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Will Fox settlement alter conservative media? Apparently not




NEW YORK (AP) — Days after Fox News agreed to pay nearly $800 million to settle a lawsuit over its airing of 2020 election lies, you’d be hard-pressed to notice anything had changed there.

Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham led their shows Thursday talking about Hunter Biden, the president’s son. Ingraham’s show warned, “The left wants the government to be your only family.” Hannity targeted familiar villains — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Vice President Kamala Harris. Carlson mocked a speech on racial equity, saying it meant “that straight white men are bad.”

Experts doubt the settlement will lead to much of a course correction in conservative media, save for a little less specificity to avoid future lawsuits.


So far, that’s been the chief result of a Connecticut jury’s verdict last year that Alex Jones must pay $965 million to parents of Sandy Hook school shooting victims, after claiming the 2012 massacre was a hoax and that grieving parents were actors. Now Jones is more likely to keep names out of it, said Nicole Hemmer, a Vanderbilt University professor and author of “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s.”

“It hasn’t changed his conspiracy theories,” Hemmer said. “He’s just a little more careful about not saying legally actionable things.”

Heading into the 2024 election, radio host Erick Erickson predicted more hesitancy in conservative media to embrace claims by former President Donald Trump or anybody in politics preaching election denialism. Fox’s response will be most watched.

If anything, Fox is just as dominant among conservatives today as it was in the aftermath of the 2020 election, the period addressed by the Dominion lawsuit. That’s when Fox aired false claims that Dominion Voting Systems helped rig the election against Trump, despite many at the network knowing the allegations were bogus.

Documents in the case exposed the fear within Fox that it would lose viewers if the network didn’t tell Trump fans what they wanted to hear.

A former Fox personality, Bill O’Reilly, wrote after the settlement: “This is what happens when money becomes more important than honest information.” His own experience, though, shows there was reason to be afraid. O’Reilly said he lost more than 1,000 premium subscribers to his website after telling them the election results wouldn’t be overturned.

Fox’s followers, it seems, were more upset with the election reporting than with revelations in the lawsuit about those at the network who didn’t believe the fraud charges and expressed private disdain for Trump.

There’s been little noticeable change in Fox’s television ratings in the past few months, certainly none attributable to the lawsuit. In March, Fox’s website had 88.7 million unique visitors, marking its fourth straight month of double-digit gains, said Howard Polskin, whose website The Righting monitors conservative media.

Most conservative websites either ignored the Dominion lawsuit or gave it cursory coverage, he said.

“The coverage on the right would not support at all that some landmark settlement had been reached,” Polskin said. “It was completely misaligned with the magnitude of the news event itself.”

While Fox acknowledged in the settlement the judge’s conclusion that the network had spread false material about Dominion, Fox offered no apology. That likely would have meant more to Fox’s critics than its fans, anyway, said Megan Duncan, a Virginia Tech communications professor who studies news audiences.

To Fox’s followers, criticism of the network wouldn’t matter much unless it was made by someone who shared their ideology. For the bulk of Fox’s audience, the settlement will be quickly forgotten — if it was followed at all, she said.

For Fox, that’s all an argument for the importance of keeping its audience happy.

That audience is what has made Fox the leading cable television network for several years, so profitable that it is able to absorb the $787 million Dominion settlement as a cost of doing business.

Fox still has legal challenges, with a pending defamation lawsuit by Smartmatic, another elections technology company. But Dominion also has a case against Newsmax, Fox’s chief television rival for a conservative audience. Newsmax insists its case is different and that it has better protections against defamation than Fox did.

But as a smaller company, if Newsmax is wrong, a financial judgment could cripple or kill it, to Fox’s benefit, Hemmer said.

“Fox would absolutely go after that audience,” she said.

Fox soon faces crucial negotiations with three large cable companies — Comcast, Spectrum and Cox — over carriage fees, the amount they will pay to Fox for the right to offer the network on their systems, said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media watchdog group.

Ever since an advertiser boycott against former Fox personality Glenn Beck, largely orchestrated by Media Matters, Fox has concentrated on boosting carriage fees. It has succeeded to the point where Fox would have a 35% profit margin even if it had no advertising revenue, he said.

That makes it important for Fox to illustrate to these companies that it has a large, valuable audience that can be counted on to be loyal at a time people are cutting cable service.

Fox could use the conclusion of the lawsuit to build up its news operation, which has lost personalities such as Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith in recent years, said Chris Stirewalt, an executive fired by Fox after the quick, although ultimately correct, decision on election night 2020 to call Arizona for Democrat Joe Biden in the presidential race.

Fox said that it is doing just that, saying this past week that it has increased its investment in journalism by more than 50%.

“Being a news organization is expensive and dangerous,” said Stirewalt, now political editor at NewsNation. “Not just expensive because you have to pay to get news but also, expensive because you can lose your audience because sometimes you have to tell them what they don’t want to hear.”

It could be easier, and good business, to double down on programming that appeals to the attitudes and emotions of viewers, he said. Fox wouldn’t be alone in following that direction.

“I don’t envy their choices,” he said.

Erickson, the radio host, said he would expect to see greater management control of Fox’s personalities, although this wouldn’t necessarily be something that viewers would notice. That would revert back to the days of the late Fox leader Roger Ailes, drummed out of the network in a sexual misconduct scandal in 2016.

“Whether you liked Roger Ailes or not, he did understand that you should not lie to your audience,” Erickson said.

The ovations delivered on Thursday night by an audience crowded into Hannity’s studio — for him and for Carlson and Ingraham at the beginning and end of their shows — illustrated an enduring point.

Fox has several solid journalists on its payroll but its stars, the chief reason viewers tune in, are those that offer tough talk and opinion.

“I think they’ve backed themselves into a corner, and that corner is full of Trump supporters,” said Hemmer, the Vanderbilt professor. “That is the business model.”



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We need levelling up, not sucking up –



Opinion: 100% Media 0% Nonsense

Media is more important than ever to advertising. But do enough of those working in media really understand it, asks the editor.

How much does a journalist need to understand about the subject matter they’re writing about?

I’ve been a journalist for 15 years now and this question has rattled around my brain at every turn. How much specialist knowledge is required to do a story justice? How little knowledge can I “get away with” in order to give my audience what they need to know in a palatable way?

The answer, in my experience, is not a simple one. Sometimes “less is more”. You wouldn’t believe how many articles I’ve edited over the last few years, from colleagues and external writers, which are overly detailed, too technical, and bursting with “look how much I know” vibes. Sometimes our industry benefits from generalists who can look at specialist areas with fresh eyes and perspectives from other walks of life.


As usual, the optimal outcome is likely one which promotes as much diversity as possible. Which is why The Media Leader has spent the last few months building our editorial team of journalists to provide insightful and useful content every day on our site and newsletter, but also to inform the array of conferences we host. We don’t claim to be experts, but we do draw on our impressive industry columnists who have “been there and done it” in various areas of media and advertising.

With great growth comes great responsibility

Here’s a dirty secret for you: often journalists don’t really understand what they’re writing about. Many will develop an ability to accurately report what they are told (one step removed from stenography) and others still will develop a good sense to draw on authoritative sources.

One case in point is industry analyst and ex-WPP research lead Brian Wieser, whose latest Madison and Wall newsletter revealed analysis showing that “media agencies were responsible for nearly two-thirds of large agency group growth over the last decade”.

I don’t know how Wieser has come to this conclusion but, having read his work over many years, I take his analysis seriously and feel confident enough to pass it on as useful and authoritative. He estimates that WPP, Publicis Media, Omnicom, IPG and Dentsu (outside of Japan) relied on media agencies for 30% of their revenue in 2022, up from 20% in 2012.

We generally talk about “ad agencies” in our industry, but is that what these businesses are, really, anymore? If the bulk of your business is media-buying, you’re mostly a media-buying company.

‘Hi, I’m a chartered media planner’

And yet, despite media being so important to advertising, sometimes you wonder whether a lack of understanding is plaguing the very people who plan and buy media at agencies, or the advertisers who oversee substantial marketing budgets which go towards media spend.

I was intrigued by a recent blog post by Brian Jacobs, the Crater Lake & Co founder and former international media director at Leo Burnett (when an “ad agency” used to plan and buy media — imagine!)

He suggests we should seek to “kitemark” media planning and buying, or encourage practitioners to prove their proficiency by taking some sort of qualification.

Jacobs argues: “[F]inancial advisors have to take regular exams to update and keep their qualifications. Why aren’t agency media people responsible for investing large sums of money subject to the same scrutiny?”

So I asked Jacobs, what makes you think they need this sort of scrutiny? Some of what I heard was frankly disturbing.

“I hear it all the time when advising on media pitches. Agency people presenting from a script using words and phrases they don’t actually understand, or quoting from studies with which they’re not familiar. The look of panic when you ask them to explain the background from which they’ve drawn their conclusions. The lengths to which they’ll go to avoid answering a question of understanding, instead answering a quite different question to which they happen to know the answer.”

Jacobs may be overlooking how intimidating he is; perhaps these poor agency planners have stagefright in front of someone who literally wrote the book on how to spend advertiser’s money (albeit nearly 40 years ago).

But I’ve heard much the same before anecdotally. There was a network agency strategist expressing frustration recently over junior planners who “accept TGI recommendations without adopting common sense… not unlike driving around with a Sat Nav and misunderstanding it so badly you drive off a cliff.”

My understanding is that the pandemic has worsened this understanding gap. Agencies cut costs too quickly in 2020 and rehired too quickly again during the recovery, with many junior people promoted too swiftly.

MediaSense’s Media’s Got Talent? survey last summer also warned that a majority of people in this industry complain of “over-specialisation” as a limit to their career progression. I’ll repeat: sometimes “less is more”. Over-specialisation is almost as bad as a lack of knowledge — you become so adept at doing one thing that you can’t relate it to how it’s good for all the other things which matter too.

Avoiding a Waystar endgame

Perhaps Jacobs is right and it’s time to create a new gold standard qualification for media planners and buyers to show they actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to media and advertising generally, not just small bits of it.

I’m particularly interested in hearing readers’ views on this, privately or publicly. The Media Leader and our parent group Adwanted is actively looking at how we can provide more education and training tools for the industry. We journalists might just learn something, too.

Because if we don’t encourage a culture of learning and achievement to succeed in media, all we’re left with are a collection of businesses resembling Succession’s Waystar Royco — a nest of viperish and sharp-elbowed sycophants climbing over each other for personal advancement.

Media, as Wieser has shown, has become too economically important for that. We need levelling up, not sucking up.

(But then again, look at this remarkably prescient piece on the importance of generalists from 2011 from one Greg Grimmer, who very coincidentally happens to be my CEO…)

Omar Oakes is editor of The Media Leader. 100% Media 0% Nonsense is a weekly column about the state of media and advertising. Make sure you sign up to our daily newsletter to get this column in your inbox every Monday. 

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Michaeli slams right-wing, Haredi media for treatment of slain female soldier – The Times of Israel



Labor party head Merav Michaeli attacks right-wing and religious news media for their treatment of Sgt. Lia Ben Nun, a female soldier killed alongside two male colleagues during a Saturday terror attack.

“On the coalition’s media channels, they see a young man and woman alone at night on guard duty, and all they can think about is sex. Not responsibility, not service, not courage, not comradeship. Just sex,” Michaeli says, opening Labor’s Knesset faction meeting.

A commentator on the right-wing Channel 14 insinuated without any proof that the soldiers from the mixed-gender battalion were behaving inappropriately during guard duty when they were killed.


She also singles out ultra-Orthodox media outlets that showed pictures of Staff Sgt. Ohad Dahan and Staff Sgt. Ori Yitzhak Iluz, but either blurred Ben Nun’s image or featured a photo of an inanimate object, in line with the practice of some Haredi media to not broadcast or display women’s faces.

“As far as Netanyahu’s people are concerned, women are good only to be a womb, on their terms, certainly not to be combat soldiers, members of the Knesset, leaders, or just women in their own right,” Michaeli fumed.

“That is why will not give up until we win the fight for democracy and our country,” she adds, tying her criticism to the larger debate on the coalition’s plans to constrain judicial power.

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Canada should look to its past and Europe for guidance on media policy — but not south



Canada needs to look back on its history of establishing the CBC to avoid its media landscape going the route of its neighbour to the south. (Rod Flores/Unsplash)
Canada needs to look back on its history of establishing the CBC to avoid its media landscape going the route of its neighbour to the south. (Rod Flores/Unsplash)

Seventy years ago, Canadian leaders turned away from the British model of media policy that rejected advertising-supported private broadcasting.

While it’s gone well for a few private corporations, it hasn’t benefited the Canadian public. And the future heralds an even more dangerous American-style media landscape here in Canada.

Canadian leaders once understood the importance and even the potential danger of media to the public. Those lessons need to be remembered. The honourable early history of media policy in Canada needs to be embraced anew.

Aird Commission findings

In 1928, the Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting, also known as the Aird Commission, was created to consider alternative models for the future of Canadian broadcasting.


It was led by Sir John Aird, the president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce. As media scholar Marc Raboy writes in his comprehensive history of Canadian broadcasting, Missed Opportunities, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was established because of public pressure that came from a broad coalition of civic organizations that made up the Canadian Radio League.

The Aird Commission found much to be alarmed about regarding radio. As Aird stated in 1932:

“I have watched — naturally I felt it my duty to watch — the program and the material that was coming over the air, and much of it is of the most objectionable character … what I object to most strongly is the character of the ribald songs and vulgar dialogues regarding robberies, burglaries, hold-ups of banks and things like that.”

A farmer and his son listen to the radio in the mid-1920s. (Shutterstock)A farmer and his son listen to the radio in the mid-1920s. (Shutterstock)
A farmer and his son listen to the radio in the mid-1920s. (Shutterstock)

The commissioners listened to radio around the world and heard the concerns of various communities with access to the medium. They consistently heard complaints about content, but also about advertising.

As a result of its research, the Aird Commission proposed a publicly owned corporation not unlike the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC). It argued the new medium of radio should be regarded as a national public service rather than a profit-making industry, and its ownership and operating structure should be organized to recognize this principle.


Creation of the CBC/Radio-Canada

In 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Act created the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada as a Crown corporation funded through fees known as receiver set licences (initially $2.50 per licence) with limited financing from advertising.

Richard Bedford Bennett, the Conservative prime minister of Canada who had the unfortunate task of attempting to unite a divided and economically struggling country through the Great Depression of the 1930s, pushed the CBC through its parliamentary hurdles.

Bennett proclaimed:

“This country must be assured of complete Canadian control of broadcasting from Canadian sources. Without such control, broadcasting can never be the agency by which national consciousness may be fostered and sustained and national unity still further strengthened.”

In addition to telling the Canadian story to the booming cities of Vancouver, Montréal and Toronto, the CBC was tasked with reaching remote and isolated rural and maritime communities, providing both national and local voices reflecting Canada and in two languages: English and French. Canada’s vast territory and multilingual character made the CBC one of the world’s most far-reaching and complex public broadcasters.

Yet the Aird Commission recommendation that private broadcasting should be fully replaced by public broadcasting never happened.

The British model of public service media funded through receiver licence fees was eventually abandoned in 1953, and CBC funding would be tied to the shifting sands of parliamentary funding.

The CBC logo is projected onto a screen during the CBC’s annual upfront presentation in Toronto in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana MartinThe CBC logo is projected onto a screen during the CBC’s annual upfront presentation in Toronto in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
The CBC logo is projected onto a screen during the CBC’s annual upfront presentation in Toronto in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

Cuts to the CBC

In 1984, the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney made significant cuts to the CBC, and those cuts increased under the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien.

Make no mistake — the BBC has more than its share of problems. While it’s thrived without advertising, it has lost some of its audience to the private commercial broadcasting that began in the U.K. in 1955 and from political pressure exerted by both Labour and Tory administrations.

Nonetheless, the BBC continues to dominate broadcast and online news in the U.K. The CBC has not fared as well.

Budget cuts to the CBC, often fuelled by partisan politics, have wrought havoc. The Windsor CBC station I watched as a child growing up in Detroit was once a profitable Canadian production powerhouse, but it cancelled popular local programming and slashed the news operation.

In 1990, because of further budget cuts, CBC closed down the station’s news department, spurring street protests from thousands of Windsor citizens.

A “Save Our Station” committee was formed to pressure both CBC and the Canadian government to preserve the Windsor operation. Some limited news service was established because of these protests, but other communities once served by the CBC had no such luck.

Private broadcaster CTV has eclipsed the CBC as Canada’s most-watched television network. And according to the independent media database IMDb, CTV’s top programs are all American productions; mainly police and medical dramas.

American-produced shows have long been CTV’s most-watched. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank GunnAmerican-produced shows have long been CTV’s most-watched. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
American-produced shows have long been CTV’s most-watched. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The European way

Europe suggests a better path. A recent study by the European Broadcasting Union shows a strong correlation between a country’s democratic well-being and robust public service media, including online media.

Social media policy in the United States has generated echo chambers of misinformation and conspiracy and has certainly not curtailed the erosion of civic knowledge. A 2022 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center reveals that while many Americans are angry about politics, less than half of those surveyed understood the basics of U.S. government.

And in Canada? According to Statista, Canada is one of the world’s most connected online populations, with a social media penetration rate of 89 per cent of the Canadian population.

The most popular media sites in Canada are also U.S.-based — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A protester holds an anti-Trudeau sign near Parliament Hill in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldA protester holds an anti-Trudeau sign near Parliament Hill in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
A protester holds an anti-Trudeau sign near Parliament Hill in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

U.S.-based, advertising-driven social media sites designed to stoke outrage are not creating more informed Canadians. The actions of the so-called Freedom Convoy illustrates this phenomenon.

And, unfortunately, similar to American civic illiteracy, a recent Forum Research Poll suggests only one in 10 Canadians would pass the Canadian citizenship exam.

Looking ahead

The future of advertising-driven media does not bode well for democracy. Even Silicon Valley leaders are warning against a laissez-faire U.S. policy approach in terms of generative artificial intelligence/large language models like ChatGPT.

The American threat to Canada continues not because of U.S. power, but because Canadian leaders have not put in place policies to foster and protect Canadian democracy.

Civic organizations of all stripes need to come together to demand a new approach to media that’s informed by lessons from Canada’s past and by the obvious mistakes evident south of the border.

This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. The Conversation is trustworthy news from experts, from an independent nonprofit. Try our free newsletters.

It was written by: Mark Lloyd, McGill University.

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Mark Lloyd does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.



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