It's been an entire year since the First Amendment suffered a gigantic blow as a result of the 2012 Scott Walker recall campaign in Wisconsin, though it's one that very few Americans above and beyond astute BRAD BLOG readers, even know about. And now, there is another threat to Free Speech, stemming from that same recall of GOP Presidential hopeful Walker looming at the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.
Walker's attorneys are now arguing at the Wisconsin State Supreme Court that it is a violation of the First Amendment rights to even investigate whether the Walker campaign broke state law by the controversial candidate personally soliciting funds from non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups so donors to his campaign could remain secret. In a separate gambit, they also tried to make that case to the United States Supreme Court, which early Monday sent the case back to Wisconsin.
And it now appears that Right Wing Radio talkers --- at the core of a very real First Amendment blow suffered one year ago --- are, once again, in the thick of all of it.
This is all related to what Media Action Center (MAC) members discovered during the 2012 recall campaign when talk hosts on Wisconsin radio giants WTMJ and WISN gave hundreds of hours of free airtime for GOP luminaries like Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus and Wisconsin GOP Vice Chair Brian Schimming in order to promote and recruit volunteers for Walker during that contentious campaign....
I didn't want to say anything about this last week, given the hard fought and well won victory of Net Neutrality proponents. They worked hard and long and smartly and organized very well and deserved at least a few days of victory laps for the effort.
Indeed, as noted in attorney Ernie Canning's piece here Thursday, describing the legal contours and challenges the FCC's new ruling attempts to circumnavigate: "The new policy is unquestionably a victory for both the idea of Internet freedom, as well as for the unprecedented campaign waged by the public to advocate in favor of 'Net Neutrality' over the past several years. An outspoken public won the day, for a change, against very powerful interests. It was a victory that, particularly over previous years, seemed to be anything but assured."
So this thought is not meant to diminish the accomplishment of the army of Davids' who defied the odds and managed to defeat an army of Goliaths in a way that was virtually unthinkable even a year ago.
On Thursday, by way of a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted 'Net Neutrality' regulations that embody the "bright-line" rules that had been proposed by President Barack Obama last November.
The new policy is unquestionably a victory for both the idea of Internet freedom, as well as for the unprecedented campaign waged by the public to advocate in favor of 'Net Neutrality' over the past several years. An outspoken public won the day, for a change, against very powerful interests. It was a victory that, particularly over previous years, seemed to be anything but assured.
Of course, as anticipated, the ruling drew harsh reactions from some Congressional Republicans as well as major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) which could otherwise profit from the imposition of tolls on the Internet. (See two video explainers at end of article). Those reactions included a prediction by AT&T and by the Telecommunications Association, an industry trade group, that the new rules would be overturned either by Congress or the courts.
While both litigation and a GOP challenge to the newly adopted 'Net Neutrality' rules are almost certain, neither legal nor Congressional challenges are likely to succeed. Here's why…
On Monday, President Barack Obama, both in a surprisingly clear written statement and video-taped announcement (posted at end of this article), called upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt "bright-line" rules that would ensure an "open and free" Internet via the concept of "net neutrality" --- a concept that would, in the President's words, ensure there "are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access. There are no toll roads on the information superhighway." Anything less, the President proclaimed, "would threaten to end the Internet as we know it."
Though oversight similar to that called for by the President resulted in a record number of public comments (99% in favor) to the FCC, predictably, the President's announcement drew harsh reactions not only from the handful of corporations which could profit from those Internet highway tolls, but from their Republican allies. Following Obama's comments, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-FL), for example, quickly denounced "net neutrality", if somewhat cryptically, as "Obamacare for the Internet."
Republican opposition would amount to little more than public grousing, however, if, in accordance with the President's recommendations, the five Obama-appointed FCC Commissioners (only three can be of the same party) carefully craft new regulations that "reclassify Internet service under Title II of...the Telecommunications Act," a reclassification that would undo the damage wrought by the Republican George W. Bush-appointed FCC Commissioners in 2002.
Reagan, who happened to be a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association (which virulently opposed the "Brady Bill"), nevertheless regarded the legislation as a common-sense effort to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
Marking the passing of Reagan's Press Secretary and the legislation's namesake James Brady, Kornacki observed that Reagan's support for the "Brady Bill" helped to ease the pathway towards its passage under President Bill Clinton in November 1993. However, after Congress passed a now-expired assault-weapons ban in August 1994, opponents of gun safety seized political power (beginning with the November 1994 midterm elections) and began to thwart any further efforts to decrease the carnage that turned children into corpses.
However, what Kornacki failed to mention was that the same Republican icon who boldly supported the "Brady Bill" also helped create, through one infamous Executive Order, the very circumstances that led to the demise of gun safety measures in the US --- as well as health and climate safety in the world...
It might, however, come as a surprise to the 1972 FCC. That year, the Federal Communications Commission discussed a ruling that became known as the "Zapple Doctrine". The rule extended the federal agency's interpretation of the equal time provisions, Section 315 of the Communications Act, to apply to supporters of candidates, as well as candidates themselves. If airtime was granted to a candidate over the public airwaves, equal time had to be made available to his or her opponent, if it was requested.
Zapple expanded the equal time provision to apply to supporters of candidates as well. It only made common sense, as the FCC explained in 1972...
What we were stating in Zapple was simply a common sense application of the statutory scheme. ... If the DNC were sold time for a number of spots, it is difficult to conceive on what basis the licensee could then refuse to sell comparable time to the RNC. Or, if during a campaign the latter were given a half-hour of free time to advance its cause, could a licensee fairly reject the subsequent request of the DNC that it be given a comparable opportunity? Clearly, these examples deal with exaggerated, hypothetical situations that would never arise. No licensee would try to act in such an arbitrary fashion.
"Exaggerated, hypothetical situations that would never arise?" Really? "No licensee would try to act in such an arbitrary fashion"?
Hey, 1972 FCC, please meet the 2014 FCC.
On May 8, 2014, the FCC, issued their response to MAC's complaint, filed after we discovered that two Milwaukee, Wisconsin powerhouse radio stations were giving millions of dollars in free airtime to supporters of GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker, and not allowing supporters of his Democratic opponent any free airtime at all --- all in rather clear violation of the FCC's Zapple Doctrine...
P.S. While you're listening, please consider donating to The BRAD BLOG so we can continue to afford to keep bringing you this kind of news, programming, journalism and analysis. We really need your support these days to keep going. Thanks in advance!
Finally. For the first time in years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rolled back the mad consolidation of our public airwaves by huge corporate interests.
Today's party-line vote by commissioners is just one small step for the FCC, but it may suggest that, under its new Chair Tom Wheeler, the federal agency may once again be showing some interest in fulfilling its mission of assuring that the public airwaves actually serve the public interest...
The Federal Communications Commission today took a critical first step toward tightening its rules and putting more of the public airwaves into the hands of local owners.
In a tense vote, the agency closed a loophole that has allowed companies like Raycom, Sinclair and Tribune to evade federal ownership limits. The industry calls these loopholes "joint service agreements," but we call them "covert consolidation" because they allow companies to control as many as four TV stations in the same market. Companies that have exploited the JSA loophole have gutted newsrooms and often broadcast the exact same newscast on multiple stations in the same community - if they run any news at all.
In the wake of this decision, some companies will be forced to sell off stations that violate the new rule.
In addition, the JSA loophole was one of many. The Department of Justice has pushed the FCC to close all loopholes and a recent statement from the FCC's media bureau suggests it's primed to scrutinize future deals.
The LA Times reports the new rules "will greatly reduce and potentially bring to an end the popular practice of business partnerships between competing local television stations."
Mind you, many of the corporations who have been abusing the rules by partnering to avoid competing with other local stations are the very same corporations who pretend to be in favor of so-called "free market competition."
The Times goes on to note that "FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said such partnerships have been abused by many broadcasters who have used so-called joint sales agreements to get around the regulatory agency's rules limiting the number of television stations a broadcaster can own."
"Broadcasters will have two years to unwind their joint sales agreement arrangements or can file a request for a waiver and try to make the case that the partnership serves the public interest," the paper reports. Public advocates like Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron, who otherwise lauded today's vote, still has "concerns about how the FCC will apply waiver standards."
Still, Aaron said in a statement issued today, the new rules amount to very encouraging news from the FCC for a change...
The question I hear time and time again from audiences who see my documentary film, Broadcast Blues is, "Why did you leave your lucrative career in broadcasting to become a media reform activist?"
The truth is that, once upon a time, I worked in a newsroom where a corporate owner ordered me, a reporter, to skew my reporting to purposely make a man on trial for murder --- look guilty.
In an instant, my entire life changed. The trust I'd had in my news organization vanished. And the deeper I looked into the way corporate owners manage the message they want the public to hear, the more disillusioned I became.
There is more to that story --- so much more --- but you'll have to wait for me to finish my book to get all the chilling details on it.
But this is the kind of story that many reporters could tell, if only they dared. But when they dare, as Jane Akre and Steve Wilson did, they can get fired for telling the truth. (Who can forget the story of these Fox affiliate investigative reporters who tried to report on Monsanto Bovine Growth Hormone being injected into cattle, only for it to then be found in the milk supply, which experts said could cause cancer? WTVT fired them after Monsanto complained to Fox "News" chief Roger Ailes.) The reporters filed a whistleblower suit, and Akre won. But Fox won in the end, by getting a court order that, legally, news does not have to be true. Akre and Wilson lost not only their jobs, but ended up having to pay Fox' attorney fees. (See my story from Broadcast Blues on this case, including courtroom footage here.)
This is the kind of information I suspect the FCC was hoping to tease out in their planned "Multi-market Study of Critical Information Needs" [PDF] which, as I wrote last week at The BRAD BLOG, sparked a right wing firestorm in recent weeks when Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai went public with a Wall Street Journal op-ed accusing his colleagues of "meddling with the news" by simply asking voluntary questions of newsrooms. The study was part of the FCC's statutory requirement to report to Congress every three years, as they have for decades, on identifying "barriers to entry into the communications marketplace faced by entrepreneurs and other small businesses."
The question for reporters from the CIN study that was most disturbing to Pai: "Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?"...
The entire right-wing mediasphere flexed its powerful muscles last week against its only regulator, the Federal Communications Commission.
It started when the new Republican FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai, ignored traditional inter-agency channels and went straight to the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal to accuse his colleagues of "meddling with the news."
That was all it took.
Pai's beef? That the FCC would be conducting a "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs" (CIN) to question radio and TV reporters and editors about how they determine which stories to run and which not to run. The study would also ask ask about "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."
As I reported at The BRAD BLOG way back in 2011, "The FCC is tasked with making sure the broadcast media --- via the limited broadcast spectrum which is owned by we, the people --- serves the public interest. Every four years, as required by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC must revisit the issue of public interest in media ownership." Despite the right wing hyperventilation over the nefariousness of the CIN study, it's simply part of the FCC's statutory mandate, as explained here.
What's most interesting, however, is that Pai enlisted the very same right wing Pied Pipers who have long taken control of and, indeed, dominate the very airwaves we ALL own, and which most of us agree need more diversity and public oversight --- in hopes of intimidating the new Democratic FCC Chair Tom Wheeler into providing less diversity and public oversight.
That bit of upside-down policy jujitsu was, ironically enough, enabled by the tremendous power of broadcasting over our publicly-owned airwaves.
Following the siren call of Pai's piping, both Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck dutifully took to those airwaves coast-to-coast to work their 30 million or so radio listeners into a frenzy to prevent the FCC from following the agency's decades-long mandate for determining whether local broadcast news organizations are serving the "public interest" or whether they are merely producing news stories mandated by their corporate owners.
Back in 2004, I listened to Al Franken on Air America. For all of ten minutes.
Nine years ago, I was a Republican having second thoughts about giving George W. Bush a second term. Between the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the over-the-top demagoguery of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's marriage-equality ruling, I found the idea of voting for Bush again distasteful.
So I decided to give Franken, the franchise player of the then recently launched Air America radio network, a chance; maybe he could convince me to vote for John Kerry. However, after ten minutes of listening to Franken and co-host Katherine Lanpher, I decided that I wasn't really the target audience. I went back to listening to Rush Limbaugh, and --- God help me --- I ended up voting for Bush again.
Looking back, I realize that I was taught to hate Franken --- and anything that wasn't right-wing radio. It's a lesson I never should have learned...
As might be expected by an industry with a long track record of willfully misinforming the public, perhaps it is not surprising that Radio Ink --- which bills itself as "Radio's Premier Management & Marketing Magazine" --- would wildly mischaracterize not only the piece I wrote, but the legal underpinnings of the case which is helping to bring the question of what comprises "Bonafide News" to the forefront.
In other words, rather than challenge my actual argument or what I actually wrote or what is in our published legal filings, the unbylined Radio Ink article simply made up a straw man --- she wants to "stifle" and "silence" and "censor" Talk Radio by "government mandate"! --- and then knocked it handily down. That is, of course, what they do in Talk Radio.
Let's start with Radio Ink's first words (I wish I could tell you the author, but he/she remains anonymous): "The Huffington Post is helping the Media Action Center promote the organizations [sic] attempt to stifle the long success of Talk Radio, mainly Rush Limbaugh, and put pressure on radio stations to let them on the air via government mandate."
What a loaded sentence. But let's start unpacking.
Yes, Huffington Post printed my oped on their pages, (as did The BRAD BLOG). Printing well-researched stories is what online news outlets do. But Radio Ink is apparently not an online news outlet, in that sense, so they may not be familiar with how they work. Instead, they insinuate some kind of collusion between my organization, Media Action Center (MAC) and HuffPo. They do it with good cause: they are creating a meme for the entire talk radio industry --- and its helpful sycophant echo chamber on the Right --- to follow. First, they name a left wing bogey man (HuffPo!), then they completely misstate my organization's objective, which is not to "silence" anyone, but rather, to fight to not allow anyone to be silenced over our public airwaves. Finally, they bring forward the oft-repeated, knee-jerk cant that we want a "government mandate" to allow the collective us onto the airwaves --- the airwaves that we all own.
Absolutely none of that is accurate or true, or even close to what my article was about. But that's "talk radio" in written form apparently. Which leads me to ask this: Why does Radio Ink and its followers hate the rule of law?...
President Obama recently nominated Tom Wheeler as the new Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency tasked with protecting the public interest in broadcasting, particularly over our public airwaves.
One of the first questions Wheeler's FCC will have to (reluctantly?) decide: Is Talk Radio the same as "bonafide news"?
More than three quarters of the American public say no, according to Pew Research, and one would think an agency sworn to protect the public interest and its airwaves would agree with that vast majority. But will Wheeler choose to put the public interest first, or will his FCC continue to simply turn a blind eye, as the agency has done since the Reagan administration?
After what we documented last year in Wisconsin, and after official complaints were filed in turn with the FCC about how corporate radio stations there appear to have abused their licensed privilege to broadcast over our public airwaves, that question may finally have to be answered by the federal agency tasked with enforcing the law over those very airwaves...
It's a beautiful and maddening film, featuring many voices --- such as Julian Assange, John Nichols, Dan Rather, Amy Goodman, Robert Parry, Robert McChesney, Dan Ellsberg, Sibel Edmonds and many more, including even yours truly --- who will be familiar to readers of The BRAD BLOG. While aspects of a number of the stories told in the film may be familiar, there were elements that even I hadn't heard about it, in just about every one of them.
I had planned to ask Tremblay about his struggles finding commercial theatrical distribution for the film in the U.S. I'd presumed that, at least, would be next to impossible, given the subject matter of the film (the corporate takeover/merger of the near-entirety of our mainstream media in collusion with the highest levels of the U.S. government.) What I hadn't counted on --- what caught me completely off-guard --- was that Tremblay said that, while the film has been featured at prestigious film festivals around the world, the bulk of the major festivals in the U.S. had turned the film down. Yes, those supposedly "independent" film festivals are, apparently, not quite as independent as they used to be, it seems.
Our conversation, today, was the first, as I understand it, that Tremblay has been able to have in the U.S. media about this important film which has been several years in the making. (I was interviewed for the film about three years ago as I recall.)
The good news: We were able to talk about all of that today, unencumbered by any corporate filter and over our public airwaves on Pacifica Radio in L.A. (and over 110,000 blazing FM watts across much of Southern and Central California!)
The even better news: You can watch the film, in its entirety, streaming on the Internet as of tomorrow, Thursday, April 4 at Shadows.KCETlink.org. (You can watch a number of clips from the film there already.)
And, the even better news still: Shadows of Liberty will air on actual television, beginning Friday, April 5th at 8pm ET and PT on independent KCET in Los Angeles and nationwide on Link TV (DISH Channel 9410, DIRECTTV Channel 375).
Until then, you can listen to my conversation with Tremblay from today's BradCast, which includes a number of clips from the film --- along with a few more items of note in the news week (such as concerns about the 100% unverifiable voting systems set for use in the race of Stephen Colbert's sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, in her run for the U.S. House in S. Carolina against former Gov. Mark Sanford; the Virginia GOP voter registration worker who was caught tossing registration forms into a dumpster just before the Presidential Election last year, but who seems to now be getting off the hook, and, of course, a visit from our own Desi Doyen, as usual, with the latest Green News Report) --- all right now here.
P.S. Please be the media and spread the word. Thanks. P.P.S. If I haven't "sold" you enough on the film here and in the radio show above, see the official trailer embedded below. Those of you who know my voice will recognize it a few times...
I am extremely proud that The BRAD BLOG is now a part of Pacifica Radio's nearly 65-year legacy, as highlighted in the new, very cool video above.
My own show, The BradCast, airs on Pacifica's Los Angeles affiliate, KPFK 90.7 FM on Wednesdays at 3pm PT, and it's an honor that our broadcasts are now part of Pacifica's long and crucial legacy of broadcasting in the public interest over our public airwaves.