Big win on Net Neutrality for everyone last month—oh, except Comcast, Verizon, and all the other monolithic ISPs trying to gouge their customers for even more money than they already make gouging their customers.
But the point I want to make isn’t so much about the battle of Net Neutrality itself—it’s about the coverage of that battle. Perhaps an example is in order.
Consider an article published on Monday, Feb 25th by USA Today titled, “Fervor builds as FCC net-neutrality vote looms”. The third paragraph reads: “Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is among Republicans who have criticized Wheeler’s plan and increasingly made it a partisan issue by suggesting the FCC chairman has kowtowed to President Obama, who three months ago called for strong net-neutrality regulations. ‘The closer we get to the FCC rubber stamping President Obama’s Internet grab, the more disturbing it becomes,’ Walden has said. ‘Consumers, innovators and job creators all stand to lose from this misguided approach.’ ”
Now what’s missing here? Oh, I know! The fact that Mr. Walden received $56,800 from “the top four internet service providers (ISPs)—AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner… through campaign donations from executives and their political action committees.” But I’m SURE that won’t affect how Mr. Walden feels, right?
Wrong. The fact is that for most, if not all of Mr. Walden’s constituents, net neutrality is a very good thing, because it guarantees that giant corporations like Comcast, who already make handsome profits and suffer very little competition despite delivering poor customer service, can’t cheat them even more. See, the reason all those big ISPs are paying Walden and other Republicans (such as Michigan Rep. Fred Upton—who received $99,500 during the last election cycle) to oppose Net Neutrality, is because in its absence, they could charge internet services like Netflix, Hulu, or even this humble little blog big bucks to ensure their content is streamed at optimal rates. Some of that cost—if not most—would then be passed onto the consumer, i.e. the average Joe, i.e. you and me.
Economists call this “rent seeking”: spending wealth on political lobbying to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating wealth. In laymen’s terms, what this means is that without net neutrality, Comcast can make more money without actually doing anything—there would be no added benefit to the consumer, nor to the person or business providing content (like Netflix).
But the question is: why didn’t USA Today divulge the fact that Walden had taken so much money from the big four ISPs, when that is clearly a conflict of interest? I mean, no one with an IQ over 50 is naïve enough to believe this had no effect on his position, right? Indeed, by not reporting this fact, USA Today not only misled their consumers, they actually lent credibility to Walden’s statement, absurd as it is.
To be clear, this happens all the time—it’s not just the occasional omission or mistake. Heard anything about Hillary Clinton’s emails? If you’ve been listening to, reading, or watching any of the mainstream media outlets, it’s a certainty. However, what you probably have heard LESS of than anything, is the fact that Clinton didn’t break the law, even according to legal experts on Fox News. And who broke the story? The fucking New York Times—a supposedly liberal paper.
Now, there are three main reasons for this:
- If the mainstream press actually issued accurate reporting about what’s happening in Washington, 90% of the time we’d hear, see, or read about how Republicans were doing something that’s so completely inappropriate and detrimental to the interests of ordinary Americans that the press would appear partisan by reporting it.
- The mainstream media is almost entirely funded by advertising. Who buys advertising? Rich people and large corporations (like big ISPs for example), who, surprise, surprise, tend to lean Republican. The other big cash cow in the mainstream media? Political advertising. Think about it: for two to three months every two years, our newspapers and airwaves are filled with bullshit paid for by this committee, that campaign, or that group of “concerned Americans” (read: rich people looking for an angle). And from that perspective, the mainstream press is heavily incentivized not to report the truth about politics and politicians, because doing so would risk that source of revenue; after all, if the Oregonian makes Greg Walden look like the corrupt politician he is for trading the interests of his constituents for donations from Comcast, why would he spend money advertising there?
- Viewership and purpose. The mainstream media is officially in the business of making money; gone are the days when the news department was separate from the entertainment department in television. Now, it’s all one, and the point is to make money. So if they can get more viewership or clicks or donations or listeners or subscriptions by showing stupid shit on YouTube, or writing stories about how old timers are learning to salsa dance downtown, or omitting facts about net neutrality, or going yellow on Hillary Clinton, by God they’ll do it. And let’s face it: if the mainstream media actually reported on what was going on in politics in any kind of serious way, it would be horribly depressing and frustrating. Worse, they’d lose a significant minority of their viewership: namely, conservatives who can’t handle the truth that their party is populated almost entirely by charlatans who lie every chance they get and are no better than the ambulance-chasing lawyers they pretend to decry. Those viewers won’t tune in, ratings will go down, and that means less money, which is what mainstream media is all about: money, not news.
That’s the conundrum facing the American public: how can we make informed decisions as voters if the press/media doesn’t inform us of all the facts? If all we ever hear—even from NPR—when covering politics is, “the Democrats say this, the Republicans say that, both are equally to blame”, which is almost never true, all the average Joe can do is throw up his hands and say screw it.
Which is why I write this blog, and why I hope you’ll help me promote it. I exist to call “bullshit.” But other than reading Chuckingrocks, what should you be doing? Here are some helpful hints:
- Read a lot of stuff from different sources. For example, I knew that Greg Walden had a conflict of interest regarding net neutrality because I read a story in the Oregonian exposing his assholery.
- Follow the money. Republicans aren’t climate deniers because they’re idiots—they’re climate deniers because they get a ton of campaign donations from corporations that make money on oil, natural gas, and coal. The idiots are the boobs that buy their pathetic reasoning and really think climate change isn’t happening.
- Develop/trust your inner bullshit detector. Anytime Democrats propose changing the tax code, Republicans throw a hissy fit and say they don’t want to raise taxes on small businesses, which is bullshit. They don’t want to raise taxes on their billionaire campaign donors and big corporations who have huge tax subsidies and loopholes. And honestly, it’s not that hard to figure out: when’s the last time Republicans put forward legislation that actually helps small businesses? Right.
- Republicans are spinning and lying more often than not. Sorry, that sounds super partisan, but it also happens to be true. Don’t believe me? Go check out mediamatters.org on any given day, and you’ll see—it’s actually horrifying to see how much false information Fox News and other conservative media outlets are able to put out.
- When Democrats are wrong, it’s usually for one of two reasons—either they:
- Made a mistake/misspoke/bad information… OR,
- Are doing something for—surprise, surprise—one of their big campaign donors. Again, follow the money.
Finally, the most important thing we can all do is talk about this stuff. I know it’s almost never a comfortable conversation, but if we, the People, don’t do talk and listen to each other, we’re screwed. Because the mainstream media isn’t going to do it for us.