The dream of wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T -- or any company, really -- is to be able to charge twice for providing the same service. In working towards that goal they're getting a big assist from ESPN and tearing down net neutrality in the process.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that ESPN is in talks with "at least one" major U.S. wireless internet provider to "subsidize wireless connectivity on behalf of its users." This means that they're willing to pay a wireless carrier like AT&T a significant chunk of change to enable ESPN viewers to stream unlimited sports programming to their mobile devices without having to worry about exceeding the carrier's monthly data caps. So wireless subscribers would pay AT&T for access to the internet, and ESPN would pay AT&T for access to the customer. One service, two charges.
And if AT&T does end up pairing with ESPN on this scheme, that wouldn't be surprising given that AT&T has been trying to work out ways to double-charge for their services for quite some time. Last February the Journal reported that the wireless carrier was scheming out a way to charge developers of data-intensive mobile apps for the traffic AT&T subscribers incurred while using their products, and on May 15 AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told investors that he expects those plans to be in effect soon. They also tried to double-charge customers for the privilege of using Apple's FaceTime videochat app -- a potential violation of the almost-impossible-to-violate Open Internet rules. They eventually made FaceTime available to all subscribers except those who still have unlimited data plans grandfathered in from before AT&T switched over to tiered plans with data caps.
That should give you an idea how much wireless carriers love data caps and how central they are to their future business models. It's a lucrative proposition for them: set up the cap, charge customers who go over it, and charge companies who can afford to pay to get around it. And that's where the net neutrality concern comes in: wireless carriers who allow companies to circumvent their data limits are, in effect, prioritizing the content of those companies and disincentivizing subscribers from seeking out content from companies who haven't paid for the exemption. As Public Knowledge put it: "Imposing data caps on consumers and then allowing wealthy content holders to buy their way around them is a recipe for stagnation online."
From the May 8 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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On its first quarter earnings call with investors, Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey reported a $2.4 million dollar decline in revenue associated with syndicated talk (which is a polite way of referencing fallout from the Rush Limbaugh's loss of advertisers without calling Limbaugh out by name). Dickey has reported millions in losses associated with Limbaugh in previous quarters as well.
Anticipating this report, a "source close to" Rush Limbaugh's show began making the rounds insisting that Limbaugh is not to blame for the losses, while indicating that Limbaugh is considering walking away from Cumulus, which currently carries his show on 40 of its stations.
Asked to address the Limbaugh issue during today's earnings call, Dickey flatly rejected the notion that Limbaugh is blameless, explaining: "We've had a tough go of it the last year. The facts are indisputable regarding the impact certain things have had on ad dollars."
Indeed. As I explained yesterday, this Limbaugh source's contention doesn't stand up scrutiny:
In fact, Limbaugh has become so toxic that he's hurting other conservative talk shows. At a Talkers forum last year, Norm Pattiz, CEO of Courtside Entertainment, summed up the destructive effect Limbaugh has had on the entire industry, noting that a "tremendous chunk of advertising revenue was wiped out in terms of support for national talk radio programs." Pattiz added that "the movement in talk radio to some degree is moving away from conservative talk radio and into other genres."
Limbaugh has done nothing to signal to advertisers that he's not going to put them in a damaging situation, like he did to so many of his advertisers last year when he engaged in a three-day rant against Sandra Fluke. Instead, he's continued with same bigotry and recklessness that forced advertisers to walk away in the first place.
Limbaugh is just as volatile as ever. It's why he's having so much trouble filling his ad space. And, this volatility is why Rush Limbaugh remains bad for business.
Aside from Limbaugh's recklessness, the consequences his show has experienced is due in large part to scores of independent organizers, like the Flush Rush and the #StopRush community. Their participation matters and is having a tremendous effect.
Currently, Cumulus Media carries Limbaugh's show on 40 of its stations, including Limbaugh's flagship WABC in New York as well as stations in Chicago, Washington DC and Dallas. If Limbaugh and Cumulus part ways, it would represent a significant reduction in Limbaugh's overall footprint and serve as yet another reminder that Limbaugh's brand is bad for business.
Limbaugh doesn't appreciate how Cumulus' CEO keeps telling investors that the radio host is hurting ad sales and costing the company millions. So, the weekend before Cumulus' first quarter investor meeting, "a source close to" Limbaugh's show went public with word that Limbaugh will walk if Cumulus' CEO continues to speak about the host's negative impact on business.
Indeed. If I were Limbaugh, I wouldn't want the CEO of one of my major affiliates consistently informing the business community that my show is causing millions of dollars in losses every quarter.
This Limbaugh source argues that Cumulus' problems begin and end with Cumulus and insists that Limbaugh's show is not causing any issues in the revenue department. But, reality and Limbaugh's own words demonstrate otherwise.
Cumulus isn't the only radio company reporting significant losses attributable to Limbaugh. Dial Global has also attributed millions in losses to Limbaugh. Many others in the industry report negative consequences resulting from Limbaugh's recklessness. Consequently, this Limbaugh source's contention that Cumulus' advertising problems have nothing to do with Limbaugh falls apart when we look at the rest of the industry. What would this source say in response to the ills faced by other companies in connection to Limbaugh's show? That it's all their fault too?
Additionally, Mediaite reports that "the vast majority of national advertisers now refuse to air their ads during Rush Limbaugh's show." This is consistent with what industry observers have been saying for months as well as my own experience.
Further, Limbaugh himself recently complained about his advertising troubles. Although, Limbaugh blames his advertising woes on mainstream media buyers "trying to harm" him, warning that they "are young women fresh out of college, liberal feminists who hate conservatism."
So, on the one hand, we have multiple radio companies reporting losses directly attributable to Limbaugh's show as well as Limbaugh himself complaining about media buyers. On the other hand, we have an unnamed source close to Limbaugh's show denying reality about Limbaugh's advertiser woes and attacking one of the host's biggest affiliates.
At this point, it doesn't really matter who you believe. The fact that Limbaugh's affiliates are consistently reporting losses and that Limbaugh is now attacking them is evidence of the one thing that has become undeniable: Rush Limbaugh is bad for business.
Onward we go...
The Wall Street Journal continued its questionable disclosure practices with Karl Rove by publishing a column in which Rove advocates that the Republican Party adopt a strategy that a group backed by him -- the Conservative Victory Project -- has been pursuing, without noting his role in the group.
In a May 1 Journal column, Karl Rove highlighted what he felt the Republican Party should do in order to win enough seats to gain the majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014. He argued that Republicans need to out fundraise Democrats and that Republicans need to nominate electable candidates:
Republican success will depend on having quality Senate candidates. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock self-destructed last fall, and other candidates squandered important opportunities.
Fundraising is important. Last year, Democratic Senate candidates outraised Republicans by $60 million (not including the Connecticut and Pennsylvania races with GOP self-funders). The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised its GOP counterpart by an additional $20 million. Republicans won't make big pickups if there's a disparity like this in 2014.
The quality of GOP campaigns will matter as well. Republicans must go toe-to-toe with Democrats on ObamaCare, spending, deficits, the president's social agenda and, where appropriate, their opponent's character. But even done effectively, this won't be enough.
The Journal disclosed that Karl Rove "helped organize the political action committee American Crossroads," but did not disclose that he is reportedly involved with the Conservative Action Project -- an effort by conservatives to raise money to help nominate electable candidates, that The Hill reported is "being operated independent of" American Crossroads. A February 2 New York Times article described the Conservative Victory Project as an attempt to raise money in order:
[T]o recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party's efforts to win control of the Senate.
The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.
The Conservative Victory Project, which is backed by Karl Rove and his allies who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races to try to weed out candidates who are seen as too flawed to win general elections.
The project is being waged with last year's Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin's comment that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country. In Indiana, the Republican candidate, Richard E. Mourdock, lost a race after he said that when a woman became pregnant during a rape it was "something God intended."
The Journal's past disclosure problems have been widely criticized. With Rove, the Journal for months failed to disclose Rove's affiliation with American Crossroads in columns in which he attacked President Obama and advocated for action that was being taken by his political groups. After current and former editorial page editors at major national and regional newspapers deemed the Journal's lack of disclosure "negligent," the Journal ultimately corrected this problem in September 2012.
Additionally, during the 2012 presidential election, the Journal had similar disclosure problems with numerous op-ed writers who were not identified as Romney advisers in pieces that criticized Obama or praised Romney. Editorial page editors also criticized this practice.
From the April 30 edition of MSNBC's Martin Bashir:
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Glenn Beck is engaging in a bit of revisionist history concerning his Fox News exit. At an April 27 event at New York University, Beck portrayed his departure as self-initiated and suggested that Fox CEO Roger Ailes pleaded with him to stay, explaining:
"If you stay in it too long, you become Norma Desmond. I remember feeling, 'If you do not leave now, you won't leave with your soul intact.'"
"At the end, when we were leaving, it was a long process. Roger said to me, 'You're not going to leave.' And I said, 'I am.' And he said, 'Nobody does,' meaning leave television....And I said, 'I'm fortunate because I haven't been in it that long.' I knew what this big, huge Fox empire brought to the table, and I had to leave before I became too enamored of that."
A Fox News spokesperson issued a sharp rebuke contradicting Beck's claim, instead citing Glenn Beck's advertiser losses as the major cause of Beck's exit, saying:
"Glenn Beck wasn't trying to save his soul, he was trying to save his ass. Advertisers fled his show and even Glenn knows what that means in our industry. Yet, we still tried to give him a soft landing. Guess no good deed goes unpunished."
Indeed. Following a series of grassroots efforts beginning in July 2009, around the time Beck accused President Obama of being a "racist," advertisers began fleeing his Fox News show. A Media Matters study revealed that the number of paid advertisements during Glenn Beck's show plummeted and never recovered as a result of those grassroots efforts:
Advertiser rates for Glenn Beck's Fox News program suffered as well. According to an analysis of industry data, the same ad, from the same advertiser cost between three and six times more to run on other comparable Fox News programs than it did to run on Beck's program:
While I was active in the StopBeck effort, detractors and even Beck himself would dismiss the effects of the advertiser losses. I long maintained that the losses were in fact costing Fox News money and were severely limiting the viability of Beck's program. And, now Fox News has all but confirmed it.
Matt Drudge has long been conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' biggest ally. According to a Media Matters review, the heavily-trafficked Drudge Report has promoted at least 50 separate articles at Jones' Infowars website in 2013, and has linked to at least 244 different articles on the site in the past two years.
Drudge announced this week that he had privately told friends that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones." Considering Drudge's penchant for promoting Jones and his Infowars website, those comments are more of a promise than a prediction.
Alex Jones is a radio host famous for pushing absurd conspiracy theories about a host of issues, including that the U.S. government perpetrated or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Colombia disaster, and the Aurora movie theater shooting.
Jones has lately made headlines for his most recent conspiracy that the Boston Marathon bombings were a "false flag" attack staged by the government. Drudge has provided several links to Jones' site in the days since Jones started floating Boston conspiracies, including an article highlighting the father of the bombing suspects claiming his sons had been set up.
The links to Jones' site in the wake of the Boston bombings are not surprising; he has sent a steady stream of traffic there in 2013.
Among the fifty Infowars pieces promoted by Drudge so far in 2013: a story mulling over claims that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have been "surreptitiously" given cancer, possibly by the U.S. government; numerous articles promoting conspiracies about supposedly ominous ammunition purchases made by the Department of Homeland Security; and a story comparing Obama to "other tyrants" -- including Stalin, Hitler, and Mao -- that have "used kids as props."
Drudge has been consistently linking to Jones' site for years (Drudge Report also features two permanent links to the Infowars mainpage). Among the 244 Infowars articles Drudge has promoted since April 2011:
Fox News host Heather Childers failed to disclose her employer's financial ties to NASCAR and controversies over the National Rifle Association's sponsorship of a NASCAR race during an interview with NASCAR chairman Brian France.
On the April 15 edition of America Live, France responded to allegations made by driver Brad Keselowski that he was unfairly targeted by NASCAR officials because of incidents leading up to the April 14 NRA 500 race. After France denied Keselowski's allegations, Childers allowed him to talk about NASCAR's Going Green initiative.
Childers failed to mention, however, that Fox Sports -- like Fox News, a division of News Corp. -- has a multibillion-dollar contract with NASCAR to televise races. Last year, Fox and NASCAR extended their contract to 2022. Fox will pay NASCAR a total of $1.76 billion to NASCAR under the terms of the current contract, which expires in 2014, and will pay an additional $2.4 billion under the eight-year extension. France stated regarding the extension:
NASCAR has been in very good hands and has enjoyed tremendous success the last 12 years in large part because of our fantastic partnership with Fox and Fox Sports Media Group.
Media Matters investigative reporter Joe Strupp has been named a finalist for the prestigious media industry reporting Mirror Award for Best Single Article - Digital Media for his 2012 story, "How A Right-Wing Group Is Infiltrating State News Coverage."
In a statement, Media Matters Founder and Chairman David Brock called Strupp "an invaluable addition to the Media Matters team" and said that the "well-deserved honor speaks to his incredible abilities as a journalist."
Strupp's reporting detailed the rise of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a conservative news outlet funded by major right-wing donors and staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers that seeks to publish its ideological journalism in the pages of state and local newspapers.
According to the Mirror Awards website:
The Mirror Awards are the most important awards for recognizing excellence in media industry reporting. Established by Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, the awards honor the reporters, editors and teams of writers who hold a mirror to their own industry for the public's benefit.
This is the fourth time Strupp has been named a finalist for a Mirror Award, with the previous three coming for his reporting for Editor & Publisher. It is the first time a Media Matters reporter has been recognized by the Mirror Awards.
From the April 5 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple has re-confirmed that Fox News' supposed "objective" news coverage is filled with conservative-leaning programming.
In a March 27 blog post, Wemple watched Fox from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET -- the times that Fox officials have claimed are dedicated to objective news reporting -- and found that while there was "straight-up news coverage," there was also "ideologically tilted coverage":
The Erik Wemple Blog counted 14 meaty, beefy segments totaling around 64 minutes in which a rightward tilt was somewhere between slight and overwhelming. Here are some examples of how Fox News engineered the slant:
On Friday, Fox News's Alisyn Camerota substituted for the distinguished Megyn Kelly as host of "America Live," which runs from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Camerota moderated a discussion between two guests on the clash between the Democrats and Republicans over the federal budget.
The discussion was ho-hum, as many discussions on the federal budget tend to be. What put it in the column of tendentious Fox News coverage was not so much how it proceeded, but what preceded it. Fox News producers chose to tease the segment with the ad below, which comes from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a group that bills itself as "focused solely and exclusively on maintaining the Republican majority in the House of Representatives."
The ad repeats a frequently invoked talking point for Republicans in the battle over government spending: Families have to balance their budgets, so why doesn't the government? When Democrats are faced with that argument, they generally point out that families carry debt in the form of mortgages and student loans and the like.
Yet Fox News didn't play a Democratic attack ad with any such talking points.
These findings don't disprove the Pew study, but they call into question Fox's claim that its 9-to-4 is objective.
Wemple went on to note that, while Fox claims a hallmark of "moderated debates between two people of opposing points of view," many of the interview segments he watched consisted of a single guest, typically one who is conservative-leaning.
Wemple also highlighted how the personal agenda of Fox News chief Roger Ailes is reflected in Fox's "news" coverage:
One-sided coverage of Obamacare comes from the top. In his new book on Fox News chief Roger Ailes, author Zev Chafets asks the executive what he'd do if he were elected president. Killing the Affordable Care Act tops his list of priorities. His on-air lieutenants do a wonderful job of carrying forward that sentiment.
From the March 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Top conservative media voices spoke out on the need to keep stories accurate and in-depth, while at the same time citing some of the right-wing media's worst stumbles as points of honor during a panel discussion Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
It has been a rough few months for the right-wing media. After a variety of observers pointed to its ineffectiveness during the 2012 election, it has come under fire again over the last month as major stories from The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com have imploded.
But such concerns were largely ignored during the CPAC panel titled "Survivor: Conservative Media," which was billed as an examination of the future of right-wing publications. This comes as little surprise, given that representatives from both the Caller and Breitbart.com were featured panelists.
Moderated by Scottie Hughes of the Tea Party News Network, the panel included Katie Pavlich, news editor at Townhall.com and a Fox News Contributor; Seton Motley, a Breitbart.com columnist; Keith Urbahn, co-founder of Javelin; and Lars Larson, a conservative radio talk show host.
While defending their past work, each appeared to espouse traditional journalistic values of accuracy, in-depth reporting and balance.
"Listen to what everyone else is saying, but don't be afraid to break from the pack," Larson said. "When there is a story, get on it, because there are too many stories that are a sleeper. Fast and Furious was a sleeper for a long time."
Larson referred to the botched ATF mission, which Pavlich and others had baselessly spun as a a conspiracy by the Obama administration to implement stronger gun laws.
On March 12, the New York Times published an article on Google's acknowledgement of privacy violations during their Street View mapping project that quoted "consumer watchdog" Scott Cleland attacking the online search giant. When you're talking about issues having to do with online content, calling Cleland a "consumer watchdog" is a tough sell given that he's paid by the companies that provide broadband internet services to advance their interests.
Here's the Times' characterization of Cleland:
Complaints have led to multiple enforcement actions in recent years and a spate of worldwide investigations into the way the mapping project also collected the personal data of private computer users.
"Google puts innovation ahead of everything and resists asking permission," said Scott Cleland, a consultant for Google's competitors and a consumer watchdog whose blog maintains a close watch on Google's privacy issues. "But the states are throwing down a marker that they are watching and there is a line the company shouldn't cross."
It's true that Cleland is a for-pay Google critic and much of his time is spent attacking the online giant. But a "consumer watchdog"? Cleland is the chair of NetCompetition.org, a group that, per its mission statement, promotes "competitive Internet choices for consumers." Among the members of NetCompetition.org: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T -- basically every big provider of fixed or mobile broadband.
Cleland may wrap himself in the cloak of consumer advocacy, but that doesn't necessarily make it so. He's on the payroll of broadband companies to argue for policies that best reflect their interests. He is an industry advocate, one of the many axe-grinders and hired guns in the broadband policy arena looking to earn their keep by getting themselves quoted in the paper advancing the argument for their side. And that's fine, so long as the paper in question informs the reader of the interests backing the sources they quote.