Bill Maher: Here's the Fix for Fact Free Media

November 8, 2016
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I’m a fan of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” but Friday night, for the umpteenth time, I wanted to reach right through the TV screen and shake somebody. 
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How the media is destroying our country is one of Bill Maher’s favorite topics, and he’s right about it. But this time, it wasn’t just Maher deriding the collapse of facts, it was everybody on the show: funny man Martin Short, liberal Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Neo-conservative writer David Frum, and even President Barack Obama: “How do we create a common space where truth gets eyeballs… and we can create a common conversation?” Yet not one of them had any clue about how we got to this point or what to do next.
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AAAUUUGGGHHHH! (beating head against wall…)
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For twenty years I have been sounding the alarm that our very democracy is at stake due to pro-fascist changes in broadcast media policy. Changes in policy which made one-sided conversations the norm. Changes in Law which allow a handful of corporations to control those one-sided conversations. Changes which have allowed a determined faction to replace fact with fiction. Changes which came about with the stroke of a pen in 1987 and again in 1998, and now, on the eve of the Trump/ Clinton election, we’re all just waking up to it.

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I began this journey in 1987 while working at Los Angeles’ KCBS-TV. The Reagan led Federal Communications Commission (FCC,) claimed “the marketplace would create fairness,” and threw out the “Fairness Doctrine,” a policy which required broadcasters to offer opportunities for discussion on controversial issues.
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Enter Rush Limbaugh, who spawned the one-sided political tirade called Talk Radio; he bragged he did “the reading for you so you won’t have to,” then spread lies about the content of the New York Times or the Washington Post and other news sources. His twofold motives: to disinform his Republican leaning crowd and to make it appear that Democrats are the ones who refuse to engage in debate, while in fact, they’ve been entirely shut out. (He still does. A quote from October 14 of this year: “These people on the left are not interested in debate; they’re not interested in being coequals in the arena of ideas.”)
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Fast forward to 2014: the FCC decided that because there is no longer a Fairness Doctrine, it is perfectly legal for five local pro-GOP talk radio hosts to promote the candidacies of Republicans Gov. Scott Walker and Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Ron Johnson, effectively giving them millions of dollars of free airtime, while specifically not allowing a single Democrat like Russ Feingold on the air – our publicly owned airwaves – at all. Absent the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC says, stations have the Freedom of Speech to say what they like. What will it take to once again provide true discourse and facts? An Act of Congress.)
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Fast forward to 1996, when Congress actually passed an Act of Congress (the 1996 Telecommunications Act) which made things worse: it consolidated the weapon of disinformation into the hands of just a few corporations. Rather than hundreds of individual radio owners choosing who to program on their stations, the select few made Rush Limbaugh radio’s star performer in the country’s midsection, buying up all the radio towers so no other points of view could be heard. (There is a reason the GOP party is sometimes called the Truck driver party. You can drive coast to coast and never hear anything but lies masquerading as truth; the red/blue state voting map proves the dynamic.)
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The Rushites even ran ads in Time Magazine and elsewhere, promoting him as “America’s Anchorman,” willfully blurring the lines between political radio talkers and true non-biased journalists. Dozens of hard right copycats proliferated, to the point where 50 million people were listening to radio’s alternative “news”, way more than watch Fox News, nearly as many that read newspapers.
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By 1998, the entire political landscape morphed monstrously; the newly formed pro-Republican alt-media literally aided and abetted Ken Starr’s witch hunt of the President who balanced the budget and created 26 million new jobs, Bill Clinton. (Everybody knows Clinton was impeached for lying about a consensual private affair with Monica Lewinsky, but how many know that the Paula Jones case was deemed by a judge to be a frivolous lawsuit, used by the politically motivated Starr who illegally colluded with Jones’ attorneys and who relied on tapes that a “friend” of Monica’s had secretly – and illegally – made, all to frame the President by creating a crime where none existed? Nah, Rush didn’t tell ya that, did he?)
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So I moved into action and formed the early media reform group, “The Truth in America Project.” I stood with others on C-Span, from the White House’s Bob Weiner to a little group called “Censure and Move On” on the Ellipse outside the White House to protest Starr.
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My media plan at the time:
1) Restore the Fairness Doctrine
2) Dismantle the Telecommunications Act of 1996
3) Eliminate all 30 second political advertising
4) Restructure ratings and commerce of newscasts 
 I next assimilated eleven years of research about the sins of the new alt-media into Broadcast Blues, my 2009 award-winning documentary film. (C’mon, Bill Maher, you showed me yours, let me show you mine!)
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I traveled the nation to educate thousands about their rights as the owners of the public airwaves, and started the Media Action Center to inspire people to take meaningful action against their local broadcasters. We have established policy, spooked radio stations into putting their public files online, and filed other actions currently pending at the FCC. But without an actual Act of Congress, we have just been chipping at the edges of the larger problem.
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Bill and Hillary Clinton knew about this problem and this plan eighteen years ago but did nothing. President Obama wrote about a related issue, the need to clarify broadcasters’ public interest obligations, on the White House Technology page in 2009, then quietly scrubbed the reference. Had any Democrats acted on it instead of just hiding their heads in the sand for twenty years, we would not be having this conversation today, and our very culture would not have become unhinged. (For the more psychological aspect of this, see my colleague Jen Senko’s documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad.)
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But here we are, and the right-wing alt-media now has the entire online space to spread its disinformation. The fix is not as easy as it once could have been. But good old-fashioned broadcasting, the only medium which can be regulated as it is owned by We the People, is a good place to start. And as rumors about radio’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, it is the place to once again develop that common conversation we as a nation so deeply need.

2 comments:

Autumn Cote said...

Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? I'll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. There is no fee, I'm simply trying to add more content diversity to the site and I liked what you wrote.

Autumn

Sue Wilson Reports said...

Yes, but please wait 24 hours and please include a link to my site, OK? I'm glad you liked it!
~Sue