a prominent Virginia attorney, soon to be a Supreme Court justice, wrote a memo to the US Chamber of Commerce that served as the foundation for what David Brock later called the “Republican Noise Machine.”

Among other things, Powell urged the financing of a right-wing media apparatus to counteract the perceived influence of progressive voices such as Ralph Nader.

Roger Ailes found a billionaire in Rupert Murdoch who was willing to invest a fortune in creating the Fox News channel in 1996 and building it into the top-rated cable news channel that surpassed CNN in January 2002.

Right wingers also have a commanding position in talk radio, with hundreds of conservative talk stations, while liberal talkers have only a few dozen outlets.

Fox News has become the mouthpiece of the Republican Party and the bearer of conservative talking points. With the collapse of MSNBC and its repositioning as a general news channel to compete with CNN, there is a big hole in corporate media’s coverage of working-class issues.

Free Speech TV offers such progressive hosts as Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann and Amy Goodman with Democracy Now! to cable subscribers on DirecTV, Dish TV, Roku and online at, with highlights posted on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.

MSNBC didn’t keep Schultz on as a correspondent on blue-collar issues, but Schultz still produces a daily podcast that you can find at or download on apps such as iTunes or RSSRadio so you can listen to him and other progressive journalists and commentators on your iPhone or other “wifi” devices.

Of course, we’ll keep publishing our newspaper and there are still a hardy few other progressive periodicals that also continue to pitch in the old-fashioned way for readers who like a hard copy. We appreciate it when you recommend us to your friends—and recommend your friends to us to get a sample copy. But, particularly for the younger generation, the action is on the Internet, and it is increasingly important that progressive readers fight the vested interests who want to do away with net neutrality. Liberal and populist voices need to get the word out without having to worry about corporate gatekeepers.

And don’t forget to like us on Facebook. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2015

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