November 16, 2004
Off the Charts: Sinclair Broadcast Group's Political Vision
"Sinclair got here by flying under the radar, the preferred method of winning regulatory relief. But that phase is clearly over. Some might say the system worked: Sinclair got the message, and retreated. I say the system jerked, and Sinclair realized how little there is to stop it."
This originally appeared Oct. 28, 2004 at TomDispatch.com, a site I recommend because it is edited by Tom Engelhardt, a former senior editor at Pantheon Books and a shrewd man with a pencil. The essay also ran at Mother Jones, at Alternet, and Lew Rockwell. I revised and added to it, to take account of events since the election. This is the sixth piece I wrote about Sinclair, and it attempts to summarize how I view the company and the controversy it caused just before the 2004 election.
On October 7th I was interviewed by Elizabeth Jensen, a media-beat reporter for the Los Angeles Times, who sometimes calls me for expert commentary. She had some news and wanted to get my reaction, but my first reaction was disbelief. My second reaction was: “This is going to be huge.” Yet what she described sounded so improbable. (And in fact part of the story is it never came to pass.)
She said that on all 62 stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, at different times, on different nights, but close to the election—“like within ten days”—Sinclair was going to interrupt the prime-time programming offered by different networks in different cities where it owns affiliates, and put on the air Stolen Honor, an anti-Kerry documentary—agitprop, as it used to be called—featuring former POWs in Vietnam who, in essence, charge John Kerry with treason for his anti-war efforts. And they were doing all this because….?
It didn’t make any sense. You couldn’t complete the because. “That’s an amazing story you have,” I told her. Then she swore me to secrecy until her account ran, which is standard practice.
What Sinclair was planning to do didn’t make sense within any known model for operating a company that owns local television stations under U.S. law. Customary practice had always precluded a political intervention of any kind near the finish line of an election. Ultimately behind this custom was not some grand sense of the public interest shared among civic-minded station owners, but a cold realism about electoral politics. Start interfering in the horse race by backing the wrong horse and regulators from the hostile party are likely to make you pay if their guy wins.
In addition, contested elections divide markets; advertisers don’t enjoy that. They pay the bills. Hello? Kerry voters buy cars and corn flakes, and they watch television. Advertisers don’t want to choose between customer groups, and they don’t want you, their community broadcaster, choosing, either. They don’t want to be making political statements with their ad buys. Why would they?
Across the aisle, so to speak, shareholders haven’t factored the costs of your political statement-making into the share price yet. Do you want them to do so now? These are known facts in the business. By violating them Sinclair let it be known that it was in a different business.
In Search of Sinclair Logic
For all those reasons—commonsensical, “good business” reasons—plus a little matter of Federal law called the Fairness Doctrine, in force until recently, station owners have held back from any action that would seem to be aiding or attacking a candidate. And the closer to the election, the more cautious they have been. “Ordering stations to carry propaganda? It’s absolutely off the charts,” said former Federal Communications Commission chairman Reed Hundt, who served under Clinton.
These would be charts that ships of both parties once sailed. Bob Zelnick, ex-Pentagon correspondent for ABC News, is now chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University and “a self-described conservative who says he intends to vote for President Bush.” Zelnick, who on other occasions might be defending a company like Sinclair, told Salon’s Eric Boehlert, “Whether you’re liberal or conservative, if you have roots in the journalism profession, there are core values that transcend and need to survive election to election. You avoid airing, very close to election, highly charged, partisan material that takes the guise of a documentary.”
Sinclair was not only breaking with bi-partisan broadcast custom, it was smashing idols (“core values”) by threatening to show a 42-minute film, Stolen Honor, which by any measure was “highly charged, partisan material.” (Script here, review here.) The interesting part to me was: Why risk it? Acquiring Stolen Honor with the intention of using it must have fit into Sinclair’s vision of itself somehow, but how?
So I went in search of Sinclair logic. (As a journo-blogger, I mean.) This was a company I knew a little about from an earlier episode, equally strange and compelling in its way. Last April, Ted Koppel decided to read the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq on a Nightline. It was called “The Fallen.” Sinclair sent a clear message: no way, Ted. We won’t permit it on the eight ABC stations we own. (See PressThink on it.)
Koppel said it was the first time anything like that had happened to Nightline. (A true statement, I believe.) In an open letter to Sinclair executives, Senator John McCain denounced the company for refusing to air the program. Sinclair’s CEO David Smith wrote a response giving no ground whatsoever.
Notice how his letter instantly politicizes and historicizes the situation, including the “everyone knows” tone that only the ideologically committed have with contentious facts. He is totally comfortable on that turf. This is key. It isn’t normal for local station owners who are network affiliates to speak like this. But in culture war it is of course completely normal. It’s simple, Smith said…
Nightline is not reporting news; it is doing nothing more than making a political statement. In simply reading the names of our fallen heroes, this program has adopted a strategy employed by numerous anti-war demonstrators who wish to focus attention solely on the cost of war. In fact, lest there be any doubt about Nightline’s motivation, both Mr. Koppel and Nightline’s executive producer have acknowledged that tonight’s episode was influenced by the Life Magazine article listing the names of dead soldiers in Vietnam, which article was widely credited with furthering the opposition to the Vietnam war and with creating a backlash of public opinion against the members of the U.S. military who had proudly served in that conflict…
And “The Fallen” went unseen in Sinclair cities. Now, this was not normal practice when it came to a controversial broadcast by a network news division. ABC and Ted Koppel would normally be held responsible for the content of Nightline— not Sinclair Broadcasting. The owner of a local station would not endorse “The Fallen” simply by distributing the regular ABC schedule. An affiliate could “stay out of it” simply by referring questions and complaints to ABC News. The producer of the program is the one who takes the editorial risk; that’s good business, good journalism, and common sense.
But Sinclair had other ideas. It had no desire to stay out of the politics of “The Fallen.” It wanted in, because this was a doorway to a new business model: the political broadcaster. And so its executives went out of their way to create controversy from the Koppel show, especially when they accused ABC News of disloyalty to the American cause. “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq,” Sinclair insisted in a statement posted on its website during that week in April.
It may not have been clear to me then where Sinclair was going, but after Elizabeth Jensen’s phone call, I realized that the anomalies were beginning to mount: Sinclair was taking actions not normal for a commercial broadcaster because it was not a normal broadcaster at all. It had political ambitions new to our mainstream media, including an urge to speak out publicly and involve itself as a company in controversy. The more carefully you examined its moves, the clearer and more self-conscious the political design was.
Take the 62 stations it either owns or controls in 39 markets, reaching at least one quarter of the country, including 8-9 swing states in the current election. Take its amazing record of success in pushing beyond the old limits on ownership that once prevented a company like Sinclair from controlling more than a handful of television stations. Or take its plan to keep growing by accumulating more properties (TV, radio, and — it hopes — newspapers) in markets where it already owns one or two TV stations.
Take its vision of a new kind of national news service, NewsCentral, controlled from Sinclair headquarters, embedded in local news hours around America, and more aggressive than Fox News Channel in “correcting” for liberal bias. Finally, take the editorial voice in which Sinclair broadcasts its views to the nation— that of Mark Hyman, Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Sinclair—a lobbyist—and the sole proprietor of a commentary slot called “The Point,” a few minutes of air time created just for him to rant from the Right on all Sinclair stations in all 39 markets, an arrangement so unusual that Hyman literally has no peer in America. No one else has a job even remotely like his.
In these ways, and others earlier described during my search, Sinclair revealed its intentions: to become the broadcast network that ur-conservative candidate Barry Goldwater never had. I say that because Sinclair was constructed not on a normal business model, but on a mountain of debt placed on a bet that a company of its size would be allowed to exist in the political environment that was then unfolding. But then the whole gamble was it’s not just unfolding, you can push the regulators on the “de” part. And while this would normally be done through lobbying, donations and political influence behind the scenes, Sinclair’s more aggressive style had spawned a more aggressive politics. Way more public.
Here, then, is part of a typical Mark Hyman on-air commentary in which the role of the decadent, corrupt liberal elite is played by Hollywood celebrities who involve themselves in politics. It’s a Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity message with the usual “hot” language and stark imagery, but this time the speaker is a media executive. So the head lobbyist and spokesman is of himself an ideological figure in the Sinclair way:
Did the postal carrier argue that you need to pay even more in taxes? Common, everyday workers don’t lobby you on issues of the day. But Hollywood celebrities and other entertainers believe it’s their job to tell you how to vote.
Consider that many famous celebrities live lifestyles exceeding that of royalty. They live in gated homes, sometimes with security guards. Their children attend high-priced expensive schools. They eat in restaurants that don’t admit average diners like you and me. They drive or are driven in luxury cars.
Often they are on their third, fourth or fifth marriage or relationship. Or both at the same time. Illegal drug use and alcohol abuse are common. They use their status to get free travel, hotel rooms, food and entertainment. They throw public fits if they don’t get special privileges….
A Political Empire Made of Television Stations
Sinclair, I came to see, wasn’t a normal media conglomerate in the making, not even in the Rupert Murdoch mold with forays into right-wing politics. It was a kind of political force accumulating broadcast assets, intending to use them at strategic moments in order to keep growing, yes, but also to swell in influence, reputation, “voice.” Between the last election and this one, Sinclair had developed the capacity to intervene in politics using its 62 local stations as loudspeakers for a message synthesized at the center.
That’s what “The Point” starring Hyman is: a demonstration of Sinclair’s power to speak out nationally and from deep within the cultural resentments of the Right. And that’s the same Mark Hyman who then deals with government regulators and agencies, trying to get the best deal for Sinclair, a company that has a history of constantly pushing the regulatory envelope. It owes its whole existence to the politics of deregulation, which must be pushed ever harder to provide Sinclair with the opportunities it wants. As Barry M. Faber, Sinclair’s general counsel, told the Washington Post, “we are a deregulation company.” That puts it very well.
How much extra power does Hyman have in negotiations with politicians and regulators by virtue of being on the air and ranting every day, or by virtue of his perceived influence at NewsCentral? I don’t know the answer. But I think Sinclair is organized to find that answer out and apply it with force. Thought of another way, Sinclair is basically a political empire made of television stations, the first of its kind in our country. That empire acted once with “The Fallen,” then again with the threat of airing Stolen Honor. It tried to use the film to pressure Kerry onto the air for a one-hour program where he would have had to confront the POW’s charges of treason ten days before the vote.
As it turned out, the ploy was far-fetched and it didn’t work, but if everything had fallen the right way, Sinclair would have delivered a second Vietnam groin-kick—the first being the ads from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth—to Kerry, thus knocking down his numbers at just the right time to turn the election’s outcome. Not only would the company have cashed in and gotten the regulatory relief it wanted during a second Bush term, but it could have started to cast a bigger shadow politically and with its news operation. Simple example: the Bush team sends a message down the line: When you’re stiffing the rest of the press, remember to feed NewsCentral and strengthen Sinclair.
“Off the charts,” former FCC‘er Reed Hundt said about the Stolen Honor scheme. And he was, of course right; if we stand here in November 2004, looking back at the era of broadcast regulation — the one we grew up with. But those charts are no longer valid; they don’t actually tell us where we are. This is what Sinclair, a nouveau media company, is saying to us loud and clear: Turn around and look ahead to where that speeding train, deregulation, is going! It’s been happening for 15 years, in Democratic and Republican administrations. Changes in law, public policy, technology, and the media industry have made possible a new kind of media enterprise: the imperial political broadcaster that involves itself in public fights as a way of showing others what it stands for, what it’s willing to do, and what kind of muscle it has.
Unlike a traditional broadcaster, Sinclair didn’t want to stay out of the election. It wanted in, and that’s how the whole Stolen Honor episode began. But it miscalculated wildly on what the consequences would be when its plans became known. Sinclair wanted to intervene in the election by jockeying with Kerry and publicizing the POW charges; it was willing to be bold. But imagination and the will to be outrageous failed the company at the critical moment. It was not quite bold enough to say: we have a First Amendment right to intervene (which may in fact be true), and to air a propaganda film in the final stretch of the campaign — and if we decide to do that, we damn well can. Sinclair wasn’t willing to be that up front. The path it took instead was to label the Stolen Honor documentary “news” rather than call it “politics” or “commentary.” News a decadent elite would not allow through to America.
As the New York Times reported: “Mark Hyman, Sinclair’s vice president for corporate relations, who doubles as a conservative commentator on its news stations, said the film would be shown because Sinclair deemed it newsworthy.” Here is Hyman with a sympathetic Brit Hume of Fox News. Hyman is trying to suggest that Sinclair had no choice but to seek a forum for the POWs to air their allegations. After all, he claimed, it can’t determine when news is going to break, can it?
HUME: So what is your response to the allegation that this is basically a political smear, 30 days or less before the election?
HYMAN: Well, we can’t dictate the fact that these folks were Vietnam POWs, that they finally broke 31 years of silence on the topic they feel is important to them. They recently came forward. We understand from the filmmakers that they approached the broadcast networks about a month ago, and asked to have an audience, if you will, and were turned down flatly.
So when it became available to us, we spent a few weeks vetting their stories to make sure these people were exactly who they were, make sure there were no forged documents in this process. And then we said look, the story is legitimate. They’ve made some allegations, and they need to be aired. Because frankly, up until two days ago, most people in America have never heard of these people because the news gatekeepers have not addressed their topics.
Disappointing the Soldiers of the Right
When news got out about Stolen Honor, and Kerry wouldn’t play ball, political opposition to Sinclair crystallized overnight — including pressure on advertisers to cease doing business with a company that would intervene in politics that way. The company’s stock price went into a free fall. Democrats in Congress reacted furiously. Wall Street professionals sounded worried. Press attention was almost totally negative. Sinclair had created a storm, deliberately it seems, but like a beginning surfer it didn’t know how to ride the wave and get swept somewhere new.
At the climactic moment, when it had to decide what to put on the air, it did not do what its constituency on the cultural Right was hotly expecting. It did not broadcast Stolen Honor during the election’s final days, or get Kerry under its studio lights. The disappointment to the soldiers of the Right was palpable. At last, they had thought, the party of Barry Goldwater has its own television network.
They were shocked by the final program: “A POW Story,” which aired Oct 22nd. It had only a few minutes from Stolen Honor, offset by a few minutes from Going Upriver, a pro-Kerry agitprop film. The POWs spoke. But other Vietnam Vets spoke about the integrity of Kerry’s anti-war stance. (Ratings were low too.)
In a clumsy and improvised way, Sinclair retreated to a “balanced” presentation, because it did not know what else to do in a messy political jam. The very charts it went off by hatching its scheme it was back on by episode’s end. The Baltimore Sun’s television critic David Zurawik had a shrewd assessment of what eventually aired — a mediocre program that in no way justified the risk of market meltdown or the cost in reputation that Sinclair had paid since the news about Stolen Honor broke. “The show seemed more an attempt by Sinclair to dig its way out of controversy than an examination of the Vietnam War record and anti-war protests of Democrat John Kerry, as promised,” wrote Zurawik.
In an opening statement, anchorman Jeff Barnd tried to cast Sinclair as a victim of those who would deny the broadcast company basic First Amendment rights. “It boils down to a fight over the First Amendment,” Barnd said. “Some people are trying to suppress the rights of free speech.”
He attempted to create the sense that Democrats in Congress, Kerry’s campaign attorneys and others in government were trying to keep Sinclair from airing the show — all part of what Barnd called “spin alley.”
So Sinclair ultimately backed down. But it did manage to portray itself as a victimized free speaker whose rights were being threatened. (And just before the election, a conservative media group, NewsMax, bought infomercial time on the Pax broadcast network to show the entire movie.) Sinclair, the empire that makes politicized television, locally distributed, centrally controlled — that creature remains intact. It will be one of the media companies to watch during the second Bush administration, because it needs to get bigger and it lives off the momentum of continued deregulation.
It also thrives in an atmosphere of culture war. Indeed, after the election, David Smith said the controversy about Stolen Honor had been good for the company. “The thing that has really gone unnoticed by most is the promotional value we’ve received … which is probably worth tens of millions of dollars,” he boasted.
The company began its expansion in 1991 and has been on a steady rise ever since. Eight years of Clinton and four years of Bush are responsible for the Sinclair we have now— a “deregulation company,” as its counsel says. Despite its recent defeat, Sinclair is still an off-the-charts firm. To account for its presence we need new charts. Trust me, those of you who follow politics. You are going to hear from Sinclair again.
With Bush as President, the company will continue to grow as the rules continue to fall. Sinclair got here by flying under the radar, the preferred method of winning regulatory “relief.” But that phase is clearly over. (See this action.) Some might say the system worked: Sinclair got the message, and retreated. I say the system jerked, and Sinclair realized how little there is to stop it.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
PressThink’s earlier Sinclair coverage:
Sinclair Goes to Air Friday Night: Notes and Comment on “A POW Story”
Sinclair wanted to play Mike Wallace. It imagined grilling Kerry about his actions against the war. The goal was never to air Stolen Honor, though the furor has been about Stolen Honor. The play they were making was: Get Kerry on video so we can edit his words (and splice in the POWs). Friday’s show will be a much diluted version of that idea. (Oct. 21)
“Call it Commentary, Call it Editorial, Call it Programming, but Don’t Call it News.” Sinclair Fires Jonathan Leiberman By interfering from above (‘you will interrupt your schedule, you will run this program, you will call it news…’), and by coloring the news to match the Right’s view of the world, Sinclair hopes to flush out employees who cannot get with its agenda. “All liberals leave” is the message. (Oct. 19)
Sinclair Broadcast Group: What Are They Doing in the Middle of Our Election? “What Mark Hyman has been saying to the point of braying it is— let’s negotiate. John Kerry can keep Stolen Honor off the air by replacing it with himself. Sinclair has no other invitations out. So I say send Mike McCurry and Richard Holbrooke to Baltimore. They negotiate. Five minutes of film, 55 minutes of Kerry answering questions sounds about right to me…” (Oct. 16)
Agnew with TV Stations: Sinclair Broadcasting Takes On John Kerry and The Liberal Media. “In a commercial empire it makes no sense to invite a storm like Stolen Honor. But imagine a firm built for that sort of storm. Is Sinclair Broadcasting a media company with a political interest, or a political interest that’s gotten hold of a media company and intends to use it? There are plenty of signs that a different animal is emerging.” (Oct. 13)
John Kerry Should Accept Sinclair Broadcasting’s Offer. “A final confrontation with the Right. Isn’t that what the Right wants too? A chance, indeed, to clear the air about Vietnam, and a lot of other things. Will America watch? America will watch. And if he can’t win that broadcast, he does not deserve to win the prize.” (Oct. 9)
Posted by Jay Rosen at November 16, 2004 12:49 AM
In a first class investigation there are no leaks.
You mean like Abu Ghraib, where classified information leaked by a relative of one of the defendants resulted in roughly 160 stories (from memory) in the New York Times, almost none of which explained that the event and investigation had been reported to the press by the military months in advance, or that they all took place on one day. And of course the whole thing was during the election campaign. I suppose the defenders of the MSM will say that all of those stories (over half front page above the fold) were of vital importance to the citizenry and media ABB politics had nothing to do with it.
Furthermore, Rathergate is just one of many examples of how the MSM violates the supposed customs. CBS planned to air the missing explosives story on 60 minutes less than 48 hours before the election. 60 minutes in general is full of agitprop - the whole style is not that of journalism but of advocacy. But apparently, the MSM considers it a news show. What a joke!
I gave up on Nightline some years ago because it was no longer interesting, focusing solely on leftist topics - typically Kulture Kampf when nothing big was going on. When a show does something on the race problem every week or so, you know they have either totally lost their imagination or are trying to push something. Same for various other culture war topics.
It seems like you would like the "Fairness Doctrine" to return. Democrats, in fear of Rush Limbaugh, have tried to force that. Another word for it is the Oligopoly Doctrine, where those who can talk just happen to be the liberal MSM who can hide their opinions in their "reporting."
The "Fairness Doctrine" sounds so good. Goebbels would have been proud. But it is a form of censorship.
This year's campaign was remarkable for the amount of vilification and lies told about our nation's veterans, including the POWs. To defend Kerry, the MSM had to re-assert some of his eggregious lies. There were even some stories trying to resurrect his unforgivable atrocities allegations.
Sinclair ultimately fell to an amazing campaign of intimidation. Well, that's the leftist way these days - if you can't persuade, intimidate.
By the way, there's a new scandal brewing which the press can use while still pretending to support our troops. A young marine shot an unarmed, wounded insurgent in a Fallujah Mosque, and it's all on video.
Let's see how much trashing of the overall war effort comes from that action.
Your discussion of the Sinclair politico-media complex effectively captures how Sinclair is a deregulation junkie campaigning for another government handout WITH ANTI-LIBERAL, ANTI-GOVERNMENT RHETORIC. You point to an incestuous connection between politics and ideology that is often overlooked.
Your point supports similar observations by Barbara Ehrenreich in her Nov. 12th piece, The Faith Factor.
Ehrenreich notes that the very private church groups mobilizing to starve the government beast in the name of conservative values are 1) building their own political empire based on the welfare church taking over for the very welfare state they are actively destroying, and 2) campaigning for diversion of these very same government monies into their own pockets.
The anti-government rhetoric of wannabe neo-liberal/neo-conservatives is belied by their pigs at the trough behavior at every turn.
Your article contributes to exposing anti-government neo-liberal smokescreens as the scams they are: Republicanization, corporatization, and fundamentalization of government services don't release us from government tyranny. They replace it with EVEN LESS ACCOUNTABLE party, corporate, and religious tyranny. For Republicans, freedom for "the people" means freedom for boardroom and stockholder pillaging and members of my church and to hell with the rest. Reducing state power does not bring the hog of corporate and church tyranny in the private sector any closer to freedom no matter how much lipstick you smear on it.
Our wingnut friends can spin this to their heart's content, but defending corporate tyranny is a one-way road to serfdom. We have a lot of masochists on the right who celebrate their corporate oppression by cultivating an exquisite and bittersweet pain of victimization at the hands of imaginary liberals.
Ooh, it hurts so good! Jay, you have to realize you are interfering with their pleasure. Are you ready to take on that responsibility? If they tell us that hurts, should we sympathize or simply congratulate them?
One more time because I know I'm going to get Hayekian nonsense replies: Deregulation CREATES tyranny.
What is the meaning of deregulation? Cartel and duopoly. What is the meaning of cartel and duopoly? Private tyranny. Deregulation is the PROBLEM, not the solution.
Is 60 minutes a news program? If so, what standards should it follow.
Same question for nightline.
Should they be able to have a consistent bias in their show for decades? Should they be able to consistently shill for one party, one set of policies, and one set of presidential candidates?
Doesn't that make their networks the same as Sinclair, except more effective and profitable?
Your Sinclair related argument about divided markets now applies to them. I don't watch 60 minutes (except the Sunday before the election) and Nightline is far less interesting than Jay Leno. Those "news" shows, and the related news operations, have made me go away by their bias. I occasionally watch a random network evening news, the same way I used to occasionally tune in Radio Moscow, just to see if they are still full of crap. They are.
By your logic, the MSM TV News outfits should be scrambling towards the middle to regain viewers. Why don't they? Viewership studies show they are losing market share, which directly translates into bucks. I suggest the same answer applies to Sinclair.
Dennis, nobody is talking about why we went to war.
BF - Deregulation would be a real problem if the choices of information were reduced to two.
But in the real world, that doesn't happen. You have several broadcast networks, several cable news networks, a whole bunch of radio networks which a station can drop in and out of at their will (we never knew how many affiliates we had for a particular show - we just knew it was around 100).
Then you have the internet, with a huge number of sources.
I agree that we should keep an eye on ownership limits, because too many stations in a market owned by a single entity reduce diversity. In theory (we'll see if it happens), an entitity with a number of stations in an area can increase diversity in AM and FM radio, because those stations don't need to compete with each other - all with the same format. I haven't seen that happen in practice.
At least with radio, we have diversity of news and news analysis - compared to TV. Or more accurately, opposed to TV, since the only left wing radio outlet here in Phoenix is, of course, government-supported NPR. And those clowns don't even play classical music or I'd listen to them.
WSJ, Fox and a whole bunch of US and international internet sites (many of which are internet sites of various MSM). Blogs (Iraqi blogs and milblogs are useful regarding Iraq issues).
As for objective sources, some Fox stuff (Britt Hume) is not bad (except for the suppression of China news), and Hannity and Colmes, by its format, lets out the talking points from both sides of whatever issue. WSJ is interesting because of its conservative editorial page but nor conservative reporting. Local paper for local stuff (internet version). NYT (with full understanding of its taint). In the case of the swiftboat controversy, direct contact with the SBVT membership. WAPO.
When it comes to an issue of interest, I may do more. As a Vietnam Veteran, I had a big beef with Kerry. I dug up all sorts of information by properly interpreting the reduced set of documentation he provided. As I said, I was in contact with SBVT people. There were various books available (Stolen Valor was a good one, although Kerry was a tiny part of it).
On the national guard issue, my experience as a Naval Reserve aviator helped me sort out the nonsense that the press tended to focus on from the important issues. The death of my best friend as a National Guard fighter pilot when Bush was flying added some emotion to my responses to the charges that Bush was a coward.
When it came to Kerry's photo hanging in the hall for those foreigners who helped the communist Vietnamese win, we had a person in Ho Chi Minh City, taking photos under our direction. We had undercover Vietnamese validating that. So that's another little bit of news that was a result of direct action, not MSM.
But a lot of information can be gleaned from the MSM. The problem is detecting what is not being told (Kerry's less-than-honorable discharge, his refusal to release all his records, the danger the Bush encountered in his ANG duty, and who know what else). Sifting the truth from what is being told is never completely possible, which is why the Big Lie technique is so successful.
Some cases of bias are obvious to anyone with common sense. The press' treatment of Bush's National Guard service, compared to their failure to dig into Kerry's service was blatantly obvious, especially if you knew that Kerry was suppressing records (about 100 pages) and the investigative press wasn't - in that case. Likewise, the creation of a huge national guard issue in 2004 when it had been explored at a less frenetic level in 2000 was a clear example of favoritism. Got back to 1992, and you had a true war hero (who went back to his ship when they sent him home, and the only pilot I know of who has been depth charged) running against a man who dodged the draft by lying, and the press didn't seem all that interested in military records.
Let me sum it up. It's not hard to get a general picture of what's going on. If you know the biases of the MSM, you can compensate to some extent for some of their propaganda. With the internet, you have ways around the MSM. With Fox, you have a viewpoint that is not that of the standard MSM. Finally, by personal involvement, it is possible to dig up even more. All of this runs the risk of missing something, or trusting someone who has a well hidden agenda. But with the MSM not doing their job, there's little choice.
There is all sorts of learned flapping here and other places about press issue, but the great big one of blatant and offensive (to former listeners) bias is not very popular.
Hence the success of conservative talk radio and Fox.
Thanks for being so forthright about your news sources. Because of your interest in the two "ancient" (hey, I was around then too) armed services stories, I'm going to disregard those special sources for this discussion. OK?
There wasn't granular detail on the internet sources or blogs, but let's say they include "MSM" sources like FT, WSJ, AP/Yahoo wire, WaPo, NYT, the Economist, etc., and blogs like Chris Allbritton's Back to Iraq 3.0, Phil Carter's Intel Dump, Healing Iraq, Today in Iraq, Baghdad Burning, Centcom's sites, maybe Stars & Stripes, Iraq Coalition Casualties, etc. If that is a fair summation, OK - if not, correct me. btw, I didn't see any mention of newsweeklies (Time, Newsweek, USN&WR, etc.) - lo, how far have they fallen? Nor any "serious" mags like National Review, TNR, WaMonthly, The Nation, etc. Nor radio (and from your comment about radio syndication you seem to be from the trade).
As for TV, I only saw Fox (Fox News, not Fox as in the Simpsons, I guess) mentioned - does this mean you don't watch the other networks, both general over-the-air (NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS) and news-oriented cable (CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, etc.)? Or that you watch them, but with a critical eye? (By "critical" I mean weighing the information, not rejecting it outright by source.)
If you'd take a few more moments to respond, then I'll move on to my points about the sources, portions of which may surprise you. I again repeat that this is not a baiting post - I hope you will find the discussion interesting.
My internet sources are not what you list, but my habits there change rapidly. I have to make a living, limiting the number of sources, so they vary day by day.
With TV, I realized I had left off PBS evening news, which is quite good, Also, since I work out of my home, I often leave Fox News on as "video wallpaper." I watch entertainment on the big three networks. I watch their news maybe once a week to get a sampling.
I don't read the weeklies, except when someone points out an on-the-net posting. I do read in paper form NR, TAS, WS, WSJ, The American Enterprise, and Commentary, but of course they have an upfront conservative agenda. I look at TNR when someone tosses out a link. NRO is also a favorite. I am also contributor to The Command Post. At one point we unknowingly subscribed to a Buchananite mag, but it was too stupid and boring.
As far as radio goes I rarely listen. Radio, to me, is for driving, and since I work at home, I don't do much of that. When I do listen, my favorite host is Michael Medved. Sometimes I listen to Rush, but his ignorance of science and his way of dealing with it disappoint me, even as I respect his role in first unleashing conservative ideas on the American public. And yes, I have been involved in radio three ways: FCC First Class broadcast engineer (which dates me right there), syndicated talk show co-host, and software producer for radio broadcast equipment used by just about everyone in the business, world wide.
On Internet, I read Salam Pax when he first appeared - and I wish he would reappear just for entertainment. I used to read Baghdad burning but tired of it - Riverbend ia so incredibly one sided that reading just her would give you the idea that Iraq was a paradise until we invaded, which I suspect it was for her. Iraq the Model and Healing Iraq are favorites. Also some mil-blogs in theatre and out.
Finally, sources include friends and acquaintances, and my personal experiences (which cover a surprisingly wide area, albeit superficially) help with reality checking (as, for example, my evaluation of the Swifties and the National Guard nonsense). For example, my greatest exposure to liberals came when I was state coordinator of radio communications for Hands Across America, and the staff was Mondale campaigners.
Thanks again for your response. It's really a wide-ranging list, and you seem fully aware that some of the sources are writing not news, but viewpoints, and are therefore not to be sourced for unbiased news. Which leaves us to ponder the location of objective news.
The "MSM" you utilize (as opposed to the smaller opinion oriented sources) are almost all in one way or another owned and operated by vertically integrated publicly-owned media conglomerates. (The same is true for the "MSM" you don't use for news.) As such, they owe their allegiance to their stockholders, not to the public at large - and in most cases, that allegiance is tempered by the personality of the controlling stockholders. While the consolidation of ownership is a recent event, this locus of allegiance was always the case (e.g., insert Sarnoff or Paley or Hearst for Murdoch or Redstone or GE); but it was veiled by the status of the broadcast media as a public trust.
As someone with your history in radio, I'm sure you're aware that the govermental regulations regarding balanced news presentation in the over-the-air media come from the original FCC legislation which explicitly noted that broadcasters were using for free a rare resource owned by the public at large and therefore had to be neutral presenters of the news - the fiarness doctrine and the equal time rules were based on that "public interest" mandate. While it could be (and has been) argued that these regulations were mostly honored in the breach, they did form a level-playing-field basis for the media during the mid-century and provided the country with a common information bank for everyone to use. As you know, this is no longer true - and I suggest that one look to see who has benefited from this goverment retrechment, thereby to find the reason it is no longer true, and to ascertain in which direction the "MSM" are biased.
Regarding the printed media, where no such requirements existed, Mencken was right - but we all had (and have) the ability to be our own press owners. While the FBI might have tried to stop I.F. Stone and the Progressive and Krasner, they continued; there were Conservative examples as well, a la America Firsters, etc. But to say that Hearst or Annenberg or Scripps Howard or Whitney or even Sulzberger or Graham were tools of the Left is to boggle the imagination. So, from whence the "Liberal Media" mindset?
The answer lies in the actors decades ago. The withdrawal of the level-playing-field was instituted and pushed through by those who stood to benefit from its destruction. If the "Liberal Media" were in control, that destruction would have lead to an even greater concentration of the "Liberal Media" - but it hasn't. It was a "Conservative Media" in control, with a soupcon of Liberal "fairness" content designed to do two things: pay lipservice to the FCC regs and hide the Conservative bias behind the curtain.
(Note that I am not talking about entertainment content here; that is a completely separate area, and one would do well to remember that the biggest TV indecency fine so far has been levied against News Corp, which also happens to be one of largest - if not the largest - distributors of "adult entertainment" in the US.)
It seems to me that the charge of Liberal bias is based on one fact and one fact only: it is the duty of the media to challenge those in power in the government (after all, scandal's what makes news profitable), and for 28 of 40 years that has been (will be) Conservatives. So, if the media challenge Bush on his presentation of WMD info, or uncover Iran-Contra, or reveal Nixon's illegalities, then the media is ipso facto Liberal biased. But what happens if the media hound Bill Clinton about a failed land deal worth less than Newt's illegal corporate contributions, or bedevil Carter for an aide's improprieties? Oh, how dumb of me, that's the Liberal Media waking up and smelling the roses.
I understand that for you the litmus test is two military stories going back 30+ years; for me, if I have to go back that far, it's Nixon making Annenberg Ambassador to the UK while the press buried Annenberg's mob ties and his income tax indictment; did you ever wonder why Americans outside Philadelphia may never have known about that? Liberal Media, I guess.
In other words, you cite aggressive reporting as bias; it isn't. One dumb mistake by CBS does not prove overall bias, no more than the NYT printing the fantasies of Judith Miller prove it the other way.
btw, I went looking for the Yale media bias study last night. It has been fiercely criticized for its own bias, as you probably know, and it has been pulled off the net by ISPS, which you may not know. I guess that's Liberal bias too.
I see a different source for leftist/liberal bias: the rise of the "professional journalist" and editorial independence. The vertically integrated MSM's have a whole lot more than news to pay attention to. Furthermore, anyone who has spent time high in publically traded companies knows that too often the corporation is run for the managers, not the stockholders. In other words, capitalism breaks down - fiduciary responsibilities are ignored. Part of the stockmarket scandals starting in the '90s involved fiduciaries in various parts of the system taking profit for themselves at the cost of stockholders.
Every once in a while someone throws out the argument that a capitalist company can't engage in anti-capitalist behavior. But in fact companies do that all the time. Media companies have to deal with editorial independence - don't both the prima donnas in the new room or every journalist in the country will raise hell. Those who run big news franchise often feel like the boss, not the servant of the stockholders. In other industries, big companies will support restrictive environmental regulation because it kills of the small companies, increase market share for the big guys. There are all sorts of counter-intuitive things going on in business, including the news business, because they are run by people, sometimes clever people, sometime dumb people, sometimes dishonest people.
Attempting to forecast media bias by looking at ownership only works with known owners like Murdoch.
To see the leftward tilt, one need merely look at this year, not thirty years ago (except for Tet, one of the most eggregious cases). I have given the examples of the relative treatment of Kerry's military past and Bush's. That treatment is not 30 years old - it was this year. Another example is Abu Ghraib. Unless one believes that the media should be very unfairly against the government, Abu Ghraib showed tremendous bias. It fits best with the theory that the media had an Anybody But Bush attitude. There were plenty more examples.
I don't know what heppened to the Yale study. I read it a while back, found the methodology to be novel, clever and somewhat imprecise, and I liked that it had not be done by journalists. I didn't go into depth on the statistical power.
I do not see the duty of the MSM to play gotcha with government. There will always be plenty of screwups to be covered. But Abu Ghraib involved a minor but very graphic screwup, with an already existing investigation, and turned it into the image of the US military for months. That was unnecessary and part of the ABB activity of the MSM. In that case, I suppose you could argue that ABB isn't left wing, and perhaps be right. But it defined the behavior of the MSM this year.
I see selective aggressive reporting as bias - example this year the Bush vs. Kerry military reporting. I hope you will concede that Bush got the wrong end of that stick, over and over and over again. While journalists look at Rathergate, many of us look at the larger pattern and see Rathergate as not even that interesting. Of course Rather would use whatever dropped on his lap to attack Bush. Does anyone doubt that? Does anyone naively believe he would have done the same with Kerry.
Another example I have given before is the Swifties. Jay will vomit at the mention of them (my apologies) but the handling of their first news conference was amazingly poor. Furthermore, the fact that the Swifties became such a force shows that the first news conference should not have been suppressed.
A special situation with the Kerry Vietnam Years disclosures was that I was involved in the process. Hence I could do what engineers call a transfer function measurement of the MSM. Insert known input, observe distorted output, calculate transfer function (distortion).
I also had ties and personal experiences that gave me an inside view of the Bush Air National Guard experience, providing little newsworthy factoids like the fact that Bush was as much at risk of death as Kerry. This sort of fact was easy to derive, but I never saw it in the press.
Regarding the fairness doctrine and equal time provisions, during that interval there was virually no editorial commentary on radio. The ending of those doctrines changed that, and the first beneficiary was conservative talk radio.
The national resource logic exists to this day, because it is based on the physics of radio wave propagation and information theory. Bandwidth is valuable, and certain kinds is very valuable (VHF TV channels). It's been a long time since I was a broadcast engineer, but I remember having to log every PSA so the station could show it was being a good citizen (it didn't seem to bother the FCC if all PSA's were in the dead of night).