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The Self-Reinforcing Benefits of Deregulation For Republicans

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The Sinclair propaganda network and the regulatory changes allowing it to expand rapidly is a major story:

The day before President Trump’s inauguration, the top executive of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest owner of television stations, invited an important guest to the headquarters of the company’s Washington-area ABC affiliate.

The trip was, in the parlance of the business world, a deal closer.

The invitation from David D. Smith, the chairman of Sinclair, went to Ajit V. Pai, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission who was about to be named the broadcast industry’s chief regulator. Mr. Smith wanted Mr. Pai to ease up on efforts under President Barack Obama to crack down on media consolidation, which were threatening Sinclair’s ambitions to grow even bigger.

Mr. Smith did not have to wait long.

Within days of their meeting, Mr. Pai was named chairman of the F.C.C. And during his first 10 days on the job, he relaxed a restriction on television stations’ sharing of advertising revenue and other resources — the exact topic that Mr. Pai discussed with Mr. Smith and one of his business partners, according to records examined by The New York Times.

“These are invaluable and effective tools, which were taken away by the commission,” according to a summary of their meeting filed with the F.C.C.

It was only the beginning. Since becoming chairman in January, Mr. Pai has undertaken a deregulatory blitz, enacting or proposing a wish list of fundamental policy changes advocated by Mr. Smith and his company. Hundreds of pages of emails and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a rush of regulatory actions has been carefully aligned with Sinclair’s business objectives.

Read the whole etc. More here.

One key takeaway from both this and the EPA story is that the idea that because Trump hasn’t signed major legislation he’s not really doing anything is both false and very pernicious. The executive branch can do an enormous amount of damage on its own, and it is.

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  • LeeEsq

    Incidentally, Kurt Andersen has an article in the Atlantic on how Americans became so unhinged in what they believe, things like climate change denial or anti-vaccination paranoia. The decline of media regulation like the Fairness Doctrine and the increased broadcast power offered by the Internet are naturally part of the problem.

    • Stephen Fromm

      And Adam Johnson of FAIR has pointed out the irony of that article appearing in _The Atlantic_, whose editor-in-chief helped perpetuate loony conspiracy theories about Saddam being in cahoots with AQ, and Saddam possessing WMD.

      • jamespowell

        So both sides do it?

        • Joe Paulson

          sounds fair

        • Stephen Fromm

          Not sure what you’re insinuating, but I don’t consider Jeffrey Goldberg to be on my side.

  • randykhan

    I find it interesting – although not upsetting – that this is playing as a scandal, in that the Republican FCC commissioners’ views on the ownership issues were well known for years. It’s not like Sinclair had to convince Pai that the Obama-era approach should be reversed; he’d already protested when it was adopted.

  • Hypersphericalcow

    Being in high school in the late 90’s, when ClearChannel/Sinclair/etc started consolidating all the radio stations they could get their hands on, was really depressing. Within the span of a few years, every single radio station was playing the same music, that had been programmed from some computer that was basically taking its instructions from MTV and SoundScan. Ugh.

    ETA: Of course, that doesn’t even touch on the political implications (how the fuck did a guy with the name “Mancow” become a major political figure in Chicago?)

    • wjts

      Because whoever knows reason burns at the touch of the Mancow?

      • N__B

        Mancow is the result of a science experiment gone terribly wrong. He can only be stopped by Cowman, the scourge of Gotham’s udderworld.

        • LeeEsq

          Cowman was naturally an immigrant from Crete named Knossos Minotaur but he anglicized his name when he naturalized.

        • sibusisodan

          Udderworld! You genius.

        • Hypersphericalcow

          “Udderworld”. You magnificent bastard.

        • billcinsd
          • Bri2k

            I can’t believe I missed the Man Eating Cow Bonanza.

            The good stuff seems to always slip by me unnoticed.

            • John Revolta

              “Moo. Does this taste funny to you?”

            • Hypersphericalcow

              I’ve been to the “Man-Eating Cow Rodeo”, but I too missed the Bonanza.

          • Captain_Subtext

            Is that a Ben Edlund special? Man I love the Tick. Spoon!

            • billcinsd

              yes, it is. This, Paul the Samurai, and Chainsaw Vigilante were all Tick universe off shoots.

              Did you see that Amazon is putting out a new live action Tick? The first episode was mostly about Arthur, so not as zany as I hoped but still not too bad

              https://www.amazon.com/The-Tick/dp/B01J777RKW/ref=pd_rhf_ee_p_img_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=9EKJT0P0CTCX2X2YGQH8

              • Captain_Subtext

                I have all of the original NEC Tick comics as well as a couple of the Paul the Samurai issues. Just lucky enough to have been in Hartford, CT in the late 80’s to get them.

                I did see that Amazon was doing another live action; Patrick Warburton was just about perfect as the Tick though. Thanks for the link. I will check it out.

      • Mrs. O’Leary’s here and says she doesn’t want him back.

    • LeeEsq

      Maybe the denizens of Chicago are reminded of their days as America’s slaughterhouse by the name Mancow?

    • Hypersphericalcow

      My favorite (n.b. not actually favorite at all) Mancow broadcast was around 2004, when some whackadoodle evangelical Christian “archeologists” were going to Mt. Ararat in Turkey, looking for remains of Noah’s Ark that had supposedly been identified by satellite cameras.

      Mr. Cow was convinced that they would find the Ark, and that the discovery would somehow prove that Islam was a lie.

      It made no more sense then than it does now.

      • Veleda_k

        Mr. Cow was convinced that they would find the Ark, and that the discovery would somehow prove that Islam was a lie.

        Once more I am reminded how little people who hate Islam actually know about Islam.

    • NewishLawyer

      I think shock jocks become popular because a lot of people like that stuff.

      I’ve never been able to get into shock jocks, I find them “vulgar” to say the least. But here is another place where I think conservatives often have an advantage over liberals. Lots of social conservatives seem willing to sell sex, drugs, and rock n’roll or whatever even if they personally wish for a Christian theocracy or whatever or are personal prudes.

      But it is seemingly the left that chooses not to pursue things because it is in bad taste or vulgar. Or at least upper-middle class bourgeois liberals like me. For whatever reason, I can stand shocking and offensive art in terms of institutional spaces like galleries, museums, performance spaces, the academy but put a shock jock on Top 40 radio or some kind of prank call segment and I am turned off.

      But lots of people might just like the shock jock who “tells it like it is” (not really hence the quotes). Apparently I shocked my fellow friends from the NYC metro by avoiding exposure to “War of the Roses” until 2017.*

      But there is an “Eparter Le Bourgeois” aspect to the far-right politics (more so than far-left politics interestingly enough). Stephen Miller (and to a lesser extent Richard Spencer) are the very exemplars of Eparter Le Bourgeois right-wing politics. Miller saw his liberal parents and relatives and his liberal classmates and knew that becoming a punk rocker would not shock them, he would just be another face in the crowd at an upper-middle class high school. What would shock his parents and peers was becoming a right-wing loon with shitty racist views and he did so. I don’t think most of the White Nationalist/4chan/Reddit/Kill All Normies set would know who Rimbaud was even after reading his Wikipedia entry but there is an Eparter Le Bourgeois nature to their actions. We here are the Le Bourgeois.**

      *Scripted or not: This is a segment where someone calls and complains about their lover and the DJs pose as Private Investigators. The segment I heard involved a guy complaining that his girlfriend was going out and he thought she was cheating. The “reveal” was that the girlfriend worked as a high-end escort (no sex, just companionship sayeth the female DJ) and now the guy is managing/pimping his girlfriend’s work. I couldn’t for the life of me why this was supposed to be entertaining and spent a good evening puzzling over it. Yes this makes me the very definition of an out of touch intellectual/snob.

      **Whether we are from the Bourgeois or not, all liberals are Le Bourgeois.

      • Stephen Fromm

        I’ll bet good money that an effective liberal shock jock would find it difficult to get a big audience, because of the class interest of the people who control most of the airwaves.

        • wjts

          Aren’t the Chapo Clown Car guys basically left-wing shock jocks?

        • NewishLawyer

          What would a liberal shock jock even be like? I will take wjts at his word about the Chapo Clown Car guys but I also lived under a rock and have only vaguely heard of them. I know there is a podcast with some lefty shock jock types though. IIRC they were Bernie or Bust types.

          Maybe you right but it shows how right-wingers can basically own Coachella and not have a problem with the sex, drugs, and music. Is there an applicable version of liberals entering a business venture and getting super-rich despite finding it against their personal tastes/morality? Maybe some individual corporate lawyers voting for Bernie? Soros and Co. don’t count because they are not far anti-Capitalists despite the fever dreams of the right.

          • habitus corporis, soros $hill

            Crooked Media seems to be doing well. Podcasts are the shock jockery of the left. We don’t need to have something that is exactly the same, except lefty. They’re different formats, but those on the left certainly appreciate the podcasting medium moreso than those on the right I’d think.

            • Mellano

              Huffpo was famously a left-leaning news and lifestyle website that relied on for getting eyeballs through reveling in readers’ base impulses — over the top headlines, titillating pictures, etc.

              • habitus corporis, soros $hill

                Yeah I wouldn’t liken HuffPo to Crooked though. I’m just thinking of it in terms of casual discussion ala a traditional shock jock. Podcasts fill that niche for the left, just without the shitty sound effects/laugh tracks.

                • Mellano

                  I was more replying to NewishLawyer’s general question.

                  That said, I do listen to the Crooked Media podcasts sometimes and I think the difference in formats is really more structural than anything fundamental about the nature of different political audiences. Pod Save is written by college educated political insiders for high information listeners who would be seeking out the latest details on the Mueller investigation whether or not Obama’s former speechwriters had a podcast. It takes more active effort to subscribe, download, and listen, and that reflects itself in the focus of its programming.

                  Radio hosts, on the other hand, are relying much more on low-attention listeners — people tuning in or out over the course of their day, skipping back and forth between music stations, whatever. In that context there’s going to be more reliance on prank calls, dirty stories, etc, to keep market share, and that starts to look more like the Huffington Post.

                  Maybe there’s no market for left-wing shock jocks, just not sure Crooked Media disproves it.

                • habitus corporis, soros $hill

                  I get where you’re coming from. I’m saying that Crooked (and, the podcast industrial complex more broadly /S ) serve the function of shock jocks on the left, even if the format (and level/depth of content) is different. Maybe it means left audiences are a bit more discerning in their media consumption and/or information seeking. I don’t know and I’m not qualified to make that claim. It personally wouldn’t surprise me.

        • LeeEsq

          Another reason why liberal shock jocks are hard to imagine is that a lot of shock jockery revolves around conventional morality. The War of the Roses segment that Newish talks about counts as liberal because of the twist about the boyfriend ending up as his girlfriend’s manager/pimp. A more conservative version would have here denounce the girlfriend or the girlfriend learning the “error” of her ways and repenting to be a good woman.
          Its like how TV talk shows have former porn stars on but the porn star is always somebody who now regrets what they did. Most people watch and like porn but can’t imagine doing porn or even wanting to know somebody that does it personally. That’s why they always have on a repentant porn star rather than somebody who just saw it as a day in the office or even liked their job.

      • Hypersphericalcow

        For all of the talk about “special snowflakes”, the right-wingers are extremely sensitive to perceived slights, while not giving a damn if they themselves offend anyone. (this is not a new observation). So they’ll have Congressional hearings about Robert Mapplethorpe and “Piss Christ”, but be blithely unconcerned about literal Nazis holding rallies in their support.

        • LeeEsq

          Its because they adhere to honor-shame morality while we adhere to guilt based morality for the most part. In honor-shame morality, most of it is about maintaining face in public. Its what people know or perceive about you that’s important. With guilt based morality, you are in the wrong and should feel bad about your misdeeds even if nobody else knows about them.

        • NewishLawyer

          I think this is true enough but doesn’t quite explain most typical Shock Jock/War of the Roses type stuff which is gawking and tawdry but not quite offensive in the way other anti-PC stuff is.

          • Hypersphericalcow

            Yeah, I find the entire concept of “shit-posting” emotionally baffling, but apparently a lot of people get a thrill out of it.

      • JamesWimberley

        Épater.

    • Captain_Subtext

      I noticed the same thing, except that instead of playing the same music, they bought up previously competing stations and stratified their playlists into: 80’s and earlier, 80’s and 90’s, and 90’s and beyond. At the same time, they also increase the number of commercials from 12-13 per hour to 16-17 per hour. I had confirmation of this from a neighbor who happened to work for one of the stations. It was pernicious and awful since your playlist essentially went down to one station according to what you wanted to listen to and half of that time was spent listening to commercials. I basically stopped listening to the radio.

  • Whirrlaway

    Tell me again why a strong central authority is such a good idea?

    • Because if you oppose the deregulated growth of a propaganda network then clearly u just mad and/or a member of the PC Thought Police.

    • Murc

      Because so far all attempted alternatives have been much, much worse.

      • My (sarcastic) response below assumed he was strictly talking about the media, but this is a correct answer for the general case.

      • Hypersphericalcow

        But if we let the Federal Reserve dictate FIAT MONEY, we will be slaves. Would you like to invest in my Bitcoin startup?

      • Whirrlaway

        Then we need an alternative alternative, because we’re on a dead end. So to speak. “If there’s a gun on stage in act 1 … “

        • Murc

          Then we need an alternative alternative, because we’re on a dead end.

          Well, I’m listening. What sort of model do you propose?

          I’m going to be honest, friend: it sounds like you’re gearing up to shill for libertarianism here. If you’re not, I apologize. If you are, I can only say that libertarianism isn’t just not the answer, it’s the problem.

          • Aaron Morrow

            Let 50 state EPAs flourish, once we’ve figured out how to build 50 state-sized Bio Domes.

          • Whirrlaway

            No, I am entirely a collectivist. Sadly a _lonely_ collectivist. Note that humans did very well for thousands of years in face-to-face tribal groups before the plumbers showed up and everybody had to go to work digging ditches. If you think tribal life is “we do what we want”, you’re in for a shock in a few years.

            Authoritarianism is the opposite of collectivism; as things are today, nobody’s opinion counts much except the Great Pumpkin and a few of his friends. But whatever we can at least be glad that the Great Emancipator and his Proclamation totally solved the race problem in America, aside from some notable exceptions.

    • eclare

      In the particular case of the FCC, it’s because spectrum needs to be carefully allocated in order to avoid interference. You actually need a centralized agency to decide who gets to broadcast where over which frequencies.

      • Whirrlaway

        Read the whole etc; the strong central authority has faciltated access for Sinclair, while putting the squeeze on NPR. Doing it with a stroke of the authoritative pen whenever they decide they need to. Distributed control, such as the internet, is more resistant to change.

        Also, in 2017 Terry Gross can’t say “fuck” on the air. Thanks, FCC!

  • sanjait

    I’m trying to remember if the Bush Adminsitration was this obviously corrupt and owned by conservative aligned special interests.

    My recollection is that it was. This is basically bog standard (as in “swampy”) Republican-ism. It’s what they stand for consistently. All Trump has done is simultaneously hide it with a bigger Big Lie and then be more blatant about it.

    • I think the Bushies were this corrupt, but they were also more restrained; they lacked the imagination to realize they could just completely disregard public opinion, to say nothing of the public good, and do whatever they wanted. This, of course, applies to the earlier EPA post, as well. The change, I think, lies in the continued drift of the Republican Party. A decade ago there were still Republicans who would have resisted these actions. They’re all gone now.

    • I think a fundamental difference is that Bush was a historically bad president, but I don’t think he was necessarily a bad person. Trump is both a historically bad president and a historically despicable person.

    • NewishLawyer

      I think CV Danes is right. Bush was a horrible President but I think he did want a more diverse party and his outreach to socially-conservative Hispanics was sincere. He might have also thought it to be in “bad taste” to do everything Trump is doing because despite his fake Texas accent, he was a Connecticut Yankee WASP with similar views on probity. He also saw himself as a politician unlike Trump probably.

      Trump is not the kind to understand probity.

    • LeeEsq

      I remember hearing something about some really wild things happening in Bush’s Interior Department, sex and cocaine were involved, but that might just be hearsay.

      • bender

        I would say that in most Republican administrations and some Democratic ones, things go on in the Interior Department that shouldn’t see the light of day.

    • eclare

      To be fair, this isn’t a case of corruption. Pai is a free-market true believer.

    • guthrie

      Surely it’s a difference between people who are in it for the long term con; look at all the returnees in Bush junions government. Their interest is in keeping the system going for as long as possible.
      Whereas the current bunch of lunatics want to destroy it, because it’ll make them and their pals richer right now. They have no future vision.

  • aardvarkcheeselog

    Concentration of media ownership is the gift that keeps on giving!

  • howard

    we are reminded, yet again, of the need for vigorous anti-trust enforcement. i believe that a good part of the increase in wealth and income inequality of the last 35 years is as a result in the essential collapse of antitrust enforcement.

    • Murc

      We got Robert Bork to thank for a lot of that.

      • howard

        you know, had i had time to type one more sentence originally, that would have been it! that is exactly right, and his standard was wrong.

    • ap77

      As an antitrust lawyer, I really doubt that statement.

      To elaborate, we’re still seeing gains in worker productivity, production innovation, etc. It’s just that the gains are now routed exclusively to the top. I’d say that has more to do with changes in the corporate compensation structure, financial regulation, and the tax code than it has to do with anything particularly relevant to antitrust.

      • howard

        and i would say that the reason that the gains are routed to the top is because increasing oligopoly results in gains being routed to the top, and lack of antitrust enforcement is why we see increasing oligopoly.

        • ap77

          I don’t think so. I think the major shift has been intra-company rather than inter-company. The pie has grown for some of the largest companies, but what I think has shifted more is how the pie is distributed within them. I don’t think you can attribute that shift to antitrust approaches. Note that the Obama administration took a pretty aggressive antitrust approach as well and that had roughly zero effect on wealth distribution.

      • Zagarna_84

        There’s a really good explanation for this phenomenon… I can’t quite place it, but my recollection is that it starts with a “u” and ends with a “nions”.

        Ah yes, uncooked onions, that must be it. They make us cry!

  • The Trump Administration is the functional equivalent of dipping America in a vat of sulfuric acid. Not sure how much is going to be left by the time we can extricate it.

    • CP

      It would be a lot less worrisome if it hadn’t already been repeatedly and lengthily dipped in various increasingly harmful substances over the last fifty years.

      And if it hadn’t received little more than inadequate emergency care after all of these instances.

      • N__B

        In “Flypaper,” Dashiell Hammett has a plot hinging on the fact that you can’t build up a tolerance to arsenic.

      • Yep, but Trump has just taken it to the next level. I think we are going to do the heavy lifting of getting this guy out of office, only to realize that by the time we do there’s not a whole lot left. I think our only hope at this point is that we flip either side (or both) of Congress in 2018 and putting on some brakes. California (and other blue states) can’t fight all the battles.

        • bender

          If neither house of Congress flips in 2018, the only other thing I can think of right now that would put on some brakes would be very widespread disrespect for the law, ranging from formal civil disobedience to just generally ignoring the rules. If ordinary Americans stop thinking of the federal and state governments as “our government”, I think we may be very creative at defying them.

  • Joe Paulson

    “Trump hasn’t signed major legislation he’s not really doing anything is both false and very pernicious.”

    The “so much winning” sneers are fun and all, but not quite accurate.

    • randykhan

      It’s kind of strange to say this, but Trump’s agenda is essentially unenacted – no wall, no Obamacare repeal, taxes, etc. – most of what has been done is stuff he probably doesn’t care about at all, and certainly didn’t campaign on.

      • habitus corporis, soros $hill

        some might say it is bog-standard Republicanism.

        • Aaron Morrow

          Would Jeb? have unleashed ICE the same way Trump has?

          • habitus corporis, soros $hill

            Probably not. He certainly would have appointed* someone like Pai to the FCC though.

  • eclare

    What I love best about communications law is that it often makes for strange bedfellows. For example, the only folks more opposed to this merger than liberal public interest groups are cable operators.

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