The late Frank Stanton and the Blacklist

The passing of former CBS head Frank Stanton has generated eulogies, especially for his work protecting the interests of television journalists. For that, Mr. Stanton was roundly hailed as a champion of the First Amendment. But Mr. Stanton’s role in promoting the Blacklisting of writers and artists during the McCarthy era is a less known part of his legacy. We don’t have time to go into here, so this excerpt from a fine 1999 article by Jeff Kisseloff will have to do.

“In 1950, Mr. Stanton approved a companywide loyalty oath to reassure advertisers and self-proclaimed patriots of the political correctness of CBS employees. The next year, with Paley’s approval, Mr. Stanton took the network beyond Red Channels with the creation of a security office staffed by former F.B.I. agents to investigate the political leanings of its employees…In a recent interview, Mr. Stanton, 91, said blacklisting had been necessary to stave off pressure from advertisers and affiliates who were threatening to abandon CBS and possibly shut it down. He conceded, however, that the network’s response to the pressure may not have been the best one.”

Our point here. Media executives, with rare execptions such as Norman Lear, have always placed the interests of their company and the industry ahead of the public interest. Instead of standing up for more robust journalism and quality, they too often trod the path of what is safe. Although media execs like to generously praise each other as valiant protectors of the public, what often lies beneath is just another corporate lobbyist.
Source: “Another Award, Other Memories of McCarthyism.” Jeff Kisseloff. New York Times. May 30, 1999

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FCC Chief Kevin Martin: Ignorant of Media History. Lesson # 1–Cable is a Community Communications System

Kevin Martin is the chair of one of the most powerful federal agencies–the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Martin’s first allegiance–as with most of the FCC’s chairs–is with the corporate media and telecommunications industries. Martin should be serving the public, working to ensure that the country’s electronic media system blossoms into a dynamic and diverse system of communications. But Martin’s worldview is shaped by the requirements of companies who will likely employ him in the future–and will need to be tapped for campaign contributions (like his predecessor Michael Powell, Martin is interested in elected office in the future).

Anyway, to the point. If Martin was aware of communications history in the U.S., he would have acknowledged that cable television is supposed to be a “community communications system.” That’s what cable’s promise was back in the 1960’s and 1970’s–and how cable policies evolved. (I won’t go into the details here, but do cover them in my book, out early Jan.). Martin helped further wreck cable’s potential to serve as a system designed to truly serve communities. He and his two GOP colleagues voted the other day to weaken the process protecting communities when they negotiate with electronic media giants. Now, phone companies–and soon cable–will be free to run its operations in communities without regard to the public interest.

Shame on Kevin Martin for helping AT&T, Verizon and others further dominate what should be regulated as a public trust–the nation’s broadband media system. But let this sad epsiode serve as a lesson. Next time the Senate considers a nominee to the FCC, let’s fight anyone who will place private corporate interests ahead of citizens, communities and the nation as a whole.

Progressive 2.0–We Need to Build a "New" New Media System for U.S.

We are convinced that the only way to ensure a more democratic and diverse communications system in this era of “anytime/anywhere” media is to “build” it. Public policy will not be able to play a leading role to help us do that–certainly in the short term. What’s required is a strategic effort designed to harness the power (and challenges) of convergence by fostering large-scale collaboration and partnerships. The potential of Web 2.0 sites that foster community building is a critical area for progressive endeavors. As we have said, the Web 2.0 model offers the opportunity for communities and the nation to have diverse, public-interest-oriented and sustainable digital communications services. We should not cede media influence to services who are primarily interested in financial profit–they will dominate unless we can challenge the new media status quo.

We will need to tap into the expertise of new media business types who wish to harness the power of the media for social good. In that respect, we believe that the Huffington Post’s hire of a Time Warner executive familiar with online ad sales (and who will help it better connect with the growing revenue stream of Web 2.0 media) is something which should be replicated.

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As Progressives Plan to Meet in Memphis, it’s Time to Look Beyond Policy

We are heartened by the upcoming conference on media reform coming up Jan. 12-14. But the focus of the conference should be to look beyond Washington for answers. The communications industry is already defining our emerging digital media reality through major investment and mergers. Washington—even under the Democrats—can’t really help in the short-term. Media industry leaders know this—that policy is largely irrelevant at the moment. Yes, we should fight for network neutrality, access for low-income Americans and oppose big mergers. But we must also address how the public interest can be best served in this broadband media “anywhere, anytime” era. It requires, in our opinion, a proactive effort to shape the marketplace. If we are going to have a media system which provides serious news, as well as promotes ideas which puts people first (think health care, employment, education and peace), we need to work together to help create it.

The theme for Memphis should be to both address policy and market activism. Otherwise, we won’t make the progress we so desperately require.

MSN’s Holiday Challenge: Using Sweepstakes to Collect Your Data for Uncle Bill. Not Santa

The new sweepstakes run by Microsoft’s MSN unit–Holiday Challenge [‘Win Up to $50,000]–is emblematic of one of the key ways online marketers collect your personal and related data. Hey, they say. `Wanna win some big bucks?’ Just fill out the form to play. They assume, natch, that you won’t be clued in to the data collection and branding game going on. They don’t make much of the lifeless link which takes you to its privacy “Highlights” page (you have to click again after that if you want to reach the full privacy policy pages). Once enrolled in the game, Microsoft will be able to learn about your behavior online at various MSN pages–all the while you have to endure rich media/search engine pitches for products.

Microsoft, we know, is now seeking to develop a business model for the always-on era. Selling software can no longer cut it as a steady and significant revenue source. But Microsoft should do this in a way that makes it the corporate leader fostering privacy online–as well as supporting content and culture that enriches democracy. Its new sweepstakes ploy reveals a cynical lack of both imagination and commitment to do something better.

Commercial Alert’s Work on Stealth Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Getting the FTC to Wake Up

Congratulations to the group Commercial Alert for pushing the Federal Trade Commission to act, even timidly, on one of the most egregious marketing ploys. “Word-of-mouth” marketing uses people–including kids–to push products to friends and others. Such product pushers receive all kinds of compensation, including feeling they are among an “in-crowd.” That’s what companies actually say to these kids. It was Commercial Alert’s petition that got the FTC to admit greater disclosure is required. Such marketing tactics are part of the emerging “360” degree field of “engagement” that advertisers and brands are building. Wherever we go, online and off, we will be the targets of marketing (including what is known as WOM). But at least now, as as a result of the Commercial Alert work, stealth product pushers better fess up. Perhaps we will even see some changes in how the companies engaged in such sorry practices, especially using kids/teens, operate. If not, these companies will find themselves on the wrong side of branding.
Gary Ruskin and his colleagues deserve our thanks.

AT&T/BellSouth & Cisco: Business Partners in the Marketplace and at the FCC

The FCC’s General Counsel has quoted from a letter Cisco sent urging the FCC to swifly act on the AT&T-BellSouth mega broadband merger. The Counsel just gave FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell permission to participate in the proceeding (to his credit, McDowell recognizes there is a conflict of interest). But Cisco’s plea is mere special interest lobbying for its “strategic” business partner-AT&T. Also see these links. FCC Counsel Feder should have acknowledged such ties when he quoted from the Cisco letter (as well as with the BellSouth/Cisco connection). It’s another illustration why the FCC needs a thorough ethical house cleaning. The agency requires an in-house watchdog whose duty is to the public–and not the corporate interests the FCC is intended to oversee. The public deserves to be protected by the appointment of an independent ombudsperson whose duties would be to represent the interest of the average consumer. One of the first reports that should be made is a list of the “revolving door” personnel between the media and telecom industry and FCC. It is shameful that so many FCC chairs, commissioners and senior staff seek employment from the very interests they govern. Role models are Gloria Tristani and Nick Johnson, who pursued non-profit and education work after their terms of office. The golden revolving door list should be made very public.

The Adelphia Cable and Bank Settlement: Illustrating the Big Media/Telecom/Banking Nexus

Even though investment banks knew that former Adelphia exec’s–primarily the Rigas family–were using the cable giant as a personal “ATM machine”–they kept lending it money. Now, 39 banks (and the Deloitte & Touche auditing firm) have settled a bankruptcy-related lawsuit with investors–to the tune of $455 million. Neither the banks nor Deloitte admitted wrongdoing. But Citigroup, JPMorganChase, Wachovia, Bank of America and so many others have agreed to pay. The settlement, btw, is just a fraction of what investors say they lost from the cable industry shenanigans of the former Adelphia management. But so eager to make transaction fees and so sure that Adelphia’s cable subscribers would ultimately have to foot any red-ink, the banks kept lending and lending [according to the unsecured creditors complaint]. But we want to make a related point. Wall Street has helped fuel a conglomerated media and telecom culture–despite negative consequences to our democracy. Investment banks have too often operated in a self-serving and short-term focused manner when it comes to communications, We think it has had particularly negative consequences to both journalism and civic discourse. Reading the original complaint and related documents would be a perfect way to start thinking about what should be done to better protect the public.

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Follow the Data—N.Y.Times Overlooks

Today’s business story on Microsoft’s online business honcho Steve Berkowitz over-looked a key critical dimension with what is really going on at that company. Microsoft is now focused on interactive advertising–and data collection–as a primary source of revenue. Microsoft has turned every bit of itself into a system that serves the needs of its adCenter [Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions]. As we explained recently in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, Microsoft’s bundling of search, rich media, user-generated content (blogs, videos), email, instant messenger, etc. to help collect the data used for advertising microtargeting is on the cutting-edge of what threatens consumer privacy, in the U.S. and everywhere else.

We hope that the news media will look closely at its own operations as its relates to interactive marketing and privacy. Everyone, including the New York Times, is engaged in interactive data collection and ad schemes that threaten our privacy. Perhaps if business reporters, editorial boards, and executive producers were willing to cast a critical eye at themselves in this regard, we would have business stories that got to the core of what is driving e-commerce today.

“Looking for a Gambit To Win at Google’s Game.” Saul Hansell, NYT. 12/9/06

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