The Stable Of Cable As A Poster Child
"We are in an industry that benefits from a very deregulatory regime," boasts National Cable and Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow. "We think our customers benefit from that. We think we're the poster child for leaving most decisions to the marketplace."
Ah yes, leave it to the market place. Where have we heard that before? Answer: at every business meeting in America and echoed almost every day in our media. The market is our icon and fetish built on the assumption that it acts freely, guided by an "invisible hand" in Adam Smith's phrase, and always clear of external pressures except the occasional-and I would say systematic-acts of corruption.
No one talks about what this word market really means or what its impact is. In theory, we have a market system that reflects the democratic impulses of buyers and sellers.
In practice, there is nothing free about it. It is dominated and monopolized by a handful of companies who choke off real competition and exclude players who challenge their dominance. How is it that Al Jazeera's English channel can get on cable all over the world-even in Israel-but be denied access on America cable, even though the company is one of the world's leading brands?
A "deregulated regime" guarantees market failure and all the problems that go along with it.
I am sure Mr. McSlarrow is not thinking here of the other poster children that the FCC worries about in its recent report on the pervasive violence on cable outlets or how babies have their health put at risk by overexposure to TV as overworked parents used their boob tubes as a babysitter.
I am sure he's no longer thinking of the spewing racism on the cable spectrum now that IMUS has been surgically removed from the airwaves after a flap that purged his presence but left so many other demagogues unaffected.
And what about Bill O'Reilly of Faux Nooze Channel? What is he a poster child for? I haven't heard the cable association weigh in on his role as a poster child.
Read this new study by researchers at Indiana University. They found that: "Bill O'Reilly calls a person or a group a derogatory name on average once every 6.8 seconds during the 'Talking Points Memo' portion of his cable news show."
According to a more detailed press release provided by the University the researchers used a technique developed after World War I and made an astounding discovery:
"The same techniques were used during the late 1930s to study another prominent voice in a war-era, Father Charles Coughlin. His sermons evolved into a darker message of anti-Semitism and fascism, and he became a defender of Hitler and Mussolini. In this study, O'Reilly is a heavier and less-nuanced user of the propaganda devices than Coughlin."
Here are some of the findings of the study regarding O'Reilly's perceived enemies:
"The researchers identified 22 groups of people that O'Reilly referenced in his commentaries, and while all 22 were described by O'Reilly as bad at some point, the people and groups most frequently labeled bad were the political left - Americans as a group and the media (except those media considered by O'Reilly to be on the right).
Left-leaning media (21.6 percent) made up the largest portion of bad people/groups, and media without a clear political leaning was the second largest (12.2 percent). When it came to evil people and groups, illegal aliens (26.8 percent) and terrorists (21.4 percent) were the largest groups.
O'Reilly never presented the political left, politicians/government officials not associated with a political party, left-leaning media, illegal aliens, criminals and terrorists as victims. 'Thus, politicians and media, particularly of the left-leaning persuasion, are in the company of illegal aliens, criminals, terrorists - never vulnerable to villainous forces and undeserving of empathy,' the authors concluded."
[UPDATE: Bill O'Reilly has challenged the findings of this study. Read about it here and here.]
As Bill O'Reilly's pattern of hateful commentary goes unexamined within his own issue, few are asking why the cable industry, which was launched with so much hope to offer more diversity, has embodied so much of the worst on TV. In response to O'Reilly, CNN gave us not an alternative but a clone called Glenn Beck. And don't get me started on the many Neanderthals on MSNBC over the years.
We have more choices but often with fewer voices. The deregulatory regime has let them get away with it, while helping to advance the interests of the real regime in power. In battling against regulation, the industry is always saying it will "self-police itself." Duh?
Rather than offering programming that can enlighten or "illuminate" issues, in Edward R. Murrow's phrase, what we have is, as Bruce Springsteen once put it, 57 channels and nothing on. That is before the number of channels climbed. Ok, maybe that's not totally true anymore. There are some good shows and CSPAN. HBO may pay the bills with its sex shows and B-Movies but it does feature strong documentaries, but most of the programming dumbs it down and tarts it up.
Cable execs "understand" the concerns of their viewers and critics but please, they implore, Congress and the FCC don't regulate, don't impose public interest obligations, don't insist on more diversity or kids fare or honest news, don't assure the continuing presence of public access programming, and most of all, don't do anything that will stop the revenues flowing into huge media combines as Americans pay more and more for cable and entertainment and often get less and less.
Writing in Broadcasting & Cable Magazine editor Max Robins laments the passing of the wildmen who built the industry and their replacement by visionary-free "different breed risk adverse bottomed-up players." I am not sure we need more buccaneers like Murdoch who is still with us or Ted Turner who isn't.
What we need is more regulation in the public interest and rules to insure that the needs of viewers come before the needs of advertisers and highly paid cable executives.
- News Dissector Danny Schechter edits MediaChannel.org. He worked at CNN and CNBC. His new film is IN DEBT WE TRUST (indebtwetrust.com) Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org