I have very little to add in the way of comment, but I wanted to let all of you know that Bill Moyers just interviewed John Nichols and Robert McChesney, the authors of the new book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America, and it’s incredibly fascinating stuff… And, by “incredibly fascinating,” I mean infinitely infuriating… Here’s video of the segment, followed by a bit of the transcript.
BILL MOYERS: So why rub our nose in it? I mean, everybody, as I’ve said in the opening, knows it; knows that money and media are destroying our elections, as you say. Why another autopsy?
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, this isn’t an autopsy, this is the product of three years of work. Bob and I are political junkies. I mean, there’s no other way to say it. We love politics. We love covering it, we love talking about it. And we feel a sense of loss. We feel a sense of loss in America, where our elections are no longer these great battles of ideas, but, in fact, very controlled events, managed events. And so after the Citizens United ruling of 2010, which essentially freed up corporate money to flow into politics, we knew that this is a big enough pivot point that we should step back and spend the next few years looking at how an American presidential election and all the elections beneath it play out. And so we looked at the 2012 cycle from start to finish, over a three, four year period. And what we determined was that we didn’t know much at all about how bad it was. And so, instead of the $6 billion that all the news headlines said was spent on the 2012 election cycle, it was actually more than $10 billion because most of the groups that analyze it don’t look at state, local and referendum elections.
And we also brought I think something very different to this. We’re saying that, as you have this inflow of money, this huge amount of money flowing in, we also have the stand down of journalism. We have lost tens of thousands of journalists. Newsrooms closing down, newspapers cutting back. The worldwide web has not filled the void by any means.
And so, we have a situation where massive inflow of money and the check and balance of journalism declining. You end up with almost a perfect situation for propagandizing the American people, from managing their debates into a narrow zone where those with the money will invariably prevail.
BILL MOYERS: Let me be particular for a moment. Look what’s happening to local television stations. In just the last few months Gannett Company offered $1.5 billion for the 20 local stations of the Belo Corporation based in Dallas. The Tribune Company $2.7 billion for 19 local stations. Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is the nation’s biggest owner of stations, $1 billion for seven more stations. One analyst calls it a renaissance of the local television business. He says, it’s the best it’s been in a long time. More big companies buying more local news stations. But is it good for the country?
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, the fact of the matter is that what has made local television boom in recent years is political ads. That $10 billion we talk about, roughly $6 billion of it goes into political ads. These folks aren’t buying those stations to because we want to really help democracy. They’re buying them to make money. And here’s one of the–
BILL MOYERS: From political advertising?
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, among other things, admittedly. But here’s one of the things we chart in the book that just absolutely blew our mind. In the 2012 cycle there were local stations in big battleground states where they actually shaved minutes off the local news so they could fit more ads in.
In one circumstance we looked at a situation they expanded the time period set aside from local news. And you’re, like, great. We had this intense election. You must really want to tell us more. No, they expanded it so that they could get more ad revenue because citizens go to the local news to find out about politics. But when you’re shaving the newscast, when those citizens show up to get information, the information’s coming from the ads, not from the news.
JOHN NICHOLS: And there are many countries in the world, the Scandinavian countries, for instance, which are they basically ban political ads. They allow party election broadcasts, which are very structured. But–
BILL MOYERS: Because?
JOHN NICHOLS: Because they say, at the time of an election, people need news and information, not, you know, some sort of managed statement from candidates that might actually cause them to think badly about the other candidate.
ROBERT McCHESNEY: I think this is something that most Americans, because, are unfamiliar with if they’re under the age of 65 or 70, that our elections weren’t like this for the first 170 years of American history, prior to the 1960s. And even in the 1960s and the ’70s, the amount of political TV advertising was much smaller for campaigns.
So there were only a handful of ads that were negative, relative to the lion’s share of TV candidate ads, which were positive and about the candidates.
But increasingly, they’ve become more and more negative over time, to the point that by 2000 roughly half of them were negative. And I think we haven’t seen the final tally for 2012. But probably 85 percent, 90 percent in that range of ads were negative..
In related news, Moyers also has a new piece up today on his website about the six initiatives currently underway to turn back the tide set in motion by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which essentially made all of this possible by giving the green light to corporations and wealthy individuals intent on buying elections. I think you’ll find it to be a great resource.