Category Archives: MSM

Quote of the day II: Google, the imperial censor

From Robert Epstein, Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, California, writing in U.S. News & World Report:

Google, Inc., isn’t just the world’s biggest purveyor of information; it is also the world’s biggest censor.

The company maintains at least nine different blacklists that impact our lives, generally without input or authority from any outside advisory group, industry association or government agency. Google is not the only company suppressing content on the internet. Reddit has frequently been accused of banning postings on specific topics, and a recent report suggests that Facebook has been deleting conservative news stories from its newsfeed, a practice that might have a significant effect on public opinion – even on voting. Google, though, is currently the biggest bully on the block.

When Google’s employees or algorithms decide to block our access to information about a news item, political candidate or business, opinions and votes can shift, reputations can be ruined and businesses can crash and burn. Because online censorship is entirely unregulated at the moment, victims have little or no recourse when they have been harmed. Eventually, authorities will almost certainly have to step in, just as they did when credit bureaus were regulated in 1970. The alternative would be to allow a large corporation to wield an especially destructive kind of power that should be exercised with great restraint and should belong only to the public: the power to shame or exclude.

If Google were just another mom-and-pop shop with a sign saying “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” that would be one thing. But as the golden gateway to all knowledge, Google has rapidly become an essential in people’s lives – nearly as essential as air or water. We don’t let public utilities make arbitrary and secretive decisions about denying people services; we shouldn’t let Google do so either.

Headline of the day II: The revolving door spins

From the Independent:

Corey Lewandowski, barely fired as Donald Trump’s manager, joins CNN as commentator

The CNN stable of political commentators crammed with former aides and managers

Panoptic corporate imperialism, Googled and Liked

From Dutch public television’s VPRO Backlight comes a remarkable documentary posing a fascinating question: Is the absence of digital connectivity becoming the newest luxury good, a costly product for consumption by the world’s elite?

Consider the case of Silicon Valley, where elites send their children to low-tech Montessori and Waldorf schools where they are disconnected from the web and the incessant call to the iPhone is precluded.

Consider even the case of Mark Zuckerberg, a billionaire thanks to the incessant pull of the digital that has fueled the rice of his Facebook empire.

From BBC News:

A photograph of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg shows tape has been used to cover his MacBook Pro’s webcam and mic.

Facebook has not responded to requests for comment about the picture, shared to celebrate Instagram reaching its 500 million monthly user milestone.

FBI director James Comey has previously said he also covers his laptop’s webcam to prevent hackers spying on him.

And digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it regularly sold its webcam “stickers”.

Documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden allege US and UK spy agencies intercepted webcam images from millions of Yahoo users around the world between 2008 and 2010.

And a section of the image in question with the tape clearly visible as a square covering the round camera aperture:


And it’s not just digital cognoscenti like Zuckerberg who display obvious concerns about the intrusion of the digital into daily life.

One of those interviewed by VPRO is Birgitta Jónsdóttir [previously], the founder of Iceland’s Pirate Party, now leading in the polls, and the improbable yet distinctly possible pick as the country’s prime minister.

An early adapter, Jónsdóttir played a role in one of Wikileak’s most explosive releases, video of the American helicopter machine-gunning of two Reuters journalists in Iraq in 2010. The video, likely leaked by Chelsea Manning, embarrassed the U.S. government and made Jónsdóttir the target of efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies and federal prosecutors.

Our digital connectivity, she notes, is all about turning us into commodities by exploiting our deepest secrets and relationships as tools for our own exploitation.

And like Zuckberg, Jónsdóttir keeps her laptop lens covered. And she warns that a’ those “smart” connected devices in your home, especially those responding to voice commands, make every aspect of private lived vulnerable to incessant snooping, catching every cry of ecstasy and despair, and with no legislation anywhere restricting corporate use of your innermost desires to seduce your wealth away.

Evgeny Morozov, a scholar and prolific writer who focuses in the social and political implications of the digital world, notes that the drive for global digital connectivity is driven by a fusion of the imperial interests of American corporations and the Washington establishment, with the implicit demand that those corporations are free from legal liability for their actions.

Especially chilling is a brief excerpt from a speech in India by Mark Zuckerberg in furtherance of his ambition to unite that nation in a digital Webb entirely controlled by his company, and effort he never accomplished until popular opposition forced a pullback.

Especially fascinating is way folks of our own ancestry are adapting to the wireless world. Our last name is Pennsylvania Dutch, folks of the Amish and Mennonite persuasion. The documentary reveals that even the Old Order Amish, the folks who still live in gaslit houses and travel by horse and buggy, now have cell phones and computers [though the phones have no internet capability and online computer access is tightly restricted, and the built-to-order hardware comes with no video capability.

There’s much more. . .

From VPRO Backlight:

Offline is the new luxury [VPRO backlight]

Program notes:

To be online all the time and everywhere. It sounds great, but it has its drawbacks. As digital networks are closing in, there are fewer places to be really on your own. Being offline is becoming a luxury. Where can you be offline?

We are connected to the internet even in our bedrooms. It’s the ambition of companies like Google and Facebook to connect the entire world, so that we can be online all the time and everywhere. This month, Google will send balloons up into the skies over Sri Lanka to provide the island state with free Wi-Fi. On the ground, more and more devices communicate through the so-called Internet-of-Things. We are going to be ‘glass citizens’ in a transparent house, connected for life to a wireless intravenous drip and traced anywhere via our smartphones. What does it mean, this shift to 100 percent connectibility of the entire planet?

The media connived to lift Trump, save him cash

Until Bill Clinton came along, the Federal Communications Commission imposed a strict limit on coverage of active candidates for national office, called the equal time rule.

If you gave five minutes to one candidate’s positions, his rivals were entitled to equal time.

But the Clinton neoliberal regime decided to lift the restraints, and it was Donald Trump who would be the biggest beneficiary, as revealed in a new study from Harvard University Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Two charts covering the 2015 calendar year tell the story quite succinctly:

BLOG Trump Ads value

BLOG Trump coverage tilt

So there you have it.

At the expense of other candidates, the mainstream media handed Trump exposure that would have cost him millions, and the coverage was remarkably favorable.

Only now, it seems, have Trump’s most dangerous qualities come to the fore, a case of neglect that will further diminish whatever respect Americans had left for their mass media.

So what about Bernie Sanders?

From the report:

Sanders’ initial poll position meant that, when he was reported in the news, the coverage was sure to have a negative component. He was in the unenviable position of a “likely loser.” At the same time, his initial poll standing proved advantageous as the year unfolded. As his poll numbers ticked upward, he was portrayed as a “gaining ground” candidate, a favorable storyline buttressed by reports of increasingly large crowds and enthusiastic followers. “The overflow crowds Sanders has been drawing in Iowa and New Hampshire,” said USA Today, “are signs that there is ‘a real hunger’ for a substantive discussion about Americans’ economic anxieties . . . .”  The “real hunger” extended also to journalists, who are drawn to a candidate who begins to make headway against an odds-on favorite. It’s a David vs. Goliath story, the same story that helped propel Gary Hart’s challenge to Walter Mondale in 1984 and John McCain’s challenge to George W. Bush in 2000. A challenger also gives journalists what they relish most—a competitive race. “Hillary Clinton can’t afford to ignore Bernie Sanders any longer,” said a CNN piece. “She has a serious problem on her hands. Sanders is showing that his campaign poses a genuine threat. He is drawing massive crowds months before the caucuses and primaries begin and without much of a staff to speak of.”

Strictly in terms of tonal balance—good news vs. bad news—Sanders was the most favorably reported candidate—Republican or Democratic—during the invisible primary. Figure 5 shows the month-to-month balance of Sanders’ coverage excluding statements that were neutral in tone. In the first four months of 2015, befitting a “likely loser,” Sanders was not getting much coverage and what little of it he got was almost evenly balanced between positive and negative.  Thereafter, his coverage shot into positive territory, rising rapidly before slipping somewhat as a result of his less-than-stellar performance in the early pre-primary Democratic debates.

Sanders’ issue positions also netted him positive coverage. Although they accounted for only about 7 percent of his coverage, they were a source of “good news.” News statements about Sanders’ stands on income inequality, the minimum wage, student debt, and trade agreements were more than three-to-one positive over negative.That ratio far exceeded those of other top candidates, Republican or Democratic.

Here’s how the coverage played out:

BLOG Sanders

Blood on the newsroom floor. . .media shifts

Today, a graphic post following up on yesterday’s post on shifting revenues in the media world.

First up, from the Atlantic, a look at the shift in advertising revenues form 1925 to 2015 as new media emerged, starting with radio, followed by television. and now the Internet:

BLOG Journo ads

Also from the same page of Atlantic, a the overall advertising revenues for all news media over time from 1925 to 2015, expressed as a percentage of the Gross National Product:

BLOG Journo revenues

Next, from the Columbia Journalism Review. a look at the dwindling newspaper advertising revenues, with online advertising growing as revenues of the papers’ dead tree versions fall:

BLOG Journo newspaper ads

Finally, where do we get our news?

BLOG Journo keyThe answer from Digital News Report 2016 from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, an exhaustive survey of news media in the developed world, including detailed analyses of the audiences for a wide range of media and featuring a demographic analysis of just who trusts/distrusts the sources of information we rely on to follow the world around us [the key is to the right]:

BLOG Journo sources

Journalists demand Digital First Media disclosure

Digital First Media is a giant of the dying world of American newspapers, controlling most of the newspapers read by Californians, an boasting sizeable circulation in other states as well.

But the company is now owned by a hedge fund, an outfit that views its newspapers as “properties,” with assets to be stripped and sold off whenever quick bucks are needed.

The company has gutted what was once one of California’s most politically powerful newspapers, the Oakland Tribune, reduced an editorial staff that was 125 when we first first moved to California a number that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, then merged it into an amorphous entity now called the East Bay Times, a paper that represents a merger of the Trib, the Contra Costa Times, the Hayward Daily Review and the Fremont Argus.

The merger followed waves of layoffs at each of the other papers, office closings, and the selloff of properties.

And now for the announcement from the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America:

Digital First Media workers and advocates for responsible and quality journalism are launching a campaign to demand investor transparency by Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that purchased Digital First Media newspapers and properties beginning in 2009.

The campaign was announced today by The NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America, which represents DFM workers.

Alden has been seizing the assets of Digital First Media newspapers: selling real estate, slashing newsroom staff, and outsourcing work to drive up profits for privileged investors. Alden’s actions are affecting local and community coverage and diversity in newsrooms and on the newspapers’ editorial pages.

Alden Global Capital is known as a vulture fund, and is secretive even by hedge fund standards, with money stashed in notorious tax havens around the world. Its actions are not only hurting newspaper employees but are limiting coverage of community issues and harming long-established editorial voices. Alden’s founder, Randall Smith, is a major donor to right-wing candidates and to the Republican Party.

Hundreds of prominent journalists, newspaper workers, and advocates for quality journalism are petitioning Alden, demanding full transparency about the hedge fund’s investments and investors, as well as its political donations.

“Alden is one of the largest newspaper owners in the United States, yet it operates as a dark web of complex business structures to hide itself from public view,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild-CWA.  “Alden is laying off the very journalists who’d be reporting this kind of vital information to the public. We believe the public has a right to demand complete transparency about Alden.”

The campaign is using the hashtag #NewsMatters to spotlight the vital role that journalism plays in our democracy and to build more public support. The campaign also is using the hashtag #AldenExposed as part of its demand for investor transparency.

“Alden can’t and shouldn’t operate in the shadows while it’s strip mining its newspapers,” said Sara Steffens, secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America, and a former DFM employee who was laid off from her reporting position at the Contra Costa Times. “Alden should invest in these highly profitable papers so that they can properly serve their communities.”

The NewsGuild-CWA represents 870 workers at 12 DFM newspaper bargaining units nationwide, 11 of which have expired contracts.  Many workers haven’t had a raise for seven to 10 years.

The newspapers include the Denver Post, Mercury News, East Bay Times, Monterey Herald, St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Macomb Daily and the Daily Tribune, Kingston Freeman, Pottstown Mercury, The Delaware County Times, The Trentonian, and the Norristown Times-Herald.

Numbers confirm the delocalization of journalism

From State of the News Media 2016, the annual report on America’s working press from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Delocalized news

Another set of numbers compounds the problem:

BLOG J Chart

As profits decline for local newspapers and television, more ;layoffs follow, leading to a decline in the quality and quantity of local journalism, leading to more losses of subscribers and viewers, leading to more loss of revenue, leading to. . .an accelerating death spiral.

What the numbers speak to is a worrying trend, the delocalization of journalism.

All politics is local, and so is news

Legendary Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously declared that all politics is local, meaning that all political acts impact on all of us.

And what newspapers, local radio stations, and local television news used to do was connect events at the national and international level with the local community.

Thousands of reporters dug into the connections, coming up with stories that tiend events in the larger arena with local businesses, school, community organizations, and individuals.

Reporting on those links brought the political down to earth, revealing the positive and negative implications of seemingly distant events down to earth.

Without that linkage, political discussion becomes generalized and abstract, a tool for division and sowing doubt and confusion.

We would argue that the collapse of community journalism and the relentless drive to find the local linkages iplows the ground for candidates like Donald Trump.

Anyway, that’s what one old curmudgeon thinks in the long, dark hours of night.