Thursday, April 23, 2009

Free Minds and Free Markets

During the go-go '90s, I often used to hear newsfolks say things like, "In this country, we have a free press" operating in a free market. It was very free. I don't have a specific instance in mind, but I think it came up a lot when they were talking about the newsworthiness of Clintonian blowjobs or the need to allow TV-station owners to also buy newspapers and radio in the same market.

With the triumph over communism still fresh in everyone's minds, it certainly would have been silly to suggest that shareholders and other owners might share certain right-leaning politics with the rest of their economic class.

For an update on this representative slice of Americans, we join a General Electric shareholders meeting already in progress (Via Yglesias):
Just before GE re-elected board members, company brass were hit with questions from shareholders critical of an alleged leftward political slant at MSNBC. [...]

Attendees who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter said shareholders asked about 10 politically charged questions concerning MSNBC as well as one about CNBC.

First up was a woman asking about a reported meeting in which CEO Jeff Immelt and NBC Uni CEO Jeff Zucker supposedly told top CNBC executives and talent to be less critical of President Obama and his policies.

Immelt acknowledged a meeting took place but said no one at CNBC was told what to say or not to say about politics. [...]

"The crowd was very upset with MSNBC because of its leftward tilt," one attendee said. "Some former employees said they were embarrassed by it." [...]

Immelt told the assembled he takes a hands-off approach to what is reported on the company's news networks, which prompted a shareholder to criticize him for not managing NBC Uni more effectively.
I've cut out the antics of a Fox News producer who showed up to ask some questions about liberals. He may have riled up the crowd, but the bolded passage above suggests that they didn't need much help.

So maybe shareholders were responding to the needs of the free market, right? After all, it's quite free. Maybe not.
Top-rated Fox News drew an average of 2.4 million viewers in prime time between Jan. 26 and Feb. 22, a spike of 28%, according to Nielsen Media Research data. CNN held onto second place with 1.2 million viewers but dropped 30% from last February, while MSNBC posted an average of 949,000 viewers, up 23%. [...]

For its part, MNSBC posted its best February in history. “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” was up 32%, while “The Rachel Maddow Show” brought in 134% more viewers than the time period had last year.
Back in the '90s, with deregulation fever and Republican ascendance in the air, I guess a rightward tilt was more a feature than a bug. By 2003, a more independent press sure would've been handy. I'm sure it's all OK now, though.

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