"---- the FCC"


We've got a new Think Again column called "FCC vs. The Public" here, and I've got a Nation column called "(Some) Jews Against Obama," here. I've got to fly out early to New Orleans this morning where I'll moderate a "Navigating New Media" panel for PolicyLink's "Regional Equity '08" Summit, and so that's it for me today. Oh, wait, my dad actually sent me something funny, here. It's his first contribution to Altercation, so congrats on that, dad. Now here's George Zornick:

Prominent in this week's Think Again column, on the failures of the FCC and the potential for reform, is the issue of media cross-ownership. The FCC, under Bush-appointed commissioners Michael Powell (son of Colin) and Kevin Martin, led a seven-year campaign to relax ownership rules in a way that would allow companies to increase their holdings in single markets - so, for example, one company could own the newspaper, television and radio stations in one area. The rule changes were passed by the FCC in December and published in the Federal Registry last month.

It's important to note that, just as the column went to press (went to web?), Sen. Byron Dorgan and a group of 13 senators from both sides of the aisle introduced a resolution that, if passed, would stop the ownership rule changes. The Senate has 60 days to vote on the bill. It's really not surprising that the bill has bipartisan sponsorship - who wants one company owning the entire media in their town? Aside from Rupert Murdoch, of course.

If a group of crazy people meet and nobody hears, does it make a sound? We noted last week that the Heartland Institute sponsored a conference in New York City this week -- during some of the unseasonably warmest days of the winter here -- which was intended to deliver a message that not everyone believes in global warming. Scientists and elected officials were paid handsome sums to attend the conference-slash-media event and deliver speeches about the "farce" of global warming.

The organizers are now complaining that the conference was "completely ignored" by the media. Glenn Beck promised to cover the conference "like it was the second coming of Jesus himself," but the Columbia Journalism Review notes that few real reporters braved the banquet rooms of the Times Square Marriott to report on the meeting of the pseudo-scientific minds, and those who did were unsure how seriously to take the conference, sometimes giving too much credence to the positions being presented.

A few things that could have been noted in coverage of the event: firstly, the planners did a good job by picking a mid-town hotel, because had they chosen to meet downtown, they would have been in the unfortunate position of holding conference in a place that many scientists agree would be underwater if global warming proceeds apace. That the Heartland Institute receives funding from Exxon is also a fact that could have been noted.

Speaking of Glenn Beck, he scored an interview this week with John Hagee, the evangelist who has made a wide range of controversial comments on Islam, women, New Orleans, homosexuality, and the Catholic Church. As you likely know, Hagee is in the headlines because he just endorsed John McCain's presidential campaign. Beck got the pastor right where he wanted him and asked the tough question on every fair person's mind: Might Barack Obama be the Antichrist?

It would be funny if the guy didn't have a prime-time show on one of the nation's largest cable networks.

Just a footnote to Charlotte Allen's silly Washington Post piece, which was ably discussed by Eric and much of the blogosphere this week: the column is based on the premise that women are fainting out of irrational passion for Obama during rallies, which, as I noted in this space, is a complete fiction of the media.

This Week on Moyers:

John McCain has won the GOP nomination. Can he win the hearts and minds of the Christian right? Bill Moyers Journal reports on popular conservative evangelist John Hagee and his controversial endorsement of McCain. Hagee, leader of the politically powerful group Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has been criticized for controversial remarks about Catholics and about America's role in the Middle East. Some say his message is dangerous: "It is time for America to...consider a military preemptive strike against Iran to prevent a nuclear holocaust in Israel and a nuclear attack in America," says Hagee in the profile of CUFI in this week's Bill Moyers Journal.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mary Garber
Hometown: Richmond, Va

Since the Lewinsky media fiasco, I noticed that Dowd's got it in personally for Bill and apparently Hillary. I've enjoyed a lot of her columns, but have recently passed most by because I just don't see Hillary as the greatest present danger to the nation. As Maureen apparently does. I figured she was trying to give equal time to the Dems, but it all reads to me like petty, humorless, rambling rants.

Now you say they're not even accurate rants. I'm relieved to have saved myself from egregious misinformation.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas

Dowd is the classic example of what Times executive editor Turner Catledge said to Tom Wicker when he became a columnist: don't be a thumb-sucker. In more than 40 years, the Times column brigade has devolved from the centrist yet reportorial James Reston and the brilliant Russell Baker and Anthony Lewis to the likes of Dowd and Kristol.

All is not lost. Bob Herbert does interviews and reads extensively. Paul Krugman reads voraciously and brings his academic training to bear. Frank Rich tracks news and culture carefully and relies upon his background as a theatrical critic.

As a reporter, Dowd was more interested in style than substance. Her column continues to promote style over substance. But without events to cover, and two column holes a week to fill, she demonstrates again and again, as I think Dr. A. may have put it, that she doesn't appear to go further than the door of her apartment to collect that day's New York Times and Washington Post before writing her column, and whether she actually reads them often isn't clear.

Name: Jess Wittenberg
Hometown: LA

What a relief to see you call Ms. Dowd on her Baloney Lite. That she has the job she does has always been a great puzzlement to me. Even putting aside all the substantive issues you quite correctly raise--is she ever remotely as funny or clever as she obviously thinks she is? Just bad writing.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: http://dailyrevolution.net

Here's an idea: let's have two presidents. A president of the United Big States and a prez of the United Small to Medium States. We can even find something for McCain to do: how about Ambassador to Iraq, since he likes walking around Baghdad so much? I'm sure he'd get real cozy with Mahmoud, now that we're practically allies and everything.

It's coalition government. Works in Europe.

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA

Hello, Eric.

Just wanted to let you know, in case you hadn't heard: It appears that Sirius satellite radio is once again pandering to the right-wing. While they would say that they have addressed the issue of having two conservative talk stations to only one liberal, their conservative talk station is still called "Sirius Patriot" while the liberal one is called simply, "Sirius Left," as if liberals can't be patriots. Plus, they also carry Fox, so the content is still heavily biased toward the right.

But, that isn't what I'm writing about and it's considered "old news." No, I'm writing about the content programming on the other channels. Sirius has a channel called "Laugh Break" which they advertise as "comedy you can listen to with your kids." Unlike the "Raw Dog" comedy channel, "Laugh Break" features routines by comedians that don't rely upon profanity. And among the material they play are novelty songs such as those by Weird Al Yankovic and Tom Lehrer...

...and conservative political propaganda. On the rotation is a song by the "Right Brothers" called "If You Ain't Outraged." Sample lyrics:

You can go downtown and the tax payers' money will help you kill your baby
Go across the street to the courthouse and the Ten Commandments can't be found
You can't even say the Pledge of Allegiance and not offend someone lately
You can cuss out your teacher in the classroom but you can't pray to God out loud.

And also on rotation is their own, home-brewed song, "Every Liberal Wants to Rule the World," to the tune of the Tears for Fears song, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."

I've let them know that I don't appreciate listening to what is supposed to be a cleaner comedy channel and hearing right-wing propaganda saying that being liberal means you are un-American and hate your country. Of course, I got a simple boilerplate response about how they "understand [my] concern in this matter."

Just who is in charge at Sirius? "What liberal media"?

Name: Denis Drew
Hometown: Chicago

Approaching 37% of American families live below a more up-to-date poverty line?

The 50 percentile American family income in 2005 was $56,277 (technically, that's mean third-quintile in the Census tables).

The "minimum needs" table on p.44 of the 2001 book, Raise the Floor, maps out a very plausible poverty line for a family of three of $31,111 in 2005 dollars -- assuming health care is otherwise covered. Add $11,000 to purchase a family health plan and the plausible poverty line rises to $42,111 for a family of three (three years ago) -- the Raise line being computed by totaling up actual needs, not the half-century old federal formula of three times the price of an "emergency" diet.

(Raise provides extensive explanations for its minimum needs numbers in Appendix B -- its tables cite Solutions for Progress. Average family size is 3.13 persons.)

The difference between second and third quintile averages ($35,000 and $56,000) runs roughly $1,000/percentile. So, needing to add $7,000 to $35,000, the 30 percentile mark, to get to $42,000 takes us to 37%* of American families below poverty, at least without food stamps and other helps. If all families were covered by comprehensive health insurance, 26% of families would still fall on the wrong side of Raise's minimum needs line without helps -- don't know how many of those between 26% and 37% are covered or by how much.

However perfectly accurate Raise's tables may or may not be, our media continuing to report the decades mis-measured federal poverty line of 12.5% without qualification is like the press of Columbus' era repeating without comment that the world is flat -- it makes no waves; but informed folks know better. :-)

[* Raise's tables allot $3,000 for yearly, family of three medical expenses even if insured.]

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Pearl Harbor, HI

Dr. Alterman,

If I may, I'd like to make a few comments to provide a little perspective to the hyperventilating about yesterday's primaries:

It's over, even with last night's results, we are left with:

(1) Sen Obama has a lead of approx 138 in pledged delegates. There are only about 619 pledged delegates left. Sen Clinton would have to poll 63%, on average, in ALL of the remaining primaries. She did not do that in ANY of last night's States, and it is hard to see even one primary where she could do that.

(2) The following States are included in that 619: Wyoming, Mississippi (the next two States between now and Pennsylvania), Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota, with 318 delegates. Even assuming Sen Clinton splits 50-50 in these Obama friendly States (highly unlikely), she would have to poll 73% in all the remaining elections. Not even if Sen Obama was caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl, could Sen Clinton pull that off.

(3) So her hopes boil down to convincing the superdelegates to give her the nomination despite having won fewer pledged delegates in the primaries. That would hand the moderates and independents that voted for Sen Obama to the Reps, and energize the conservative Clinton haters in a way Sen McCain could never hope to achieve on his own. Not even a Party with an instinct for its own jugular like the Dems would be that stupid.

It's over.

However, I am not convinced that having to continue running against Sen Clinton is bad for Sen Obama. The Dem race will still be front and center in all the news stories getting lots of free coverage. The candidates will still have active campaigns to boost their fund-raising, and to make their cases in States that have not yet voted. Most important of all, if Sen Obama is going to be tough enough to beat Sen McCain in the fall, he needs to show us now he is tough enough to beat Sen Clinton. He's talked about raising the question of just how much "experience" Sen Clinton gained during her husband's administration. Exactly right, you can bet the "experience" argument is going to be a tough sell against a Rep nominee with Sen McCain's background. As important, Sen Obama needs to start showing some depth of understanding and gravitas on foreign policy. All the rhetorical back and forth about Al Qaida in Iraq and when they got there is irrelevant and does not make Sen Obama look presidential.

I would advise him he needs to make a policy speech answering Sen McCain's "it's a dangerous world" speech. Something like, "My friends, Sen McCain has pointed out that it's a dangerous world out there. He's right. But let's ask what precisely does he propose to do about it? His policy would be to keep the Armed Forces tied down in Iraq for the foreseeable future. He would like to take the Army and the National Guard past the breaking point in an unwinnable war, and leave us unable to respond to real threats gathering elsewhere in the globe. Right now the real architect of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, is laughing at us. We currently have the bulk of our Armed Forces fighting Iraqi nationalists who will not follow us out of their country, and will eject the international jihadis from their land, once we begin leaving. Moreover, that same struggle has given Al Qaida its best recruiting opportunity ever, and alienated us from our friends and allies. Military strategists and statesmen from Sun Tzu to Otto von Bismarck have known the value of gaining allies and diplomatically isolating your opponent. Yet the Bush Administration has isolated us more effectively than any of our enemies could ever dream of doing. And Sen McCain promises more of the same. As I said in 2002, I am not against all war. I'm just against a stupid war!"

Name: Doug Mason
Hometown: Meridian ID


While I also have reverence for the Original Cast of SNL (Murray joined second season after Chase left BTW), I think you do a severe disservice to the cast of the early 90's. Very good writing, a pre 9/11 Dennis Miller at the Update desk (must be hard to have peaked so early in his career), followed by personal favorite Norm MacDonald and perhaps the best political impressions ever, with Carvey as Bush AND Perot and the immortal Phil Hartman's spot on Bill Clinton ("Boys, there are a LOT of things we won't be telling Mrs. Clinton.").

Name: Bruce Henke
Hometown: Bartlett, IL

Eric, you inspire me. Here's a YouTube of Nick Lowe & friend (i.e. guitar only) doing "When I Write the Book."

The full-band studio version of this cut is a masterpiece of clean, understated, but perfect-sounding record making. And along those lines, I've been sending this out lately ("The Death of High Fidelity").

Name: W.B. Lewis
Hometown: Cincinnati

I bought Pure Pop for Now People in 1976 as a 14 year old. It's rare to find a performer (and producer) whose contemporary work you still enjoy 30 years later. "Dig My Mood" from ten years ago is still in my car's rotation, and "At My Age" continues the trend. As a young Stones/NYDolls/ JGeils/Bowie (soon to be Sex Pistols, then Clash) fan, I never would have guessed.

As always, keep up the good work.

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