Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's say we had a "progressive message." Do we have any way of spreading it?


It could just be a coincidence that Rupert Murdoch's ideological obsessions all lead toward greater influence and bigger profits. Or maybe not.

by Ken

We're going to assume for the moment that we actually had a "progressive message," the sort of thing that could be presented to significant segments of the American electorate to persuade them that progressive values are their values and the best route to bringing them a safe and fulfilled life. It's a large assumption, I know, but we're going to be coming back to this part of the equation in the days, weeks, and months to come. My immediate question is, assuming we had such a message, do we stand any reasonable chance to get it before the public?

I'm not going to say it's flatly impossible, but I am going to say that it would be very, very difficult, because of the stranglehold the extreme Right has acquired on the machinery of messaging -- and not surprisingly, a lot of that has to do with money. Tonight I just want to dust off this obvious structural factor we're up against.

In doing so, I'm going to register a point of disagreement with an esteemed colleague, AlterNet's Washington bureau chief, Adele Stan. Last week Addie wrote a rip-roaring diatribe against Apple's Steve Jobs for going into cahoots, I mean business, with none other than Satan's own media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. As she put it:
It's enough to launch an Apple boycott by progressives: Steve Jobs, master innovator of those hipster devices of choice, just delivered a kick in the teeth to Apple's most ardent fans with news of his deal with Rupert Murdoch for an iPad-only newspaper to be known as The Daily, to be made available through Apple's App Store. Subscriptions will go for 99 cents per week.

It was hinted by the New York Times's David Carr, Addie says, that Jobs picked Murdoch over other suitors for this sort of arrangement because of Murdoch's willingness )"against the wishes of other Fox executives") to offer Apple Fox programming for sale on iTunes at bargain prices. Assuming this is what was in the deal for Jobs, what about our Rupert?
What did Murdoch get? Carr crunches a few numbers to show that The Daily is not likely to be a big money-maker for Murdoch. Sure, not as a retail product. But Murdoch has long been willing to prop up enterprises that don't earn big bucks (or sometimes, as in the case of the New York Post, lose big bucks) for the sake of advancing his ideological agenda -- an agenda that, should it be enacted, would yield Murdoch billions more than the 6 billion he's already worth.

Take Glenn Beck (yeah -- please). If Glenn Beck's purpose in life was to earn mega-advertising dollars for Murdoch, he'd have been off the air more than a year ago, once Color of Change's successful advertiser-targeted campaign lost Beck nearly all of the big, corporate sponsors for his eponymous Fox News Channel show. Yet, Beck remains in place because he organizes grassroots activists in the service of Rupert Murdoch's anti-Obama, anti-regulatory, anti-labor, anti-government agenda. Should that agenda succeed, Murdoch stands to reap billions more than the measly millions a rehabilitated Beck might bring in if Proctor & Gamble sold soap in Beck's time slot.

And so Beck is free to draw his multi-episode, defamatory, lie-infused campaign against George Soros, billionaire and donor to progressive causes, straight from the pages of Mein Kampf (without attribution, of course). That Soros is a Jewish Holocaust survivor is somehow twisted to prove the point. If Rupert Murdoch had a problem with Beck's hate-mongering, with Beck's desecration of the memory of 6 million murdered Jews, Beck would be gone in a minute.

But Murdoch does not. And, apparently, neither does Steve Jobs. What's a little Holocaust revisionism when 99-cent episodes of "The Family Guy" are at stake?

In getting the green light to create, without competition, a brand-spanking-new product specific to the iPad, Murdoch will have the opportunity to make inroads into opinion-makers of a demographic group currently beyond his reach: the upwardly mobile hipster, the slick early adopters, cats who are too cool to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and its iPad app but who just might go for a first-of-its-kind product developed specifically for the device, available nowhere else, especially if it's dressed up with smart-boy writers, such as New Yorker music critic and designer Sasha Frere-Jones, who is reported to have signed onto the Murdoch project.

This is same Rupert Murdoch who walks hand-in-hand with David Koch, whose AFP Foundation and sibling organization, Americans For Prosperity, convinced a certain contingent of fearful white senior citizens that the new black president was looking to use health-care reform to kill them off. Together, the organizations headed by Koch -- who also heads a corporation that is a major polluter -- and Murdoch advance race-infused conspiracy theories in their campaign against the president of the United States that poison the national culture, render facts irrelevant and make bipartisan cooperation impossible.

Obviously, I don't disagree in any way with the perniciousness of the Murdoch empire, or of the Koch brothers'. I would just suggest disagree that with Murdoch and the Kochs ideology trumps profits. To me the problem is more sinister: Profits are these people's ideology.

As Jane Mayer wrote early on in her still-indispensable New Yorker exploration of the world of Charles and David Koch and Koch Industries:
The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry -- especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers' corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a "kingpin of climate science denial." The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups.

As Mayer showed throughout the piece, by eerie chance the Kochs' massive cash investments in its chosen ideological instruments all seem to have the effect, or at least the intended effect, of enriching Koch Industries' bottom line. And yes, Rupert Murdoch is willing to operate some of his businesses, like the New York Post, without regard to maximum profits, or even any profits at all, because they serve to advance his influence and ideological predilections, but i would argue that the reason he wants to advance his influence and ideological predilections is to maximize his profits.

As I've pointed out before, he's even happy to have himself and his properties ridiculed by The Simpsons as long as the show continues to shovel money into his coffers. In my way of looking at Rupert's operation, it's why he doesn't care about the moral repulsiveness of Glenn Beck's psychotic fantasies; over the long haul Glenn B is going to help him raise the News Corp empire to even more dizzying heights of profitability.

In the end, I don't think it matters whether Addie's right or I am about the motivations -- the result is the same. The fact remains that the right-wing zillionaires who bankroll the Far Right these days can do so as an investment. And that's something we on the Left won't ever, as far as I can see, be able to compete with. As far as I can tell, for all the money George Soros has contributed to progressive causes, I don't see that he stands to make a dime on them.

So as the Supreme Court continues to make "Money Talks, Screw You" the electoral law of the land, what's most frightening to me is the prospect that the Right can raises these gigantic war chests from super-rich Righties who undoubtedly have ideological axes to grind but who also expect to turn a healthy profit on their investment.


There are important reasons why we tend to focus on Rupert Murdoch (the reach and calculated-for-influence organization of his media empire) and the Kochs (the scale and, again, organized-for-maximum-influence network of ideologically driven organizations). But of course they're hardly alone as cash cows for the Far Right. Brad Reed has a useful piece, also on AlterNet about "5 Right-Wing Scumbags Bankrolling Dangerous (and Plain Weird) Conservative Causes, leading off with an old DWT favorite, Sheldon "Moneybags" Adelson.

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At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Sue Wilson said...

Here's the real problem: The GOP hijacked the nation's radio microphones in 1996 and have been using the publicly owned airwaves as their own private cheerleaders ever since.

Consider: Glenn Beck reaches 2 million viewers on FOX, but 9 million listeners on Talk Radio. See stats here: http://retwt.me/1PVsG

Most people don't realize it, but Radio is still America's number one source of news and information. Don't believe it? Check this out:

We need to take back the airwaves - the airwaves that we the people already own! Do that, and progressives will get their message out - and start winning elections again.

But it's going to take a real fight. An uprising. The GOP will fight with everything they've got: Rush, Sean, Glenno, Laura, Savage... It's time we fight back.

I'm ready to do battle... are you?

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I have a movie about this topic, Broadcast Blues. Find the director's cut at my blog. It was online for two days at "Russia Today," but now it's disappeared. (You read that right: Russia tried to air it, but the U.S. will not. What does that tell you?)

Very dangerous territory... teehee!

At 4:34 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Fabulous fighting spirit, Sue!

I think the old "follow the money" adage reveals a lot about how the Right hijacked radio as well. The failure of Air America Radio was instructive for me. It wasn't necessarily a programming failure at all, but the usual left-wing ineptitude at spending money was reflected in the series of broadcasting nitwits who wound up making broadcasting decison.

That said, again I love your fighting spirit, and I hope lots of folks check out your links, including the movie. Thanks for checking in here!



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