Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Is U.S. media system failing to inform?

Typical of similar academic studies over the years, a 2008 study compared the level of public knowledge about current events in Denmark, Finland, United Kingdom and the United States. It found that the countries where TV/radio is dominated by public broadcasting -- Denmark and Finland -- were the best informed. Our country, dominated by corporate commercial media, was the least informed. The U.K.'s public, with its mix of Murdoch-style tabloids and BBC, was in the middle. The study's authors suggest that differing media systems play a role in those results.

A 2003 study of public knowledge of facts related to the Iraq War found that misperceptions among U.S. residents (that evidence linked Iraq and al Qaeda; that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq; and that world public opinion favored the US invasion) were greatest among those whose primary info source was Fox News -- and least among those whose primary info source was public broadcasting. (A Pew poll taken in Aug. 2010 found that almost 1 in 5 Americans believed President Obama to be a Muslim; only 34% knew he is a Christian. 43% chose "don't know.")

Why can't we have public broadcasting like this in USA?

Weeks before the 2003 U.S./British invasion of Iraq, the BBC's Jeremy Paxman and skeptical British citizens literally cross-examined Prime Minister Tony Blair about evidence/reasons/legality behind the invasion -- an interview whose transcript and Blair's comments became part of Britain's official Iraq inquiry in 2011. (Here's another tough Paxman interview of Blair . . . unrelated to Iraq. And here, Paxman interviews Russell Brand in Oct. 2013.) 

In our country, pressure from politicians + lack of insulated funding = embarrassing timidity at so-called "public television"...as evidenced by PBS surgically removing Tina Fey's comedic swipes at Sarah Palin from a broadcast in November 2010.

Country by country comparisons of taxpayer spending on public broadcasting here.

DOES IT FOLLOW THAT big public/state/taxpayer-funding of broadcasting leads to state-controlled and propagandistic broadccasting? Not according to the World Press Freedom Index, which shows the countries with the biggest media subsidies seem to have the greatest press freedom. 

In Feb 2015 a mini-scandal blew up over corporate underwriting of U.S. public TV and I was interviewed on the topic by The Real News Network. 

Days before the U.S. election, Dutch public TV aired a strong doc, "Still Berning," on the possible legacy of the Bernie Sanders movement; it would have been deemed too biased or controversial for PBS.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Internet invented in US. But it's slow and under threat

In the opening scene of the Outfoxed documentary, media scholar Robert McChesney explains how big media corporations (acting almost like gangsters) have made media policy behind closed doors, dividing the cake among themselves. If the FCC were doing its job, it might pose gentle but probing questions of gangsta Murdoch and "Murdochopoly," as Jon Stewart did in 2013. (Years ago, Murdoch famously said: "Monopoly is a terrible thing, until you have it.")

The USA, where the Internet was invented, lags behind other countries in Internet speed. Here's one ranking from 2015In 2009, big Internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast, AT&T DID NOT APPLY for any of the billions in federal stimulus grants for expanding broadband infrastructure, according to the Wall St. Journal, because recipients of our tax money had to agree to respect Net Neutrality.

On HBO in June, "investigative comic" John Oliver offered a powerful commentary in support of Net Neutrality, generating so many comments to the FCC that it crashed the Commission's website. Months of public pressure sparked President Obama in November 2014 to speak clearly that his FCC should protect Net Neut. 

So, Net Neutrality was saved in 2015. But under threat from President-elect Trump, cheered on by his friends at Breitbart.com.

PS "Survey Shows Satire News Programs Inform People Better Than Actual News on Net Neutrality," reports Dan Van Winkle in summarizing a 2014 University of Delaware survey. Respondents said they learned more about Net Neutrality from John Oliver, Colbert and Jon Stewart's Daily Show than from newspapers, online news or TV news. 

PPS In January 2011, I was asked to appear on a talk-radio show on a big city station to analyze Keith Oblermann's exit from MSNBC; when I suggested a link to the Comcast takeover and criticized Comcast's opposition to Net Neutrality, a producer asked me during a commercial break to stop the "Comcast-bashing" because "they're our biggest sponsor."  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

President-Elect Drumpf and Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press Foundation statement on President-Elect Trump, links to this well-researched  Columbia Journalism Review piece.  In the media area, Trump has already threatened Net Neutrality, a move being cheered on by Breitbart.com.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Mainstream Media Promoted Breitbart's Video Distortions

The late Andrew Breitbart, a former assistant to Matt Drudge, ran BigGovernment.com and other websites (now found at Breitbart.com). In July 2010, the Obama White House forced U.S. Dept of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod to quit after BigGovernment posted a 100-second video excerpt purporting to show that, during a speech to the NAACP, Sherrod had boasted about discriminating against a white farmer while she was a federal employee in the Obama administration. Actually, as Breitbart later semi-corrected, Sherrod was describing events in the 1980s when she was Georgia field director for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a nonprofit that had grown out of the civil rights movement to help Black farmers long discriminated against by the U.S. Dept of Agriculture. More importantly, a fuller version of the speech (first aired by CNN) showed that Sherrod had told the story to illustrate how she had overcome her bias toward whites and ultimately helped the white farmer save his farm.

Ten months earlier, in 2009, other selectively-edited tapes distributed by Breitbart's website (featuring James O'Keefe and played repeatedly on Fox News and elsewhere) helped put the anti-poverty group ACORN out of business. Rachel Maddow dissects the distorted presentation that doomed ACORN. 

It wasn't just Fox News that promoted the misleading ACORN story. The Public Editor of the paper of record, the New York Times, went to absurd lengths to defend his paper's inaccurate coverage.

A Drudge "Exclusive" . . . Readers Beware!

Perhaps Matt Drudge should stick to aggregating content from others (often with revved-up headlines) rather than "report" -- as demonstrated by this 1999 "World Exclusive," which helped push a hoax into mainstream media.