Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

“Friendly to corporations and profits”

Posted by metaphorical on 10 February 2007

Fox News is starting a business-oriented news channel because the existing one, CNBC, is, in the words of Rupert Murdoch, “often too negative and focused on financial scandals.”

Murdoch said Thursday at Media Summit New York that the channel will be “a little more business friendly.”

Because god knows the mainstream U.S. media is unfriendly to business.

Sure, sometimes news outlets do give the public an untrue impression of the world by accentuating the negative. If you report on muggings every night, as most news outlets in New York did during the 1980s and 1990s, you can make people afraid to walk around at night, even if, statistically speaking, it’s pretty darned safe. That’s hardly the problem here, though—business news outlets have covered scandals throughout the last decade and well into this one because businesses—Enron, Andersen, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Qwest, ImClone, Merrill Lynch, et al.—have behaved scandalously. According to the NY Times account, Fox doesn’t plan to ignore scandals entirely:

Asked whether that meant that Fox would go easy on its reporting of the type of corporate scandals like Enron and WorldCom that cost individual investors millions of dollars when those companies collapsed, [Fox chairman and CEO Roger] Ailes replied: “We will be as ruthless in our coverage of business scandals as we have always been.” He said that while thousands of companies have publicly traded securities, “only 9 or 10 are in trouble” at a given time.

That does suggest though, that Fox, hardly known today for its investigative journalism, won’t unearth scandals unless it trips over them, and can’t be counted on to air news of scandals until its rivals do. Instead, it will accentuate the positive.

In a separate interview, Mr. Ailes elaborated. “Many times I’ve seen things on CNBC where they are not as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be.”

Yet as it happens CNBC is at this very moment embroiled in a scandal of its own, for being overly friendly to corporations and profits.

As the Poynter Institutes says in its 6 February e-mail newsletter:

Edward Wasserman says CNBC no longer perceives a difference between journalist and show pony. He doesn’t buy the network’s claim that Maria Bartiromo’s jet-setting is source development. “She’s a corporate emissary and brand-enhancement, helping favored companies—many of them CNBC advertisers—to put on successful events. So what happens when her duties as a journalist obligate her to report news that would displease her network-approved consorts on the intercontinental banquet circuit? Do we get the news, or do they get the Money Honey? Do you have to ask?”

Poynter points to a transcript of a CNN roundtable:

Todd Thompson had given Maria Bartiromo a ride back from Asia on the company’s jet. CNBC reimbursed Citigroup for the flight. And other executives ordered him to stop spending money on projects involving Bartiromo.

The anchor, meanwhile, made at least three appearances for Citigroup last year, such as speaking at dinners for the banking giant’s clients, all of which raises the question: Has Bartiromo become a celebrity journalist and is CNBC getting too cozy with the corporations it covers?

DAVID CARR, MEDIA COLUMNIST, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Well, when we see CNBC has reimbursed Citigroup for the costs, they paid for half of what it cost to fly a chartered jet back? I don’t think so. They paid a commercial fare and left it at that, and that seems to be a significant gratuity.

KURTZ: Frank Ahrens?

FRANK AHRENS, MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT WRITER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Right, that’s exactly the case. The price of a commercial ticket is much, much lower than that of a private jet.

David Carr, you describe the journalist at CNBC as being part of a long tradition of reporters kind of sucking up to sources and getting — and writing favorable articles to do so. But can you cite any favorable interview or favorable story that Maria Bartiromo did, or a case where she pulled any punches?

CARR: Well, she interviewed Mr. Thompson three different times. She didn’t exactly rake him over the coals.

She blurbed Sandy Weill’s book. She admitted she bought 1,000 shares of their stock. I mean, the viewer could be forgiven for wondering whose interests are really being looked after here.

The probem isn’t so much a business-friendly network or two, it’s the absence of anything but. Where are the Mother Joneses and The Nations, the Village Voices and the I.F. Stones of cable television? They’re nowhere, because a cable channel needs business backing and business wheeling and dealing to get started. The Times reports:

Fox has already struck deals with two major cable operators: Comcast and Time Warner. Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, will offer the Fox Business Channel to roughly half of its 24 million cable subscribers who have digital cable.

Time Warner is offering it to about 7.6 million households, including 7.3 million cable homes that have digital cable, and to 300,000 subscribers in the New York market who do not have digital cable but will see the channel on their analog service. Fox also has an agreement with Charter Communications, which is based in St. Louis.

Then there’s deals with Cablevision and DirectTV and so on to work out (eventually including Verizon and AT&T). Girding ones loins with capital and then running that corporate gauntlet without becoming friendly to corporations and profits is about as likely as swimming across Lake Michigan without becoming wet.

The media isn’t supposed to be friendly to corporations and profits; it should be a thorn in the side of all the great institutions of society—government, medicine, industry, even science and academia.

I’ve written (here for example) about one possible solution. It’s that media companies should be non-profit corporations, as Mother Jones and The Nation already are. I can’t think of a more telling example of why that’s necessary than the image of Fox’s business-friendly model of business journalism.

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