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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Forcing Change in Big Media's Pro-war Bias

by Spocko

Yesterday I posted some positive steps to get anti-war and anti-torture voices into the media.

Today I want to suggest some other steps and some leverage methods to force the issue.

I'm going to be discussing them and the research that led to them tonight on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd. at 6 pm PDT

Today Digby wrote about Chris Hayes and Laura Ingram pointing out how the networks push war. Now, what to do to change it?

Following Lee Fang's Nation article on retired generals pushing bombing without being identified. I dug into the process for getting those guests to get on the air.   I spoke to news producers, show bookers, guests, corporate media execs, FCC and FTC lawyers. I spoke to corporate CFOs, institutional investors, hedge fund managers and media trackers.

After I understood the process, I asked, "Who or what has the power to change things?"

Some of the most insightful comments came from a pundit guest and a major network lawyer.
"The news and Sunday morning show producers are both lazy and afraid." -Pundit guest

I asked for clarification. "They are afraid of getting fired for booking a 'bad' guest." How 'bad' is defined can vary from "Makes the host look bad, makes regular guests look bad, to is inarticulate on the camera."

I understand the fear, so then I asked, "Say we had new, proven 'good' guests, but with a different perspective, what would it take to get them on? A memo from the head of the news division? A call from a big advertiser? A letter from corporate lawyers that guests now have to meet certain FCC and FTC regulations? The top media CEO mandating it? A cash transaction? A conversation with a major shareholder over golf? A twitter storm from the public?"

The pundit had fascinating answers, but these questions were asked before the Brian Williams firing. The firing gave me some data that I didn't have before.

To me that story was about NBCUniversal trying to protect a certain brand image that they want the NBC News division to have. They then took actions showing the price they were willing to pay to maintain it.

Following the firing Williams dropped from 23rd to 825th on the trustworthy scale.  How much could that drop cost a network? One New York Times story had a chart showing that a 30 second spot on Williams show generating $47,000 in revenue.
NBC made the decision to distance the man from the brand. The brand promise now explicitly includes the anchors having a "responsibility to the truth."

This brand value of NBC News is clearly measured in dollars.

If NBCUniversal did not believe that this aspect of their news brand and their hosts' trustworthiness was important, they would have kept Williams on.

Of course the Williams firing leads some groups to go after O'Reilly and FOX for lying, That's great, but O'Reilly and Fox News weren't built on integrity.They are playing a different game. Fox's "Fair And Balanced" is a catch phrase not an actual practice.  The people to focus on are ABC, CBS and CNN.

Now is the time to remind them that they don't want their anchors and news brand to become a punch line like Williams.

Want a specific step? If you have prepared 'good' guests with an anti-war perspective, tweet to the networks. "Booking only pro-war voices  means your news isn't being truthful.  #don'tbelikeBrianWilliams book[anti-war person]"

Networks respond to social media pressure.  I know that recently Code Pink tried to get on to peace activists on ABC.  It hasn't worked yet, but it's a start as a model.

Hearing just from that group isn't enough nor is it the networks only pressure. It might not even be in their top 10.

What other pressures matter?  

For this question I spoke to a former network lawyer. She describing the process for making a decision on a conflict between two big companies and their ads. She said the boss gathered everyone together and asked two questions.

"What are the other networks doing? How big is the ad buy?"         --Former network lawyer
This struck me for two reasons. First is understanding any action happens in context with the peers. Peer pressure happens in the big leagues too. Secondly the financial question. People often trot out the line, "It's all about the money" which signals the ends the discussion.

I'd like people to look at "the ad buy" in another way.

The networks are selling a war. They are giving tremendous value to the companies that benefit from war.  Networks should be better compensated for that value.  By not charging for that value they are leaving money on the table and aren't serving shareholders.

The first ISIS/Sryian bombing was estimated to cost taxpayers around 870 million. The first week around one billion. Weapons manufactures had a good quarter following that week and reported it in their earnings.

Who does an anti-war message or anti-torture message give value to?

If only a war message is seen as valuable, of course networks won't go any other route.

So instead of asking for an anti-war message or trying to force them to run one, let's hold them to their shareholder's mandate.

The news networks have a responsibility to make money for shareholders, the truth is subservient to that.

If your constituency are the companies making money selling this war, you don't have a duty to tell both sides.

The networks already have on weapons salesmen without identifying their employers.  Why should the General Dynamics spokesperson get the Sunday guest spot to push drones? How much is it worth to the Blackwater spokesperson to get the spot instead to push "boots on the ground?" Auction them off to the highest bidder.

Does this seem absurd? It is only if people continue to look at the network news division as a public trust. Maybe they still are.  Will they fight the idea that they are only pro-war for the money? Now is the time to push 'em and find out.