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 DR. KING’S CRUSADE, ECONOMIC JUSTICE AND MEDIA CONSOLIDATION  
[https://portside.org/2018-01-18/dr-kings-crusade-economic-justice-and-media-consolidation]


 

 Bob Hennelly 
 January 17, 2018
Salon
[https://www.salon.com/2018/01/17/dr-kings-crusade-economic-justice-and-media-consolidation/]


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 _ King’s critique of power was never purely about race: The
collapse of independent media is partly what got us here. It was the
independent and radical left media that forced mainstream media to
cover the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, poverty and
the fight against it. Over the last 15 years, more than half the jobs
in the news industry had disappeared, media consolidation will quicken
this trend. _ 

 Credit: AP/Tribune/Salon, . 

 

In the aftermath of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, perhaps we
should reflect on how we went from our first African-American
president to Donald Trump, whose recent racist rant directed at Haiti
and all of Africa has once again cast our president as a white
supremacist in the eyes of the world.

Those remarks followed on President Trump’s controversial response
to last year’s Nazi rally
[http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/12/us/charlottesville-unite-the-right-rally/index.html] and
torchlight parade in Charlottesville, on the hallowed grounds of
Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia. Over that weekend, an
anti-Nazi protester was mowed down by an apparent white supremacist
who drove his vehicle into a crowd. Later in the day, two Virginia
state troopers were killed when their helicopter crashed accidentally.

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country,”
said KKK leader David Duke
[http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/346326-david-duke-charlottesville-protests-about-fulfilling-promises] during
the rally. “We are determined to take our country back. We are going
to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”

The president cast the violent turn of events as one where the Nazis
and their opponents were morally equivalent because there was hate
“on many sides.
[http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/12/politics/trump-statement-alt-right-protests/index.html]”
Organizers of the “alt-right” march were heartened by the
president’s refusal to condemn them and wrote in their Daily Stormer
that it was a clear sign that he was in their corner.

NEWS VERSUS INFOTAINMENT

Our nation is deeply and bitterly polarized. It is increasingly
unlikely we can move forward collectively as a nation because we have
been torn asunder, armed with competing news narratives. Our news is
now a melange of social-media echo chamber and media outlets pitching
us what they think we want to read, with confirmation-bias analytics
as their guide. It's a perennial cyber-war, one that can only end when
the other side is totally annihilated with a flash and a bang. Our
past ignorance digs us in ever deeper.

This collapse of civility has come with the loss of a national common
fact-pattern on which we can debate the issues of our day. To a large
degree it is the consequence of a multinational corporate news media
complex that has decimated independent local news coverage in the
pursuit of profit over the public interest. In their quest for global
domination and saturation they have been abetted by the Federal
Communications Commission and a Congress that (at least to some
degree) they bought
[http://www.pcgamer.com/us-congress-has-accepted-101-million-from-big-telecom-so-far/] and paid
[https://towardfreedom.com/archives/media/congress-and-corporate-lobbyists-rewrite-telecom-act/] for.

PUBLIC TRUST AND CORPORATE PLUNDER

The airwaves and radio frequencies are a public asset that were
originally licensed to broadcast companies as a conditional public
trust that could be revoked if those companies operated only in their
own self-interest. They were subject to heavy regulation in exchange
for access to these lucrative platforms that brought them into every
American home.

Here was the deal: Broadcast corporations were required to provide
local news and information that was in the public interest. Under
the Equal Time Doctrine
[https://definitions.uslegal.com/e/equal-time-doctrine/] they had to
make an effort to provide equal time to political candidates. When
covering controversial issues they had to comply with the Fairness
Doctrine
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-fairness-doctrine-in-one-post/2011/08/23/gIQAN8CXZJ_blog.html?utm_term=.7329c615ad8b],
which mandated they provide balanced and fair coverage.

Also baked into FCC laws and regulations was the precept that
the concentration
[http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-fcc-media-ownership-debate-20140611-story.html] of
ownership of newspapers, TV and radio stations by monopolies posed a
threat to democracy. But in waves of bipartisan media and telecom
deregulation, especially under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill
Clinton, the media giants got their way and the public’s interest
was sold out.

EXIT LOCAL NEWS; ENTER AGGREGATED FREE CONTENT 

No doubt the advances in communication technologies have radically
altered the journalistic landscape and created a crisis for the old
newspaper and broadcast journalism business model. According to a
recent Pew Center report
[https://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2016/06/30143308/state-of-the-news-media-report-2016-final.pdf],
over the last few years the nation’s overall newsroom workforce
experienced its sharpest decline since 2009.

"According to the American Society of News Editors’ Newsroom
Employment Census, after falling 6% in 2012 and 3% in 2013, overall
newsroom employment was down 10% in 2014 – the most recent year for
which figures are available – to 32,900,” reports Pew. “Between
1994 and 2014, the profession has shed over 20,000 jobs, representing
a 39% decline.”

In November the Columbia Journalism Review
[https://www.cjr.org/local_news/local-news-new-york-city.php], citing
the Bureau of Labor Statistic, reported that over the last 15 years,
more than half the jobs in the news industry had disappeared. In
January 2001, the industry employed 411,800 people. By September 2016,
that number had plummeted to 173,709.

Between 1981 and 2014 the nation went from 1,730 newspapers to 1,331.
According to the website Newspaper Death Watch 
[http://newspaperdeathwatch.com/]that decline continues, not just in
terms of newspapers closing down altogether, but in reporters having
their pay cut by double digits and being forced to take furloughs so
their publisher can keep them employed while bringing down labor
costs.

At the same time, decades of influence peddling and millions of
dollars in campaign contributions
[https://theintercept.com/2017/04/13/telecom-cash-isp/] paid off, as
the public airwaves increasingly became more like privately held real
estate. Make no mistake, this betrayal of the public trust has been
bipartisan, enabled by a revolving door between government and
industry.

THE GOLDEN REVOLVING DOOR

Take Ajit Pai
[https://www.alternet.org/activism/fcc-end-net-neutrality-threaten-online-activism],
a former top lawyer for Verizon whom Trump appointed as chair of the
FCC. In Pai’s career he cashed in his service as a  government
lawyer and regulator in service to the same kinds of media
conglomerates
[https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/24/sinclair-tribune-media-merger-free-speech] he
used to regulate. He was first appointed to the FCC by Barack Obama.
It was Pai who led the charge to end net neutrality, which will allow
the same corporatist interests Pai had served to throttle the speed of
the internet as they see fit.

Back in 2004, the late New York Times columnist William Safire
[http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2004-02-17/news/0402160278_1_comcast-bid-media-power-murdoch]foresaw
the long shadow of media consolidation clearly:

The reason given by giants to merge with other giants is to compete
more efficiently with other enlarging conglomerates. The growing
danger, however, is that media giants are becoming fewer as they get
bigger. The assurance given is "look at those independent Internet Web
sites that compete with us" — but all the largest Web sites are
owned by the giants.

How are the media covering their contraction? ... Much of the coverage
is "gee-whiz, which personality will be top dog, which investors will
profit and which giant will go bust?"

But the message in this latest potential merger is not about a clash
of media megalomaniacs, nor about a conspiracy driven by "special
interests." The issue is this: As technology changes, how do we better
protect the competition that keeps us free and different?

You don’t have to be a populist to want to stop this rush by
ever-fewer entities to dominate both the content and the conduit of
what we see and hear and write and say.

Is it merely coincidental that this breathtaking concentration of
corporate media power comes as the well-documented concentration of
wealth continues to accelerate in this country?

As journalism jobs disappear, and pay and benefits erode for those who
continue to work in the field, the consolidation of the news media
industry continues to accelerate, with multimillion-dollar payouts for
the architects of  journalism’s downsizing.

THE TRIBUNE-SINCLAIR AFFAIR

There’s no better example of the anti-democratic corporate news
media consolidation than the pending deal between Tribune Media and
Sinclair Broadcast Group
[https://www.salon.com/2017/09/08/this-sinclair-tribune-merger-is-a-rotten-deal-for-america_partner/].
Last year Sinclair announced it had agreed to buy Tribune for $3.9
billion, securing access to more than 70 percent of American
households, with local stations in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

Back in 2004, it was Sinclair
[http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22788-2004Oct10.html] that
planned to pre-empt regular programming two weeks before the November
presidential election to air a “documentary” that accused Sen.
John Kerry, then the Democratic nominee for president, of betraying
American prisoners during the Vietnam War. Sinclair has stations  in
swing states like Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin, although at the
time it only reached 24 percent of U.S. television households.

But the company's bold move of going to air with the anti-Kerry hit
piece, which had already been rejected by the major networks, sparked
a firestorm.  More than 100 Democrats in Congress asked the FCC to
step in and review Sinclair’s decision. The Democratic National
Committee filed a formal complaint with the Federal Elections
Commission and activists launched a shareholder action against
Sinclair. Ultimately, after significant pushback, the right-wing
broadcaster aired only excerpts of the Kerry-bashing film.

A few months earlier Sinclair had ordered seven of its ABC-affiliated
stations not to air an episode of "Nightline" that carried the names
of American soldiers killed in Iraq because the company did “not
believe such political statements should be disguised as news
content.”

The New York Times
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/03/business/dealbook/sinclair-media-expansion-fox-conservative-media.html] reported
that during the 2016 election the broadcaster developed an alliance
with the Trump campaign. “More recently Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s
son-in-law and now a senior adviser in the White House, said at a
meeting with business executives that the Trump campaign had reached
an agreement with Sinclair to give more access to Mr. Trump and the
campaign under the condition that the interviews be broadcast without
commentary on the company’s affiliates, according to two people who
had attended the meeting but were not authorized to discuss it,” the
Times reported. “Taped in Sinclair’s Washington bureau, the
interviews with Mr. Trump were broadcast across several swing
states.”

Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner who now advises Common Cause,
has described Sinclair as “the most dangerous company most Americans
haven’t heard of.” Copps took specific aim at the right-wing
broadcaster's practice of requiring local stations to carry
commentaries from former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn
[http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-media/2017/07/10/boris-epshteyn-sinclair-broadcasting-240359].

“So much for community news. So much for real news. So much for
journalism. So much for fair and open media,” Copps said. “No one
company should have such power over the news and information that
citizens must have.”

According to SEC documents, the Sinclair-Tribune  deal will pay
Tribune’s interim CEO Peter Kern $3.25 million to “reward his
efforts” when the deal goes through this year. Also on Tribune’s
board of directors is New York Public Radio’s president and CEO
Laura Walker, whose compensation for running the NPR affiliate WNYC,
along with her Tribune post, earn her $1 million a year, according to
the New York Times
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/nyregion/wnyc-chief-laura-walker-firing-hosts-misconduct.html].

FLYING BLIND WITHOUT LOCAL REPORTING

Over the arc of American history, it was a robust local press that
often reported the stories about those in society who were the most
marginal and vulnerable to exploitation. So much of Dr. King’s work
that moved the nation and the world was documented by an army of local
newspaper and broadcast journalists in the places where he preached
and protested. Our situational awareness of local conditions was made
possible by these journalists and their outlets, now largely extinct.

This local news reporting void, which has only grown worse over time,
created the blind spot that caused the national corporate news media
to miss the widespread economic decline
[https://www.salon.com/2016/07/25/growth_in_white_poverty_fuels_trumps_run_largely_ignoring_the_trend_has_consequences/] of
Main Street America that Donald Trump cynically exploited. The Federal
Reserve and the Clinton campaign hailed the aggregate unemployment
data as a sign of a robust economy. But voters don’t live in the
aggregate.

When we honor Dr. King, we must remember that for him the American
story was not all about race.

During King’s last year, marked by the April 4, 1967, speech
[http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_beyond_vietnam_4_april_1967/] he
gave at Riverside Church in New York, his critique of America remains
as subversive now as it was then. He railed against the obscenity of
America’s military spending and the continued prosecution of the
Vietnam War. He decried the nation’s vast wealth and income
disparity.

Usually, our corporate news media likes to keep the King remembrance
focused on civil rights and racial progress. It's much less
threatening to the established order that way.

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values,” King
said. “We must rapidly begin … the shift from a thing-oriented
society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers,
profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than
people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and
militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

What would Dr. King find today? America’s wealth and income gap has
grown exponentially, reaching its highest since 1928 and continuing to
accelerate. “In 1928, the top 1% of families received 23.9% of all
pretax income, while the bottom 90% received 50.7%,” according to
the Pew Research Center. “But the Depression and World War II
dramatically reshaped the nation’s income distribution: By 1944 the
top 1%’s share was down to 11.3%, while the bottom 90% were
receiving 67.5%, levels that would remain more or less constant for
the next three decades.”

Beginning in the mid- to late 1970s, the Pew analysis continues, "the
uppermost tier’s income share began rising dramatically, while that
of the bottom 90% started to fall.”

By  2015, the average annual income for the bottom 90 percent of
American households was $34,074 while the average income for the top
one percent was $1.36 million, according to a research paper
by Emmanuel Saez
[https://eml.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2015.pdf], an
economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1968, before King was killed, he organized the Poor People’s
Campaign, meant to dramatize the plight of the nation’s impoverished
people of all races. After his death, Dr. Ralph Abernathy  took over
the national crusade, but its impact was muted and its mission soon
forgotten. In the early 1970s the United States had about 25 million
poor people; by 2014 that number had nearly doubled. What side of the
Sinclair-Tribune deal do you think Dr. King would be on?

_[Bob Hennelly has written and reported for the Village Voice,
Pacifica Radio, WNYC, CBS MoneyWatch and other outlets. He is now a
reporter for the Chief-Leader, covering public unions and the civil
service in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @stucknation
[http://@stucknation]]_

_This article originally appeared at Insider NJ
[https://www.insidernj.com/dr-king-say-tribune-sinclair-deal/].
Published with permission of the author._

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