Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Financial Interests and the Media

 I just posted this as part of my online Business and Government class's discussion of financial interests and the media.
Discussion Board on Financial Interests and the American Media

Everyone in the class gave good answers as to how concentrated financial dominance of the media industry influences coverage of issues, especially key issues like the bailout.  Here are three examples from the class:

G:  These individuals' ownership of new sources influence coverage of events such as the 2008-2009 bailout of Wall Street by creating this image to the public that whoever was against the bailout was wrong, basically influencing the public to choose sides while misinforming them.

V: A lot of the media coverage was created to stir fear among the people. Certain media outlets were promoting the bailout by creating an end-of-the world image of what would happen if the banks go out of business. Others portrayed bankers as overpaid people who deserve to get fired and the companies should get shut down for bad business practice.

C: These individuals' ownership of these news sources influence coverage of all new stories.  These influences especially affected the coverage of the 2008-2009 bailout of Wall Street.  Depending on the investors' personal interests in the banks' being bailed out, they were portrayed as enemies or important vital pieces of the American economy.  The investors who needed these banks to continue to operate used their influence in newspapers to portray the situation as much worse than it was. They used their influence to sway public opinion in whichever direction they pleased.

Since Wall Street-linked interests (detail below) control the media, few alternative views were discussed from Bloomberg (Bloomberg) to Fox (Murdoch).  You might say: "Murdoch is a media executive, not a Wall Street executive."  But in his career he has engaged in dozens of acquisitions globally, from London to Australia, and in order to make the acquisitions he used Wall Street financing. He is as integrated with Wall Street as any Wall Street executive. GE, which until recently owned NBC and MSNBC (now partnering with Comcast), owns GE Capital, which is a Wall Street firm.  GE is Wall Street.  

The class's answers to the questions are, in general, excellent.  Wikipedia is not a good source for formal papers, but for assignments like this it is fine.  The point is that a handful of super-rich people and corporations control most of the media.  The corporations include Disney, Time Warner, and GE.  Behind the corporations are Rupert Murdoch (Fox), Bill Gates (until recently MSNBC), Sumner Redstone (National Amusements, which his father founded, Viacom, and others), and Warren Buffett (at various times owner of significant shares in Cap Cities/ABC, Disney, the Washington Post, and the Buffalo News). 

All sales are financed by Wall Street.  Sam Zell, the 68th richest American and the 216th richest person in the world, according to Forbes, bought the Tribune Corp., drove it into bankruptcy, then sold it to a distressed asset fund owned by Wall Streeter Howard Marks, who is also on the Forbes 400 list, through his firm Oaktree. 

The history of Time is interesting.  It was founded by Henry Luce, who dominated Time until his death in 1967. Control passed to his top lieutenant, Roy Larsen, who had first been named a director in 1929. Larsen's stake in the firm was almost as big as Luce's, and he ran it until 1979.  Warner Brothers bought it in 1989.  Writing of an earlier era, Wikipedia says:

J.P. Morgan retained a certain control through two directorates and a share of stocks, both over Time and Fortune. Other shareholders were Brown Brothers, W. A. Harriman & Co., and The New York Trust Company (Standard Oil).  

When Murray Rothbard talks about the Fed having been created by three factions--Morgan, Rockefeller, and Kuhn Loeb--it is interesting to note that both Rockefeller and Morgan had influence with Time.

The Bush family--through Samuel P. Bush, George W. Bush's great-grandfather--was connected to Brown Brothers, Harriman. Samuel P. was on an early board of the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank and Bernard Baruch appointed him to  the War Industries Board I under President Wilson during World War I.  World War I was the first time socialism was put into effect in the industrial-era US. (Wilson in effect socialized the American economy; the head of the planning board was financier Bernard Baruch. A good book on that topic is Ronald Radosh and Murray Rothbard's New History of Leviathan.)

Prescott Bush, George Bush's grandfather, was vice-president of A. Harriman and Co., and partner of Brown Brothers Harriman.  Wikipedia says this about Samuel P. Bush, George W.'s great-grandfather:

In 1901, Bush returned to Columbus to be General Manager of Buckeye Steel Castings Company, which manufactured railway parts. The company was run by Frank Rockefeller, the brother of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and among its clients were the railroads controlled by E. H. Harriman. The Bush and Harriman families would be closely associated at least until the end of World War II. In 1908, Rockefeller retired and Bush became President of Buckeye, a position he would hold until 1927, becoming one of the top industrialists of his generation.

The story is equally interesting with respect to The Washington Post. This paragraph is clipped from Wikipedia:

The newspaper was purchased in a bankruptcy auction in 1933 by a member of the Federal Reserve's board of governors, Eugene Meyer, who restored the newspaper's health and reputation. In 1946, Meyer was succeeded as publisher by his son-in-law Philip Graham.

When Philip Graham committed suicide, Meyer's daughter and Graham's wife Katharine Meyer Graham took it over.  Warren Buffett has long been associated with The Washington Post as well and was the mentor of Katharine Graham, its long-time CEO.

The Ochs Sulzbergers have owned a controlling interest in The New York Times since 1896. Although they advocate inheritance taxes for others (especially those who own moderate-sized businesses and lack the sophistication to establish a family trust), the Sulzbergers themselves have passed The New York Times through inheritance via a family trust through five generations.  The current owners, led by Arthur Sulzberger, partnered with Bruce Ratner to build their new office building near Port Authority.  Naturally, The Times favored Ratner's use of eminent domain to take possession of others' land in building the new basketball stadium in Brooklyn.  The Times, with Ratner, also used eminent domain in building its own office building.

The more recent history of Time Warner is also interesting.  This is what Wikipedia says:
As of mid-2010, it was the world's second largest media and entertainment conglomerate in terms of revenue (behind The Walt Disney Company), as well as the world's largest media conglomerate. Time Warner subsequently acquired Ted Turner's Turner Broadcasting System in October 1996. In 2005, Time Warner was among 53 entities that contributed the maximum of $250,000 to the second inauguration of President George W. Bush.

Note that the Bushes were connected to Time via Brown Brothers Harriman; Time Warner contributed heavily to Bush's presidential reelection.

In sum, I have stopped watching television or reading newspapers.  Better no information than slanted information. Television, radio, and newspapers make you think you know something; it's better to know that you don't know.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Getting Academic Freedom Not Quite Right

I sent Brooklyn College's President Karen Gould a response to her letter today concerning the appearance at Brooklyn College of Omar Barghouti, the advocate of sanctions against Israeli academics: 

President Gould, as a practical matter I support your decision to allow Barghouti's appearance, but some of the faculty here at Brooklyn have substituted political advocacy for academics and so have a biased, unfair, and inaccurate definition of academic freedom. I urge you to address the comparison between Evan Goldwyn in 2005 and Omar Barghouti in 2013 in a public statement.  In 2005 the now-defunct New York Sun ran an article on Goldwyn.  The same academics now claiming that Barghouti, a master's degree student, deserves academic freedom then said that Goldwyn, also a student, was not entitled to academic freedom because he was a student.  See: http://www.nysun.com/new-york/disposition-emerges-as-issue-at-brooklyn-college/14604/  .

In the Goldwyn case Professor Parmar attempted to throw Goldwyn out of school because he disagreed with her claim that English is the language of white oppressors.  Several professors now arguing for Barghouti's academic freedom then argued that students are not entitled to academic freedom. Would you please comment publicly on the different response to the two cases?  Goldwyn was saved only by the publicity KC Johnson brought, not because, since the 1990s or earlier, the school has had a history of supporting academic freedom--except for left-wingers. Barghouti has an international reputation as a political propagandist or activist, not as an academic. Section 501 (c) (3) explicitly rejects political propaganda as part of an educational institution's mission, and in taking a tax exemption Brooklyn College committed to that position. Are you reversing that position now, or are you claiming that Barghouti is an academic?

Also, the claim that there is academic freedom in a political science department with 100% left-wingers and 0% conservatives, libertarians, or other alternative viewpoints, with any alternative views being suppressed or excluded, is a joke. The same is true of the economics department, which has excluded, for example, the Austrian economics viewpoint.    

As well, political propaganda is not academic or educational, as Section 501 (c) (3) clearly states.  If the college, as apparently the political science department does, sees its role as propaganda rather than education (a position which former provost Roberta Matthews advocated--but not for tax purposes, concerning which she was willing to lie--when she said that all teaching is political),  I would appreciate your explicit clarification of why a talk that advocates sanctions against Israeli academics is in any sense "academic" or "educational" as required by section 501(c)(3) for tax exemption purposes.

-----Original Message-----
From: Karen L. Gould, President [mailto:bcpresident@brooklyn.cuny.edu]
Sent: Mon 2/4/2013 10:50 AM
To: Staff E-Mail
Subject: A steadfast commitment to academic freedom with a commitment to ongoing dialogue and debate

Dear students, faculty, and staff,

During the past week, due to an upcoming event about the BDS movement, our campus has been wrestling with issues of tremendous importance to our college and our community.  There are passionate views on many sides.  While we appreciate the many voices of support for our stand on academic freedom, we cannot disregard the concerns raised by some of our students and alumni.

First, however, let me be clear: Our commitment to the principles of academic freedom remains steadfast.  Students and faculty, including academic departments, programs, and centers, have the right to invite speakers, engage in discussion, and present ideas to further educational discussion and debate.   The mere invitation to speak does not indicate an endorsement of any particular point of view, and there is no obligation, as some have suggested, to present multiple perspectives at any one event.  In this case, the department's co-sponsorship of the event is an invitation to participate; it does not indicate an endorsement of the speakers' positions.  Providing an open forum to discuss important topics, even those many find highly objectionable, is a centuries-old practice on university campuses around the country.  Indeed, this spirit of inquiry and critical debate is a hallmark of the American education system.

At the same time, it is essential that Brooklyn College remain an engaged and civil learning environment where all views may be expressed without fear of intimidation or reprisal.  As I stated last week, we encourage debate, discussion, and more debate.  Students and faculty should explore these and other issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the only basis for consideration.  Contrary to some reports, the Department of Political Science fully agrees and has reaffirmed its longstanding policy to give equal consideration to co-sponsoring speakers who represent any and all points of view.

Over the next two months, with the support of the Wolfe Institute for the Humanities and other campus units and community groups, we will provide multiple opportunities for discussion about the topics and related subject matter at the heart of this controversy.  In addition to Thursday evening's event, at which I encourage those with opposing views to participate in the discussion and ask tough questions, other forums will present alternative perspectives for consideration.  The college welcomes participation from any groups on our campus that may wish to help broaden the dialogue.  At each of these events, please keep in mind that students, faculty, staff, and guests are expected to treat one another with respect at all times, even when they strongly disagree.

Finally, to those who have voiced concern that our decision to uphold the rights of our students and faculty signals an endorsement of the speakers' views, I say again that nothing could be further from the truth.  Moreover, I assure you that our college does not endorse the BDS movement nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.  As the official host of the CUNY center for study abroad in Israel, our college has a proud history of engagement with Israel and Israeli universities. In fact, over the past two years we have renewed our efforts to reconnect with existing institutional partners and to develop new relationships as well for faculty and student exchanges with Israeli institutions.  We deeply value our Israeli partners and would not endorse any action that would imperil the State of Israel or its citizens, many of whom are family members and friends of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and neighbors.

As one of the most diverse colleges in the country, it is particularly important that Brooklyn College foster an inclusive environment where all may voice their points of view across the full spectrum of social, political, and cultural issues of our time.  As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wisely stated nearly a century ago, when one finds another's speech offensive, "...the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."  Together, we must work to ensure that on our campus more and more speech continues to occur so that our students can be broadened in their knowledge, challenged in their thinking, and encouraged to bring their own analysis and values to bear on a wide range of topics of local, national, and global interest.


Karen L. Gould