Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Matter of Trust: America's Declining Distrust of the Media


Readers of Another Opinion and other sites where I am a semi-regular commentator, have often noticed that I occasionally make mention of the fact that approximately 96% of all media outlets are owned by just six corporations (some estimates put that number a little lower, at 90%). It's hard to imagine that in a country which prides itself on entrepreneurship and innovation has its media dominated by mere half a dozen corporations, especially in this age of technology. Sadly, it's true, and it says a lot about the state of decline we're in.

So, before we get into the reasons why this is such a bad idea, let's take a look at who is on this list. First of the "Dirty half dozen" is National Amusements, which owns Viacom, CBS, BET, Showtime, MTV, Paramount and Paramount Home Media Distribution, Showcase, TV Land, and VH1. The owner of NA is Summer Redstone, whose net worth is estimated to be around 4.6 billion (give or take a few million). Next comes Disney. They own ABC, LucusFilms, ESPN, A+E Networks, Marvel Studios, Industrial Light and Magic, Touchstone Pictures, Pixar, and Walt Disney Studios (wouldn't ole Walt be surprised?). Disney also owns the video gaming company, GameStar as well as approximately 20 print media companies The CEO, Bob Iger, brings in right at $45 million.

Time-Warner is next on the list. Time Warner owns CNN, Castlerock Entertainment, Global Media Group, the CW, HBO, DC Entertainment, New Line Cinema, TBS, TCM, the Turner Network, TNT, Warner Brothers and all their affiliates, Hulu, and Cinemax. In addition, Time-Warner owns DC, Time, Life and Time-Life. It owns seven video companies, including Rocksteady and Monolith. In the world of music Time-Warner own Warner and Watertower Records as well as investments in 25 other media companies. Finally, Time-Warner owns Time-Warner Cable. The president of Time-Warner is Jeff Bewkes, whose annual income is around $32.5 million dollars. Time, Inc was acquired in November 2017 by Meredith Corporation for $2.8 billion dollars after being spun off in 2014. The deal was concluded in January 2018.

Comcast, whose CEO, Brian L. Robert, earns a cool $40.8 million a year, owns corporations like NBC Networks which includes CNBC, MSNBC, NBS Sports, and NBC Universal News Group, along with NBC Universal, "E" Channel, the Weather Channel, SyFy, NHL Channel, NBL Channel, Bravo, DreamWorks Entertainment, Esquire, Fandango, Gramercy, Telemundo, and the USA Networks. In terms of the internet, Comcast owns Xfinity, which is the world's top internet provider, and, of course, Comcast. It also has a strong financial stake in 62 other media companies including Vox Media, Tripwire, and TiVo.

The next corporation on our list is the News Corporation, which may be the least known, but its owner is certainly very well known, the very colorful Mr. Rupert Murdoch. News Corp as it's commonly called, owns FOX and all its affiliates, 20th Century Fox, FX Network, National Geographic Network, BlueSky, Sun Sports, MYTV, FXM, and FSN Sports. It owns Fox Music and the Wireless Group LLC. In terms of print, which has been at the heart of Murdoch's media empire, in addition to News Corp, it owns Barrons, the Wall Street Journal, Smart Money, the New York Post, Harper-Collins Publishers, Financial News, Harlequin, Market Watch, Smart Source, Down Jones Newswires, and Courier Life, plus several more. Surprisingly, Forbes Media isn't owned by Murdoch. The company is owned by International Whale Media Corporation, with a minority share owned by the Forbes family.

Finally, Sony rounds out the "Dirty half dozen". Of course, everyone is familiar with Sony Electronics and its numerous subsidiaries including Sony Pictures, but the company owns far more than that including TriStar Pictures, True Channels and its affiliates, Triumph Pictures, Imageworks, Cine Sony Television, Animax, Screen Gems, Starz, Left Bank Pictures, CSC Media Group, and Destination Films. When it comes to music, Sony dominates the other five with, of course, Sony Music, EMI, Epic, and about 11 other music related corporations. In terms of the internet, is owns So-Net Entertainment which serves primarily the Asian market. Sony also has expanded into the non-media market to include Sony Bank, Sony Life, Sony Financial Holdings, and Sony Creative Software. It also has holdings in Olympus and FelCia, which is a RCIF smart card system used in electronic money cards. The president and CEO of Sony is Kazuo Hirai. I'm sure he uses his smart card to deposit his $4.9 million dollar salary.

I want to be clear that the various subsidiaries and affiliates I've mentioned aren't assumed to all of the holdings owned by these companies. They're not. They are just a sampling of their vast holdings. Also, there are other, individual companies, which may own are larger share in a given market, such as Pearson LLC of the UK, which is ranked as the largest publishing company in the world while the Woodbridge Company, owner of Thomas-Reuters is the third largest (Apollo Global Management, which owns McGraw-Hill, is the largest in the US, is ranked 8th). While Comcast Xfinity is the world's largest ISP with over 110 million subscribers, other leading internet providers include AT&T Internet, Charter Spectrum, Version Fios, HughesNet, and about 15 others.

In addition to these six corporations, there are other industries which have a lock on their particular market niche. For instance, just four corporations the aircraft industry (Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, and Bombardier). 80% of cars are manufactured by just six companies, Toyota, GM, Ford, Honda, Nissan, and the Chrysler Group. Five companies control 90% of the cell phone market, namely Apple (which controls the lion's share), Samsung, HTC, Huawei, and Motorola. Only two companies, iOS and Android control 98% of the operating systems market. Meanwhile, only four sites, Twitter, YouTube (which is owned by Google), Facebook, and Reddit, control 76% of their market. Lastly, only five corporations dominate the private intelligence industry on which the US Government depends. They happen to be CACI International, SAIC, CSRA, Booz Allen Industries, and Leidos. These are the companies that the NSA, CIA, DIA, and other intelligence agencies farm our their work to, and these five companies get 80% of it.

So, while these six corporations I've detailed may not be dominate in every aspect of the media, their individual and collective dominance of the market makes them impossible to ignore. Their collective revenues, $430 billion dollars, is more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 1/4 of world's countries. But what's key here is the absolute influence they have over every single American as well as anyone else whoever watches movies, television shows, reads newspapers, uses the internet, or listens to the radio in the world, which I suppose is one benefit of being a transnational corporation. Nevertheless, these six media companies have the ability, which they use on a regular basis, to determine what is and isn't news, how it's spun, and influence what we think.

As a result, these six corporations have both a direct influence on government policy through their direct financial contributions to candidates and their campaign, but also a indirect influence by how a candidate or issue if presented (if it's presented at all). In addition, to deciding what story is picked up, they decide how it's presented and through innuendo or images, manipulate our opinions, our actions, and in many cases, whether we should support this or that issue or politician. If there's any doubt, one need look no further than how the 2016 Presidential race was presented.

If the media presented a balanced approach to its news, that is just the facts without any political bias, I think most Americans could make up their own minds. However, these days finds the media not just controlling content, but also spinning it with a decidedly Left tilt (compare this with the late 1940's,the 1950's and early 1960's in which the media had noticeable Right leaning tilt). We can catch a glimpse of this by examining several polls which asks for our opinions regarding the media. One Pew Poll noted that Americans are divided as to how much they trust the media. Not surprisingly, they divide largely fall along political lines. 89% of those who identify as Democrats trust the media to keep politicians of both corporate parties in line, but only 42% of Republicans did (this, by the way, was the largest divide ever measured by Pew Research on this question of trust in the media).

On a related question, when asked how biased the media was toward or against their particular party,72% of Americans overall felt that the media was politically biased. When broken down along party lines, 87% of Republicans thought the media was biased; 53% of Democrats agreed. When asked if they thought the national news services were trustworthy, only 11% of Republicans agree along with just 34% of Democrats. When asked if they trusted the media "a lot", the numbers were expectedly dismal.34% of Democrats said yes compared to just 11% of Republicans. As an aside, only 33% of Americans trust social media in providing accurate news. 52% said they had "some" trusted national news organizations. 60% said they trusted local media "some", while most trusted family and friends with 61% (which is probably why the local media tries to create that "one of the family" image and likes to use phrases like "honest", "trust", and "confidence" in their advertising). Perhaps more telling of the public's attitude toward the media is that a pitiful 1/5 of adults thought the media did "a very good job".

Once upon a time, newspaper declared that they were the sole arbitrators of what was "right" or moral; that they were the public's "watchdog", which gave birth to activist newspaper writers and editors ("crusaders" they liked to call themselves). This in turn led to editors "endorsing" various issues and candidates. Perhaps their hearts were in the right place, but many quickly used their position to try and influence specific pieces of legislation or help friends and associates get elected. Some simply and brazenly got bought off, while others engaged in the practice of "Yellow Journalism" which relied on hype, misleading quotes or stories, and outright lies; a practice which still continues. Fortunately, the majority of Americans no longer pay any attention to these partisan "endorsements". The public is demanding more transparency, such as the names and political registrations of those on these editorial boards, complete and unedited copies of the interviews, or better yet, release of unedited video of the interview process.

So, what we are seeing here through the use of polls is that even despite the partisan divide, the public doesn't trust the media to present an honest and balanced picture. This disconnect, of course, isn't unexpected. Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court have suffered through decades of low (sometimes single digit) approval ratings regardless of which party is in the majority. Sadly, Americans are more widely and more deeply divided across a myriad of issues. Many academics cite that, as a nations, weren't even this divided in the decade preceding the Civil War. That's scary folks. Most Americans feel they have no institution and certainly no party, group or individual they can trust to look after their interests.

America now has just six mega corporations controlling (or maybe "managing" would be a better word) what we see, hear, and watch. It has a major impact on our entertainment, be it sports, TV shows, movies, video games, or internet content. It even contributes to what we buy...and when! Nazi Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels could only dream of such power. It reminds of the movie "Matrix" by its insidious worming into our lives. Of course, thanks to the Supreme Court's two egregious misrulings (Citizens United and McCutcheon) corporations now openly buy and sell candidates and completely own both the Democratic and Republican parties, while ensuring that third parties and Independents (the nation's largest voting bloc) are denied participation in debates, funding and endorsements, and outright ballot access, and these six corporations are nose deep in it. It's no wonder that we've lost our treasured democratic republic and have now become a defacto Oligarchy; a plutocracy if you will.

Trust, once lost, is something very hard to regain in the best of circumstances. In today's political and social environment, trust of the government and public officials has long been at the level where in other countries there were would be very serious concerns of revolution. The corporate media, whose very credibility is based on trust, has now found itself on the outside, along with ambulance chasers, used car salesmen, bill collectors, and politicians.



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