Category Archives: Blog

Millions Spent To Influence Healthcare Reform

The New York Times reports $11 million this month going to 27 Democrats from groups that oppose the legislation.

“The Chamber of Commerce is leading the opposition to the health care bill with a coalition called Employers for a Healthy Economy. In two weeks, the group has bought more than $7 million in television advertising and plans to spend up to $3 million more. Americans for Prosperity, a group financed by David Koch, the oilman, is also jumping into the fray with an advertising campaign of nearly $1 million.”

The other side is writing some big checks as well-

“An alliance of groups supporting the health care plan, which works closely with the White House and Democratic leaders, had been spending far less and focusing on fewer districts. But after pharmaceutical companies made a $12 million investment for a final advertising push, spending by both sides for the first time is now nearly the same.” –NY Times

TV Station For Sale On ebay

No kidding.    I just checked and the starting bid for WMKG-TV on ebay now stands at $550,000,00.  It’s a tv station “on channel 38 with property” in Muskegon, Michigan.

‘”A UHF station in western Michigan – WMKG-LP, Channel 38 – that airs a mix of live talk shows and outdoor sports programming, is “priced to sell” at $700,000, according to its listing on eBay. And the owner, Bud Kelley, says he’ll go even lower.

Mr. Kelley had originally listed the station – including property, license and equipment – on the online auction site for $1 million before dropping the price to $700,000, and said on Thursday that he’d be happy with a $500,000 cash sale. Most of the people who have inquired so far were “tire-kickers,” he said, though serious offers have come his way.

“It’s a real station, not a toy,” said Mr. Kelley, 67, who has run the 24-hour station since it went live in April 1990. “It’s just retirement time for me.”’ –NY Times

Wanna get into the tv biz? (local pickup only)

State Of The News Media

The Project For Excellence In Journalism’s annual “State Of The News Media” report is out.  Highlights include:

“For the third consecutive year, only digital and cable news saw audiences grow among the key sectors that deliver news.  In cable in 2009, those gains were largely captured by one network, Fox, though during the day, a breaking-news time, CNN also gained viewers.”

The study also points to online news consumers being adverse to paying for content on the Web, with about 35% saying they go to a favorite site each day and only 19% saying they would be willing to pay for news online.

The report indicates a 27% drop in ad revenue for local television and a bleak picture for network news.

“Network news economics are harder to divine, but PEJ estimates that the three news divisions saw revenue declines in 2009, probably in double digits. Network ad revenue fell 10% over all. NBC now derives more than half of its news revenues from cable, and its single most important financial contributor is its financial cable news channel CNBC. PEJ estimates that CBS News did not turn a profit, and ABC managed to do so with cutbacks in 2009 and again in early 2010.”

The report shows Gannett and MediaNews Group to be the nation’s biggest newspaper companies, with GE and Walt Disney leading the pack for network tv.

Yahoo! and GE are in first and second place for online news.

Despite its current difficulties, the Tribune Company continues to be the 4th largest local tv and 5th largest newspaper company in the country.


The U.S. Supreme Court And Tea Party Politics

clarence thomas sworn in while wife virginia looks on

Kathleen Hennessey reports in the Los Angeles Times, that the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence (can you get me a coke?) Thomas, has created her very own Tea Party group.

 “In January, Virginia Thomas created Liberty Central Inc., a nonprofit lobbying group whose website will organize activism around a set of conservative “core principles,” she said.

The group plans to issue score cards for Congress members and be involved in the November election, although Thomas would not specify how. She said it would accept donations from various sources — including corporations — as allowed under campaign finance rules recently loosened by the Supreme Court.” -LA Times

According to her bio on the “Liberty Central” website:  “Ginni is committed to serving as a clearinghouse for new and more effective online activism. Ginni, the ‘proud’ Nebraskan, is a fan of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham and other talk radio hosts. She is intrigued by Glenn Beck and listening carefully. She also enjoys motor homing and watching “24”.”

Rewriting History – Indecent And Indefensible

A must read by Frank Rich in the New York Times, on how history is being rewritten in an effort to justify political missteps.

“Now the revisionist floodgates have opened with the simultaneous arrival of Karl Rove’s memoir and Keep America Safe, a new right-wing noise machine invented by Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz and the inevitable William Kristol. This gang’s rewriting of history knows few bounds. To hear them tell it, 9/11 was so completely Bill Clinton’s fault that it retroactively happened while he was still in office. The Bush White House is equally blameless for the post-9/11 resurgence of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Iran. Instead it’s President Obama who is endangering America by coddling terrorists and stopping torture.” -NY Times

Wall Street’s Risk Addiction?

A revealing interview with MIT finance professor Andrew Lo on the PBS Newshour.   The area of the brain that is stimulated by high risk investment he says,  is the same area stimulated by cocaine.    He also points out that any systemic failure has both winners and losers.  Explains a great deal, doesn’t it?

Jogger KIlled By Wolves In Alaska

The LA Times reports that a 32-year-old special education teacher was killed and partially eaten by a pack of wolves in Chignik, Alaska.   The paper reports that Candice Berner, was listening to an ipod while jogging on a deserted road.

A native of Slippery Rock, PA, Berner was a relative newcomer, arriving in Alaska in August.  According to a report in the, Ms. Berner was 4 feet 11 inches tall.

I’m writing about this here because of the rarity of people being attacked by wolves (my initial reaction was that the story might be a mistake) and because this is sure to open the floodgates for Sarah Palin supporters, saying she was right in promoting the hunting of wolves from aircraft.

Another Whitman Campaign Misstep?

Evan Halper and Michael Rothfeld are reporting in the Los Angeles Times that some of Meg Whitman’s investments (she’s said to be worth around 1.2 billion) could pose a conflict of interest should she win the election for governor.  Beyond that, she appears to be taking advantage of the current “credit crisis,” something the opposition could spin as an attempt to profit from the hard times non-wealthy regular folk are going through.

“Billionaire GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has invested her vast wealth in firms that sought to profit from the country’s credit crisis, in venture capital and hedge funds open only to the wealthy, and in oil, gas, healthcare and other concerns seeking to influence state policy.”  -LA Times

That being the case, you would expect a peremptory strike from the Whitman campaign, by way of an announcement that she will be putting her money in a blind trust to eliminate any potential conflict of interest problem.    But that’s not what they are saying.

‘”Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said the candidate would “likely” move her holdings into a blind trust if she is victorious “and will scrupulously avoid any conflicts of interest.”‘-LA Times

Why is it just “likely?”  Isn’t she sure?  First they build a reputation for slamming the door on the press and now this.  And Whitman is billing herself as a super-exec?

At the same time, the Whitman campaign appears to be spending a ton of money on  attack ads, with only a few coming back at her from the  Poizner Campaign.

Meantime, old political dog Jerry Brown seems to be lying back, probably with a smile on his face, while his Republican opponents spend their money tearing into one another. It could be progressing differently in different media markets, but that’s the way it looks here in L.A.


Senate Puts Another Band Aid On The Problem

The Senate has passed an emergency relief package.  According to a release from Senator Dianne Feinstein-

“The bill will offer much needed relief to the 2.26 million out of work Californians who are relying on unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits to tide them over until they can find a good paying  job – by extending those vital safety net programs through the end of the year.

This provision could assist an estimated 200,000 Californians who could become ineligible to receive benefits once the current 30-day extension expires.  For unemployed California families, the average monthly COBRA premium is $1,107.  The COBRA premium assistance reduced this cost to $388 per month, and without this benefit, unemployed Californians could lose $720 a month.”  –Sen. Dianne Feinstein

This is great news for the unemployed.   Still, you have to wonder if the good folks inside the beltway understand how much $388 a month is to a family with no regular income.

It also remains painfully obvious that the august and honorable body that just passed this emergency legislation is the same millionaire’s club that’s so cozy with the insurance industry that meaningful  healthcare reform will be nearly impossible to achieve.   Unless that’s done, we will all eventually go broke paying for the ever-escalating cost of healthcare, with or without a “good paying job.”

Question:  Is that 39% rate hike by Anthem/Blue Cross still going to take place here in California?  The one that’s gonna jack up rates to around 800,000 of us here in the Golden State?  Can you guys take a reality check break and get a public option back on the table?

I almost never agree with Glenn Beck, but I am in total agreement with him when he says our house is on fire.   The Senate will have to do more than hit it with a squirt gun.

More Millionaires In The U.S.

Things must be getting better?  Euronews reports on a jump in the number of millionaires here in the U.S.

“Last year there were 16 percent more millionaires households; an estimated total of 7.8 million. That was still way down on the record 9.2 million in 2007.  The numbers of ultra high net worth families – those worth at least five million dollars – also jumped 17 percent last year.  The ranks of the rich were considerably thinned by the recession and dropped 27 percent in 2008.”-Euronews

Based upon the unemployment numbers in California, Michigan and elsewhere, I have a feeling this improvement isn’t being shared all that much by middle and lower-income Americans.


Conan O’Brien Taking His Act On The Road

Conan O’Brien is opening a 30-city tour with Andy Richter and the former Tonight Show band.  It sounds like he’s basically doing the same show he was doing for NBC.

“The “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” begins April 12 in Eugene, Ore., and concludes June 14 in Atlanta. It will visit theaters in at least 20 states and two Canadian provinces. Additional dates may be added.” -AP

The late great Steve Allen, said the only reason people would watch anybody doing the Tonight Show is because it’s on tv.  I think Steve was probably right.  I also think O’Brien will draw a crowd in the theaters as he has a cult following thanks to his Tonight Show gig.  Be interesting to see how he does.

Local TV News In The Public Interest? Are You Kidding?

Picked up from LA Observed:  A new study has been released by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism entitled “Local TV News in the Los Angeles Media Market: Are Stations Serving the Public Interest?”

 ‘“When it comes to local news, more people” – 68% — “say they get that news from local
television stations than any other source,” says a recent Pew poll1. Internet news is rapidly
gaining consumers, but independent city-specific Web sites mainly link to stories from local TV
and newspapers; they rarely report original hard news (only 3.6% of the time, according to one
study)2; their audience is often in the thousands, compared to the millions watching TV news;
and that audience “is very transient, stumbling upon the site once, and never returning.”3 That’s
why, despite the rise of blogs and citizen journalism, the quality of local TV news remains so
important to democracy.”‘ -The Anneberg School Study

My first reaction was the thought that no study was needed.  Is this really a question anymore?   However, I’m surprised and a bit dismayed to see that so many people are still turning to local tv news, which has become a mix of demographic sensitive promotion and advertising driven mush combined with a heavy dose of the daily crime blotter.  I thought more people had turned to the Internet, or were getting no news at all.  Which is what they sometimes get, if they’re depending upon local tv news as their only source for news and information.

Years ago, Walter Cronkite conceded that television news is a mix of entertainment and journalism by virtue of the fact that reporters appear in front of a camera.   However, in years gone by that mix was weighted heavily in favor of journalism.  It was rumored that Cronkite wouldn’t put a major breaking story on the CBS Evening News until he had seen it in The New York Times.  I have no idea if that’s true but I do know that most of us on the tv side were trying to be as good as the papers.  We weren’t, generally, but we were trying and sometimes we succeeded.  In the early days, quite a number of the reporters seen on television (like Cronkite) came from print and their influence had an impact.

With the advent of consultancy, deregulation and the pressure of ad dollars being drained away by satellite/cable and the Internet, the mix has shifted to where it is now weighted heavily in favor of entertainment and mostly meaningless crime.   Frequently, all the stations lead with the same nearly meaningless crime story with a reporter standing in the dark at a location where nothing is happening.  That’s entertainment, and our society is the poorer for it.

Tribune CEO Bans 119 Words

Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels, has issued a list of 119 words that cannot be uttered on WGN Radio.   The list includes:  “seek,”  “youth,” “folks,” “diva,” “motorist,”  “alleged,” “guys” and “campaign trail.”

I understand what he’s doing.  I would prefer that some words and phrases like “white stuff” and “wet stuff”  never be uttered again.  Anywhere.   Years ago, a news director told me people won’t identify with someone who doesn’t use the same language the folks (sorry) out there use in their everyday conversations.   I get it and agree, up to a point.

Issuing a list of 119 banned words might be taking things a bit too far, particularly for a company trying to get out from under a bankruptcy.  Why can’t these guys (oops) just hire people who know what they’re doing and then leave them alone and let them do their jobs?   Click here for more.

How Not To Treat The Press

 Meg Whitman

             photo: wiki commons  

The following blurb from Carla Marinucci in the San Francisco Chronicle, is a classic example of how not to treat the press when running for public office.

“GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who has been criticized for sidestepping news reporters’ questions, took heat Tuesday after she called the media to an “open” campaign event – then barred reporters from accompanying her on a tour of Oakland’s port and refused to take their questions.

Whitman appeared at Union Pacific Railroad’s office in Oakland after her campaign invited reporters to cover a “discussion” of her views on trade, jobs and the economy. A media advisory said the event for Whitman, which was to include a tour of Union Pacific’s intermodal facility, was “open to the media.”

Instead, reporters were herded into a holding room while Whitman toured the facility. Sarah Pompei, the candidate’s spokeswoman, said they were not allowed to accompany the former eBay executive on the tour because Union Pacific officials “did not want that to happen” and had barred the media.

Pompei invited reporters to listen to Whitman’s discussion with rail officials on “how she can be helpful as governor” on issues like jobs. But Pompei said reporters would not be allowed to ask questions because the candidate was pressed for time.

A Union Pacific spokesman, Aaron Hunt, appeared to contradict Pompei – telling The Chronicle that the company had always expected media to attend Whitman’s tour – and in fact, welcomed coverage.”-SF Chronicle

So they said the event was open, only to confine reporters to “a holding room” (oh, that’s a beauty) and then blamed the railroad when, apparently, it wasn’t the railroad’s idea?

If that’s what happened, then the campaign achieved a double-whammy of both alienating the press and leaving execs at the Union Pacific scratching their heads wondering why the Whitman campaign left them holding the bag for a bad decision they didn’t make.   I’d say it was impossible if I hadn’t been in similar situations myself, although at this moment I am having difficulty remembering anything quite so misguided.

Whitman, it appears, needs to sit down with her staffers and work things out.