You should really read Sheelah Kolhatkar’s New Yorker piece on conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s frightening creep across America and into people’s homes.
“How the Penny Press Brought Great Journalism to Populist America,” by me, at The Daily Beast.
You may not know the name of this image, but you’ve almost certainly seen it — or a variation of it, at least.
Entitled Daybreak, it was created in 1922 by Maxfield Parrish, the legendary artist whose 148th birthday was yesterday. An instant viral sensation, the painting’s popularity only grew as the century unfurled, becoming, like Benji Franklin’s “Join, or Die,” a sort of pre-internet meme.
The “Join, or Die” snake is one of America’s most recognizable, beloved and replicated icons. Emblazoned on flags and t-shirts, pillow cases and iPhone cases, and even on tv show title cards and in comic books, the image is upheld today as a both specifically as an emblem of American independence, and generally as bid for unity against a common oppression. But the world’s most adored reptile didn’t start this way.
Created by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, the “Join, or Die” snake originally signified loyalty to the English empire. It wasn’t a call to action, but an order to fall into line. It was only later that “Join, or Die” evolved into a revolutionary rallying cry — and when it did, it became America’s first meme, too.
“I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world,” so said Henry R. Luce, the founder of Life and Time magazines who was born on this date in 1898.
Today marks the 277th anniversary of Boston-based publisher Andrew Bradford releasing American Magazine; or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies.
Meanwhile, three days from now, February 16, marks the same amount of time since Bradford’s protégé and later rival, Benjamin Franklin, published his The General Magazine, and Historical Chronicle for all the British Plantations in America.
Neither publication lasted very long: American Magazine shuttered after three months and Franklin’s in six. Media in America, and in general, has always been a tough gig – and that’s putting it nicely.
As a journalist who has struggled with how, when and sometimes even why to cover Trump, I understand the media’s obsession with covering this “unconventional president.” I’m also aware of how people’s own disbelief over and outright repulsion to this president has shaped coverage of his administration. Hopefully this analysis from the Washington Post will make all media folk question their motives when pursuing a Trump-related story:
Most national media only started to pay attention to Puerto Rico after days of silence by Trump (as they jumped on the story, they seemed to forget the fact that they had also undercovered the island’s plight). When Trump started a fight with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Puerto Rico finally started to get more coverage.
I agree this president needs to be taken to task for the many offensive, outlandish and un-American things he has done, is doing and will undoubtedly do, but it is worth constant reflection to make sure stories are being pursued for the right reasons. The PR story should have been a story before the Trump angle. It’s great that the administration’s lackluster, potentially corrupt and undoubtedly race-based response to the PR crisis is getting attention, but shouldn’t people have cared about Puerto Ricans’ struggles before Trump ignored them?
It’s official: after months of speculation and two failed attempts, Meredith is buying Time Inc, with ample help from the reliably right-wing Koch brothers.
This is just the latest story about conservative figures snapping up or consolidating struggling media outlets: American Media bought Us Weekly earlier this year from Wenner Media, basically securing their hold on supermarket tabloids — they also publish the National Enquirer, the National Examiner and Star, reaching and shaping millions of voters in the process — and Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of 193 television stations in 100 markets that reach 40% of the market, is hoping to merge with Tribune Media, a deal that would extend their reach into New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
While FCC rules prohibit such massive, monopolistic media solidifications Donald Trump’s pick over there, Ajit Pai, is helping clear the opposition so that the pro-Trump company can have its way. Pai’s also helping the Trump administration eliminate Net Neutrality, effectively allowing telecommunications companies to restrict access and content they deem unacceptable. This is all extremely frightening — and not simply because the interests here are all conservative.
The consolidation of so much media by any political group or interest poses a grave threat to free speech, free speech that’s already being assaulted by none-other than the President of the United States. If we want our democracy to be the best it can be, we need opposing views to inform the public; control of the media by one political party or another just takes the nation one step closer to dictatorial territory. Sure, freedom of speech may exist in such a climate, but does it matter if its drowned out by bigger, more powerful and more omnipresent outlets?
On November 14, 1959, two months before announcing his presidential campaign, John Kennedy published a TV Guide article evaluating television’s influence on American politics. His assessment? It’s complicated.
Clearly the then-new media was already instrumental in engaging and informing the public and would continue to be for generations, but the future president also worried about PR hacks creating fraudulent charlatans, feared media manipulation, and fretted about how prohibitive advertising costs would keep good politicians down.
From the conclusion of his piece, “A Force That Has Changed The Political Scene:”
…Political success on television is not, unfortunately, limited only to those who deserve it. It is a medium which lends itself to manipulation, exploitation and gimmicks. It can be abused by demagogs [sic], by appeals to emotion and prejudice and ignorance.
Political campaigns can be actually taken over by the “public relations” experts, who tell the candidate not only how to use TV but what to say, what to stand for and what “kind of person” to be. Political shows, like quiz shows, can be fixed-and sometimes are.
The other great problem TV presents for politics is the item of financial cost. It is no small item…. If all candidates and parties are to have equal access to this essential and decisive campaign medium, without becoming deeply obligated to the big financial contributors from the worlds of business, labor or other major lobbies, then the time has come when a solution must be found to this problem of TV costs.
…The basic point is this: Whether TV improves or worsens our political system, whether it serves the purpose of political education or deception, whether it gives us better or poorer candidates, more intelligent or more prejudiced campaigns-the answers to all this are up to you, the viewing public.
It is in your power to perceive deception, to shut off gimmickry, to reward honesty, to demand legislation where needed. Without your approval, no TV show is worthwhile and no politician can exist.
Kennedy was of course right about it all, as he was when he noted that television would breed a new generation of polished and youthful candidates. The only thing Kennedy got wrong in his essay? This: “Today a vast viewing public is able to detect [political] deception…” He always was an optimistic one…
Joe Ricketts, the zealously right-wing Cubs-owning billionaire, pulled one helluva a dirty trick last week. Rather than working with the recently unionized editorial staff at the sites he owned, Gothamist and DNAInfo, Ricketts simply closed them, firing 115 employees in the process.
Not only that, he essentially wiped the servers, erasing writers’ work in the process, a move that editor Max Read described as “vindictive.” It’s more than that: it’s downright despicable. Is this what Trump and his fellow conservatives in mind when they tout “trickle down economics”? Probably.
UPDATE: Ricketts has now put the old content back up; the site’s still shuttered, though.