Has Rupert Murdoch Lost His Nerve? – Vanity Fair
The swashbuckling Murdochs now look as milquetoast as the old media rivals whom they upended and disdain.
With the belated firing of Bill O’Reilly, the monarchical lords of 21st Century Fox have turned 1990s with their initial programming decisions.
Yes, you can easily make dumb decisions when you’re king of any media hill and a financial juggernaut. But the initial post-O’Reilly programming rehab seems unimaginative just as unexpected events, an aging demographic and the luxury of being a strong No. 1 offered an opportunity to display creative panache.
Into the O’Reilly slot comes Tucker Carlson, a smart preppie with a quick wit but who’s a cautious, if very defensible pick. He’s a known quantity, even if in the same fashion as, say, Quaker Oatmeal, but he’s surprised some by enhancing the audience he inherited in Megyn Kelly’s time slot.
He’ll be succeeded by The Five, which has been an often hackneyed ensemble of former political flacks, campaign operatives, prosecutors and commodities dealers, among others, with several members who appear to phone it in. It makes long-ago stalwarts like The McLaughlin Group and Capital Gang (which both tended to rely on actual journalists) and PBS’ Washington Week (now to be hosted by Robert Costa of The Washington Post and fully reliant on reporters) resemble an appealing combo of Ringling Brothers and Harvard Law School, not lackluster suburban dinner theater.
The species could use reinvention.
And now in late afternoon comes a new show hosted by ensemble member Eric Bolling, the commodities trader-turned-pundit who seems plucked from an indistinguishable storage room of middle-aged White males at Fox (Ed Henry, Brian Kilmeade, John Roberts, John Scott, etc., they blend together).
The two young Murdochs, who are inheriting the throne from their dad, have essentially moved around some rusty deck chairs rather than buying new. Roger Ailes, the ethically compromised former Fox guru, was way more inventive. So was the dad when he still had his fastball.
For sure, when it comes to a right-of-center TV audience Fox remains “the 800-pound gorilla,” says Peter Anthony, chief executive of LifeZette, a new right-of-center digital startup focusing on politics, health and culture. He sold a business to The Economist Group and worked on the business side, in part marketing digital, at CQ-Roll Call.
After years of internet-driven searching for clicks and eyeballs, he suggests a correction is at hand for conservative news consumers. There will be less crap, less unadulterated opinion (“the Chinese food approach to news and information”). He’s convinced there’s a shelf life now for what’s held some in superficially good stead.
“It’s been salacious stories and clickbait to get eyeballs. If you could get a message across, all the better.”
Whether older or younger, a greater percentage of the right-of-center audience will seek quality journalism. With greater competition arising, people will tire of junk and brands will suffer if they don’t change.
The right is splintered by ideological and generational gaps just like the left. Among others, there are hard-core conservative nationalists that like Breitbart, more traditional conservative elites in tune with The National Review and Weekly Standard, Trump-leaning publications such as American Affairs and a flurry of far-right fringe websites.
Not many right-of-center digital media seek “to play it straight. We (LifeZette) are trying to do that.”
Technology makes personalities more “transportable.” Maybe O’Reilly joins a new streaming service, such as Conservative Review TV (CRTV). The pay-for-view models that revolutionized entertainment — look at the yearly Emmy Awards hauls of premium cable TV, like HBO, and now Netflix and Amazon — will encroach upon news and he foresees similar disruption for conservatives.
Folks on that side, just like those on the left, will get “smarter and more selective about content,” Anthony says. “And the technology disruption will remain.”
“I can envision a few hundred thousand Fox viewers turning to subscription services,” he says. “And even at $4.95 a month, that turns into real money.”
The Murdochs know math, obviously, but need to avoid the potential perils of pussyfooting to retain fat profits. The initial O’Reilly programming response suggests a surgical infusion of strategic moxie is needed.
FCC speeds consolidation
“Regulators voted to ease a limit on TV-station ownership, a step that could open a door to mergers such as Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s bid for Tribune Media Co.” (Bloomberg)
“The Federal Communications Commission, on a 2-1 Republican-led vote on Thursday, restored the practice of counting just part of some stations’ audience. Shrinking the audience allows more room to buy stations before a company reaches the limit of serving 39 percent of the national TV viewership. The agency also said it may consider raising that limit.”
Bottom line here? It “adds room to grow” (don’t you love that phrase?) for Sinclair, Nexstar Media Group Inc., CBS Corp. and Comcast Corp. Sinclair, which might be a fit resting place for Bill O’Reilly, has 173 TV stations and wants to buy Tribune, owner of big stations including Chicago’s WGN, New York’s WPIX and Los Angeles’ KTLA.
Not confiding in Confide
Confide is a so-called off-the-record messaging service liked by the White House, “as well as Republican insiders, use to privately send information.” (Recode)
But a New York lawsuit alleged “that it’s possible under specific circumstances to capture information on who sent messages, as well as the content of those messages.”
This isn’t about fancy stuff like encryption technology but about “a more manual problem: That messages sent on the platform are not always safe from being captured with a screenshot.”
Bianna, not Brianna!
Shattered is the well-received account of Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign via Jonathan Allen of Roll Call and Amie Parnes of The Hill. Politics aside, what was the media’s role and what was it like to be discovering such disarray but having everybody saying Clinton would win?
There’s a mountain of dishy anecdotes, like her wanting Yahoo! News’ Bianna Golodryga to interview her (presumably gently) but instead getting CNN’s Brianna Keilar (a session that did not go well for Clinton). There are also question I asked in an interview yesterday that you can find here. (Poynter)
Question of the day
“Could Google and Facebook’s challengers steal away ad budgets by working together on metrics?” (Adweek)
This is all about increasing advertiser frustration with the giants’ performance metrics. “What if Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest joined up in a consortium — perhaps with either the Advertising Research Foundation or the Interactive Advertising Bureau at their side — to establish common ad metrics?”
C’est la vie
Gilles Paris, a Washington correspondent for Le Monde, had White House pool duty yesterday. Don’t be envious.
“Your pool entered the Oval Office at 3:07 and left at 3:08.”
“President Donald Trump and his visitor, the president of the council of ministers of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni, were smiling. They shook hands and the head of the Italian government expressed his satisfaction to welcome president Trump in Sicilia for the next G7 summit this coming May.”
Coulter at Berkeley
Folks on the right are on the mark in being outraged that Ann Coulter’s scheduled appearance at the University of California-Berkeley was cancelled. Now it’s back on.
For those wondering what to think when a polemicist like her is invited and then disinvited as a university (especially a publicly funded one) claims a peril of violence, read this _New York Time_s piece by Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School (an ideological polar opposite to Coulter) that concludes with this from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ 1927 opinion in a case called Whitney v. California:
“‘Those who won our independence,’ Justice Brandeis wrote, were committed to the principle ‘that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.’ Thus, even the fact that speech is likely to result in ‘violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.’ Rather, Justice Brandeis concluded, in a free society, ‘the deterrents ordinarily to be applied to prevent’ violence and disruption ‘are education and punishment for violations of the law, not abridgment of free speech.’”
The art of racism
This Newsweek cover story by Abigail Jones on how the alt-right is installing racist art that at times spoofs iconic American posters on college campuses is worth a look.
There’s the recasting of Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the riveter with “America’s greatest feminist icon was seen pumping her arm alongside a new rallying cry: ‘Don’t apologize for being White!’” That effort was “part of a ‘White-consciousness campaign’ launched by alt-right impresario Jared Taylor on the eve of Black History Month.”
The aim? “To inundate college and university campuses with pro-White propaganda. ‘The election of Donald Trump is a sign of rising White consciousness,’ Taylor wrote on American Renaissance, his online magazine dedicated to White supremacy, adding later, ‘Now is the time to press our advantage in every way possible.’”
Vox on CNN
Critics of CNN, and even some fans, might find this Carlos Maza video commentary for Vox pretty interesting as it argues the network has helped to dumb down America by “mainstreaming” misinformation about Donald Trump and premeditatedly helping to turn political dialogue into theatrical spectacle.
Oh, those folks overseeing the often anemic digital operations of newspapers might just look at this for its technical aplomb. It’s sharp and provocative.
A banquet for fake news connoisseurs
PolitiFact now has a catalogue of fake news sites.
“Using our experiences, we’ve been able to create our own fake news almanac. We want to help readers sort out fact from fiction on your social news feeds, so we compiled a list of every website on which we’ve found deliberately false or fake news stories since we started working along with Facebook — 156 in all.”
Fox & Friends went with the terrorist attack in Paris, CNN’s New Day on Trump seeing movement on healthcare reform and MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Democratic Party qualms about an Omaha mayoral candidate’s past record on abortion (Joe Scarborough in a pre-breakfast lather).
The most notable segment was CNN’s panel of female pundits who appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show and, by and large, cut him some slack, notably Kirsten Powers, Mary Katharine Ham and Margaret Hoover.
A melancholy moment for O’Reilly
“Smiling wistfully as he gazed at the cherished mementos that had sat on his desk for much of the past 20 years, former Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly reportedly grew teary-eyed Thursday as he packed up the framed up-skirt photos from his workspace following his termination by the cable channel. ‘God, I have so many great memories from this place.’”
A touching reminder of human frailty, right? No. It’s The Onion.
Well, with temperatures to be in the 40s, I get teary-eyed thinking of four kids baseball and soccer games this weekend. Ah… Have a good weekend.
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