Thursday, February 20, 2014


The right is ginning up another large-scale freakout with the potential to go mainstream, and it seems to be based on -- I know this will shock you -- a misreading (to use a charitable term) of what a government agency is doing. This freakout isn't just happening on the fringe: a right-leaning FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, took to the Wall Street Journal editorial page to denounce the nonexistent threat to freedom. Howie Kurtz, who still has credibility in the Beltway, is howling about this for Fox News.

... everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.

Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree. Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs," or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about "the process by which stories are selected" and how often stations cover "critical information needs," along with "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."
The title of this Big Brother-ish effort by the Federal Communications Commission sounds innocuous enough: "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs." But it's a Trojan horse that puts federal officials in the newsroom, precisely where they shouldn’t be....

Perceived station bias? Are you kidding me? Government bureaucrats are going to decide whether a newsroom is being fair?

Keep in mind that the commission has the power to renew or reject broadcast television licenses. During Watergate, Richard Nixon's FCC challenged two TV licenses of stations owned by the Washington Post. So mere information gathering can become a little more serious, given that enormous clout.
Oh, and National Review hears "echoes of the IRS in the FCC snooping scandal."

It doesn't matter what the truth is: every right-winger in America will now believe, for all time, that the evil Obama administration set out to control and censor the news. That story is metastasizing on the right, which means it's going to bleed out to the middle, even as Democrats, liberals, and other reasonable people stand around stupidly, not realizing what's been inadvertently unleashed, and only now dimly grasping that some pushback is needed.

Right Wing Watch's Kyle Mantyla has the real story of what's going on, which is both innocuous and rather boring:
No, The FCC Is Not Going To Be Stationing Monitors In Local Newsrooms

... As luck would have it, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler recently sent a letter to the chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee explaining that the right-wing fear-mongering over this study is totally overblown and inaccurate, as the FCC "has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters."

As Wheeler explained, the FCC has a legal obligation to identify "market entry barriers for entrepreneurs and other small businesses in the provision and ownership of telecommunications services and information services" and make a report to Congress. The study in question aims to identify the "access/barriers to [Critical Information Needs] in diverse American communities" within "FCC regulated markets."
As the letter (PDF) makes clear, this is an effort to fulfill obligations in existing telecommunications law. You got a problem? Change the law. And similar studies have been done in the past.

Try not to fall asleep reading the excerpt from the letter posted below

This is not unprecedented. The heart-pounding bestseller FCC Econometric Analysis of Potential Discrimination Utilization Ratios for Minority- and Women-Owned Companies in FCC Wireless Spectrum Auctions, for instance, was published in 2000 (PDF) and was prepared by the totalitarian Maoists at the accounting firm of Ernst & Young.

The study attempts to assess how "Critical Information Needs" are being met by media outlets. A media consumer survey in the study (PDF) gives a sense of what that means:
You wake up to find several inches of snow on the ground. You need to know whether your child's school has been cancelled or delayed, and whether the roads are clear enough for you to get to work. Where would you find this information?
a) Internet, Site/s: _______________________
b) Radio, Station/s: _______________________
c) TV, Station/s: _______________________
d) Local newspaper/s, Name/s: _______________________
e) Social Circle/Individual/s: ________________________
f) Another Resource: _______________________
g) None of the above

While riding the bus home from downtown, you noticed that there were many law enforcement personnel at your stop. They had guns drawn and the dogs were looking around sniffing the trash cans. How would you go about finding out what was going on and what they may have been looking for? ...

You noticed a strange leak at the gas station. After watching it for a while, you tell the gas attendant. The attendant only speaks Spanish and you do not but you do not think that the building is safe. What resources will you use to find out if there is a safety issue? ...
And so on. The FCC wants to know how people learn about such meat-and-potatoes issues. This is not about turning every media outlet into The Rachel Maddow Show. But that's what you'll be told is happening, by many, many loud voices in the near future.


UPDATE: The right gets another kill. Fox News reports:
The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that it was putting on hold a controversial study of American newsrooms, after complaints from Republican lawmakers and media groups that the project was too intrusive.
Baby cries, mama buys.


Jules said...

So Right Wingers will continue to watch Faux Newts because that's the only REAL news.

I'm wondering if Pai should be sanctioned (or tossed in the drunk tank) for grossly misrepresenting what his agency is doing.

Victor said...

On FOX, and Reich-Wing talk radio, and their websites, it's always sunny out when there's a Republican President.

And there's a shitstorm outside every day, when there's a Democratic one.

Unknown said...

I wonder if the NRO will change its policy on this once Michael Mann becomes its new owner.