Monthly Archives: October 2018

Did Megyn Kelly sabotage her NBC morning show to get back to prime-time?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; October 28, 2018)

Megyn Kelly was fired by NBC because she was an unapologetic conservative on a network at war with conservatives, at least the Trump variety. That’s my opinion, at least.

But few in the media explain her firing that way.

NBC cited Megyn Kelly’s insensitive ‘blackface’ comments as the proximate cause of their ending the network’s relationship with the mercurial TV host. The New York media critics were quick to reference Kelly’s mediocre TV ratings as the more substantive factor. And still other media snarks suggest Kelly’s dishonest attempt to pose as an ‘apolitical’ morning show personality was doomed from the start.

“The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now,” Kelly told the audienceon her NBC morning show’s first day.

Initially, the TV ratings for Megyn Kelly Today were underwhelming — certainly not what corporate NBC expected when it signed Kelly to a 3-year, $69 million contract.

“[NBC News Chairman] Andrew Lack made the mistake with Megyn Kelly [from the beginning] with the decision to hire her to an anachronistic celebrity contract in the mistaken belief that star quality could turn into ratings gold,” said Andrew Tyndall , a television news analyst and consultant, told The Wall Street Journal.

When Kelly impolitely asked Jane Fonda about her extensive history with plastic surgery, the critics were quick to jump on Kelly’s weak celebrity-interview skills. Even Fonda’s surgery-mutilated face had enough elasticity left to show her disgust with Kelly’s ‘inappropriate’ line of questioning.

The awkward Fonda interview was great television, even if there wasn’t much of a home audience to see it.

Month’s later, in response to Fonda’s continued complaints about how she was treated on Megyn Kelly Today, Kelly’s petulant response to Fonda’s complaints revealed the real story.

“If Fonda really wants to have an honest discussion about older women’s cultural face, then her plastic surgery is tough to ignore,” opened Kelly’s rejoinder. “When she came here, however, again to promote her film about aging, I was supposed to discern that this subject was suddenly off-limits.”

Then the conservative, flame-throwing Kelly re-emerged from hyper-sleep:

“I have no regrets about that question nor am I in the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not a appropriate. After all, this is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. Look at her treatment of our military during the Vietnam War; many of our veterans GIs called her Hanoi Jane thanks to her radio broadcast which attempted to shame American troops. She posed on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down our American pilots. She called our POWs hypocrites and liars and referred to their torture as understandable. Even she had to apologize years later for that gun picture. But not for the rest of it, by the way. She still says she is not proud of America.”

The real Megyn Kelly was destined to be fired by NBC

Kelly, whose demeanor during interviews can change from breezy to combative as quickly as she tilts her head, is a master-class practitioner of the ambush interview: let the guest talk at first; once they’ve burned through their prepared talking points, ask a loaded question; get the interviewee off-balance; and spend the rest of the interview hammering on a small set of conservative talking points while taunting and pestering the guest into oblivion. While the technique rarely enlightens audience, it often makes for great (though sometimes too cringe-inducing to watch) television.

Kelly’s Fox News interview with Malik Shabazz, National President for Black Lawyers for Justice, during the 2016 Republican Convention is a textbook example of her interviewing style:

Source: Fox News Channel

As Shabazz explained his views on racial bias in the country’s criminal justice system, Kelly offered this follow-up question: “Do you believe white people are inherently evil?”

In vain, he tried to redirect the conversation back to systemic racial bias, only to have her cut him off again with this prosecutorial gem of a question: “Do you use the term cracker to refer to white people?”

Exhausted by that point, Shabazz accused Kelly of deviating from the subject matter, prompting her to say, “No, I want the audience to know what you stand for?”

No, Megyn, you really didn’t want your audience to understand what this man stood for — had that been your motivation, your approach to the interview would have been entirely different. Your goal was to embarrass and shame him in your pursuit of entertaining the Fox News audience.

And you know what? Interviews like the one with Shabazz is what made Kelly the household name she became on Fox News. That is why NBC paid her $69 million to bring her act to their network.

In the right context, she is worth that kind of money.

Her ambush interviews made her rich and famous — her peers in the business were few. She could make Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly squirm when she threw her head-tilt-with-stink-eye-glare in their direction — and towards the end of her tenure at Fox News, she did that a lot.

But, of course, presumably NBC was hoping Kelly would leave the ‘conservative’ stuff back at Fox News. After all, she had just become public enemy number one among Donald Trump supporters for her sharp-tongued presidential debate question directed at the candidate regarding his past verbal abuse of women. As NBC signed her up for three years, she seemed genuinely unleashed from the ideological shackles imposed by the Fox News system.

The honeymoon didn’t last long. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any honeymoon period between Kelly and NBC. Her short-lived Sunday evening news program died as quickly as it was thrown together. Even a Vladimir Putin interview failed to generate ratings.

By the time Megyn Kelly Today was launched in September 2017, there were already industry rumors that she was over-bearing, aloof and roundly disliked by her NBC colleagues. Her latest book, after all, was titled Settle for More. In it, she basically admitted she can be a b*tch to work with and doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about other people’s fragile egos.

Its not like Kelly was hiding her personality traits from the NBC senior brass. They got exactly the person they thought they were getting — but they did believe the ‘conservative’ Kelly would be replaced by something more…centrist, even a little bit liberal.

Boy, were they wrong.

Kelly was only a few weeks into her morning show when she could barely stomach the cast of Will & Grace as they promoted their show’s pointless relaunch. Kelly was no phony that day. She didn’t care for the show to begin with and wasn’t going to sit there and mindlessly enable its comeback. Kelly oozed contempt and the Will & Grace cast did not appreciate it.

The Jane Fonda brouhaha would soon follow and the network by then was already leaking stories to the entertainment press that Kelly’s show was failing.

“Bad ratings.” “Her personality doesn’t work well with the morning audiences.” “Her talent doesn’t match her ego.”

The truth?

Most new shows struggle with ratings at the onset. While Kelly was a big name in prime-time cable TV news, her fame did not necessarily follow her to weekday mornings. She would have to earn those viewers, as she did at Fox News.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kelly’s ratings were down 18 percent from what that hour pulled for NBC a year earlier, and down 28 percent among viewers aged 25–54, the most coveted morning show demographic.

Adding to the ratings decline was the difficulty Kelly’s show had in booking A-list guests, particularly after she infuriated Fonda, who was more than happy to use her fame and industry clout to scare away other celebrities from appearing on Megyn Kelly Today.

Yes, Kelly’s show was struggling for ratings.

“It averaged about 2.4 million viewers a day, while its direct competitor, ABC’s Live with Kelly and Ryan, leads the time slot with 3 million,” according to The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie. “Kelly’s show also was off 400,000 viewers from the (cheaper) show it replaced.”

That is normally a formula for a show’s cancellation.

However, networks actually care more about the ad dollars from a show, not necessarily its audience ratings. And, in that regard, Megyn Kelly Today was not failing at all. According to the ad spending tracker service, Kantar Group, in the first six months of 2018, Kelly’s show earned $65.8 million in advertising — a 26 percent increase over the year-earlier period, when that hour was hosted by NBC Today Show veterans Tamron Hall, Al Roker, Willie Geist, and Natalie Morales.

It is unlikely audience ratings alone are behind NBC and Kelly parting company.

So, was it really Kelly’s insensitive remarks about racism and blackfaceHalloween costumes that led to her demise?

Here is the exact quote of what Kelly said on her show about racism and blackface costumes:

“But what is racist? Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

For the record, the 47-year-old Kelly grew up in DeWitt and Albany, New York. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that blackface Halloween costumes were prevalent or tolerated in upstate New York in the 1970s. But, if Kelly says so, I’ll take her at her word.

Nonetheless, while Kelly’s blackface observation was ill-considered and mildly insensitive, it was hardly a firing offense. Much, much more was behind her firing than that off-the-cuff remark — a remark I would sooner believe she premeditatedly planned in order to get herself fired.

When viewed in the show’s full context, Kelly’s ‘blackface’ comment didn’t fit well in the panel discussion. It was a needless remark and begged the question, “Why say that?” In fact, it felt almost rehearsed, as if she knew the comment would be provocative and she was waiting for the right moment to launch it.

And why would she do that? Conservative Megyn Kelly was miserable at NBC. She knew she had made a bad career move — which is probably why she fired her agent immediately after being dumped by NBC — and most likely wants to get back to prime-time news where her skills are still valued.

Arguing against my assertion that Kelly pre-planned the ‘blackface’ comment to expedite her own firing is her on-air apology the next day. Her eyes were puffy. She looked like emotionally drained. She didn’t look or sound like someone about to receive a generous golden parachute and the freedom to move on to something much, much better.

“I was wrong and I am sorry,” she pleaded to her studio audience.

It was her brand’s lowest moment ever.

For those of us that have watched Megyn Kelly Today on a daily, weekday basis, her show’s tone became darker and more openly conservative in the last few months. The show was still nothing like her Fox News program, but she began to incorporate her courtroom law experience more often into the show.

She was more combative, included more newsy content, and was becoming more like the Megyn Kelly from her Fox News days.

In the past year, Kelly has interviewed a man falsely accused of rape (which was a direct attack on the #MeToo movement), highlighted the unfair physical advantage transgender athletes often possess when they are allowed to participate in girls high school sports, and unceremoniously pounded anti-Trump actor Tom Arnold into dust for his alleged stalking of The Apprenticeproducer Mark Burnett.

The Fox News Kelly is now back, but what should be her next move?

Possible landing spots for Megyn Kelly

There are three likely landing spots for Kelly: (1) Fox News, (2) CRTV, and (3) The Blaze.

Though one should never say never, it is highly improbably that Kelly would return to the network that made her famous. She tried not to burn bridges on her exit from Fox, but anytime a move like that is made, feelings will get bruised. Furthermore, the current Fox News prime-time lineup does not have an obvious weak link.

If Kelly were to replace Tucker Carlson, who is extremely popular among Fox News staff and executives, a mutiny might materialize. As for her replacing Laura Ingraham, that also seems unlikely. For one, Ingraham always seems one annoyance away from becoming an active shooter. If Kelly were to replace her, Ingraham would not go down quietly. Second, Ingraham’s later time slot would not be attractive to Kelly, who would prefer Hannity’s 9pm slot. And Hannity is still the big cheese at the network. The Israelis and Palestinians will agree to peace before Hannity and Kelly ever do.

Fox News is a bad fit.

Instead, Kelly might consider CRTV, a conservative media outlet founded by Mark Levin. But, again, there is a lot of bad blood between Kelly and Levin, particularly after her open hostility to Trump during the 2016 election. And their feud goes back even farther than that (see video below).

In contrast, The Blaze, a conservative-leaning network founded by Glenn Beck, may offer Kelly the best chance to start with a clean slate. Beck, in fact, has been openly and aggressively supportive of Kelly during the blackface controversy and it is well-known that Beck is looking for prime-time talent to lift his network’s TV service.

Beck is a measured speaker not prone to random thoughts. If he were trying to attract Kelly to his network, the first thing he would do is heap praise upon her from his broadcast pulpit.

Of course, The Blaze cannot pay Kelly anything close to NBC’s $69 million. But what the network can do is offer her an ownership share and total control over the network’s prime-time lineup.

Today, The Steve Deace Show sits in the most coveted weekday, prime time slot on The Blaze. A fellow Iowan, Steve Deace is smart and entertaining, but his show is re-purposed radio, not prime time quality.

To hire Kelly would be a bold move on Beck’s part and a risky one for Kelly, but she deserves to back on prime-time and The Blaze may be the best fit given Kelly’s past history with other conservative networks.

The political Megyn Kelly is coming back — and when she arrives— the prime-time cable news landscape will be more interesting for it.


Democrats, stop letting Trump get inside your head

By Kent R. Kroeger (October 17, 2018; Source:

As we all watched Elizabeth Warren’s presidential hopes spiral into the ground this week, I realized the Democrats need that one friend or family member that can tap them on the back of the head and tell them, “Snap out of it!”

Senator Warren let Donald Trump burrow so deep into her head, she lost all neural pathways dedicated to common sense. He eats at her very soul, day and night. How else can we explain why she would release DNA results confirming she was 99.9 percent white and has less Native American DNA than the average American? [Most whites are, on average, 0.18 percent Native American, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.]

Of course, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Daily Beast immediately declared Warren the victor in her dispute with Trump over her “Native American” heritage.

That narrative lasted about 10 minutes.

Facts be damned, The Nation’s Joan Walsh couldn’t hold back her righteous joy over Warren’s DNA test: “Warren is showing Democrats — and the media — that she knows how to fight. She won’t let Trump define her as either a faux Native American, an Ivy League elitist, or a liar.” You are right, Joan. Elizabeth Warren can do that all on her own.

During her academic career, it is indisputable that Warren (actively or passively) allowed others to categorize her as a ‘woman of color.’ Her vulgar use of identity politics rightfully marks the end of her viability as a national political figure.

Warren was never going to win the nomination anyway (It’s Kamala Harris’ nomination to lose unless someone more charismatic emerges or Bernie Sanders decides to run again).

It is premature, however, to think Warren’s public blunder marks the end of identify politics. The Democrats have hard-coded that strategy into their political DNA and, at this point, it would take an extraterrestrial intervention to reprogram them.

But there is something Democrats can learn from Warren: Let go of the Trump obsession. It is now starting to hurt the party. Do they need Max von Sydow standing over them saying, “The power of common sense compels you!”

The obsession may have served a purpose early in the Trump administration in that it reminded Democrats they weren’t suffering through this presidency alone. Semi-contained insanity serves a purpose when it feels like all hope is lost — the pussy hats were even fun.

But all hope is not lost anymore. Short of a GOP Hail Mary in the next few weeks, the Democrats will gain about 35 U.S. House seats in the upcoming election (and my prediction model also says the Democrats will take the U.S. Senate — though that is looking iffy).

Now, the Democrats need to project an image to Americans — left, center and right — that they are prepared to lead this country. Get off the streets, put down the Saul Alinsky rebel handbook and try to look like serious people again.

Pounding on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court (doors, by the way, the Supreme Court justices never use; so who were they were yelling at?) or chasing U.S. Senators and their wives out of restaurants is not a comforting image to most Americans.

What did the Vietnam Anti-War protests give this country? Two Richard Nixon presidential election victories — and one was a landslide.

Source: Katrina Pierson

Believe it or not, voters generally do not like to see politicians and their supporters display excessive amounts of emotion or employ even minor levels of violence. Too much passion actually scares them away.

Instead, Democrats need to look serious again. Even boring.

To Bernie Sanders’ credit, his unwavering commitment to policy ideas (whether practical or not) keeps him out of the mud swamp where Donald Trump loves to conduct official business. It is why he is viewed as honest, not just by Democrats, but by Republicans and independents. He believes what he says and doesn’t parse his language to fit an audience.

Sanders does frequently mention Trump, but almost always in the context of a policy disagreement. He does not demean himself by resorting to name-calling. I only wish other Democrats took his lead more often (some, like Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, do — but most don’t).

And, finally, enough with the negative, hyperbolic rhetoric about how bad things are in this country.

“In these tumultuous times…” started my local NPR station host this morning as he announced another membership fund drive.

What?! What is he talking about? What is his metric?

Economic prosperity? This country has never been wealthier. Incidents of sexual assault and harassment against women? Twenty years ago a president abused his status to get a blowjob from an intern and two-thirds of the country said, ‘Who gives a cr*p?” Today, thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, this country is significantly more evolved — though still far from perfect.

Is Russiagate weighing heavily on your mood? Well, don’t wait for Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation to lift your spirits. It is almost two years now — half of an administration’s term. If Trump is a Russian tool and it takes this long to make an indictment? Thanks for nothing, Bob, the damage is already done. Go back to your retirement.

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose Donald Trump and the GOP — and none of them involve mentioning the Russians. The Democrats don’t need to wallow in the gutter with Trump to make their case.

Here are a few ideas:

Why does this country still spend twice as much as Canadians and Europeans on health care and, yet, experience inferior health outcomes? Is it perhaps time for the Democrats to genuinely challenge the iron triangle formed by lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and physicians?

Is it possible to control the U.S. border and still treat refugees with the same decency and humanity we treat our own citizens? [Um, this country may have a bigger problem than immigration to work on.]

How about oppose a foreign policy that is now farmed out to Moscow, Jerusalem and Riyadh (oops, I mentioned Russia). In the long-turn, that is guaranteed to end poorly for the U.S.

And why must this country’s military continue to engage in these endless cleanup operations all over the world that, in truth, are limited footprint, low-optempo wars? Where has Congress and the Democratic leadership been during all of this?

And, specifically, where is the Democratic Party’s leadership on ending U.S. support to the Saudis and Emirates as those countries continue to commit war crimes against the Houthi in Yemen? Nancy Pelosi? Silent. Chuck Schumer? Silent. Cory Booker? Silent. Kamala Harris? Silent. Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton? Probably best they stay silent given their culpability in what may be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis right now.

In a moment a childlike innocence, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer explained why the U.S. continues its support of the Saudis and Emirates: It’s good for business. I will cut Blitzer, the Brick Tamland of cable TV news, some slack. But when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the same thing, it warrants more than one or two Democrats taking a stand against this cynical misuse of American military power. [Thank God for Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and the GOP’s Rand Paul for making their opposition visible.]

So there are just a few ideas the Democrats might want to talk about Democrats between now and the 2020 election.

What voters don’t need is a continuation of the Democratic Party’s two-year-long pity party over the 2016 election.

It might work long enough to help the Democrats win back the House, but its a losing strategy for the 2020 election.

  • K.R.K.


What I learned from watching “Cornerstore Caroline”

By Kent R. Kroeger (October 16, 2018; Source:

If you haven’t heard the story yet about Teresa Sue Klein (aka ‘Cornerstore’ Caroline,’ here is the basic rundown:

Last week, as a nine-year-old African-American boy and his mother were exiting a crowded Brooklyn bodega, the boy’s backpack accidentally brushed against the backside of another store patron, Teresa Sue Klein, 53, who was bent oddly over a store counter. A surveillance video from the store clearly showed the physical encounter was accidental.

However, after a verbal exchange between Klein and the boy’s mother, Klein called the police and said the child of “grabbed her ass.”’ When Klein eventually saw the surveillance video, she realized she was not sexually assaulted and (indirectly) apologized to the child through a local TV news station.

But the damage had been done. An innocent child was needlessly traumatized, crying loudly as his mother exchanged unpleasantries with Klein. As for Klein, apparently this was not the first time she had engaged in a hostile confrontation with her Brooklyn neighbors.

End of story.

Source: NBC News

Most of the national media covered this event as a white person calling the police on a black person for no good reason-story, as it fits a popular narrative among media elites that the U.S. is teeming with white racists who are the primary cause of the sociopolitical strife found in our nation today.

“Another day, another racist,” was DailyKos writer Jessica Sutherland’ssummary of the event.

#WearingABackpackWhileBlack was trending on Twitter for most of the day.

And while a race dynamic may be present in the ‘Cornerstore Caroline’ story, there is another facet to the story receiving less attention and is, perhaps, the more salient lesson from this minor, mostly irrelevant, ado.

Source: Daily Mail

Reporters from the New York Post interviewed Klein shortly after the incident and gained some additional background information about Klein. She described herself as an “unemployed feminist and humanist” who was also a practicing Buddhist that occasionally “lets her temper show.”

Originally from Missouri, Klein had recently attended the University of Missouri to complete her PhD in biochemistry. She also has been a “performer” and actor at various times.

Her background isn’t that different from my wife’s — a highly-educated, spiritual woman with a sharp temper.

All good. Except for this fact — Klein’s impulsive decision to accuse a child of sexually assaulting her after what objectively could only be described as minor bodily contact.

Thank God there was a surveillance video to corroborate the child’s defense.

Imagine if there had not been a surveillance video and, instead of a nine-year-old boy, it was a 21-year-old African-American man standing accused of sexual assault. It is not absurd to suggest he might have been booked on a sexual assault charge that day.

Klein’s repeated appeal to the police that she “was just sexually assaulted by a child” cannot be dismissed as a local neighbor squabble. As she’s a Buddhist-feminist-humanist (with a temper), I can’t help but suspect Klein probably drowns herself each night in the current #MeToo zeitgeist. The charge of ‘sexual assault’ flew too easily off her tongue. Her unconstrained outrage crackled as she pointed her finger at nine-year-old boy, traumatized over something he didn’t do. As I watched the store’s surveillance video, I was disappointed Klein didn’t turn the tirade into a broader attack on white male privilege. I know she wanted to.

In all fairness, I’m projecting at this point, but its hard not to conjecture. As I said, Klein is familiar to me. I married a militant couch-feminist who effortlessly regresses into pop-feminist philippics about patriarchies, social privilege and institutional bias as we watch old Star Trek episodes.

As for ‘Cornerstore Caroline,’ my wife contends she’s an extreme outlier. There are too many incentives discouraging such behavior, she says.

A few years ago, I would have agreed with her. Today, I’m not so sure. Particularly after a recent sermon we heard at our Unitarian Church where the minister openly declared supporters of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as “the enemy” (though she didn’t say his name directly, it was obvious in the context).

A Unitarian minister used the pulpit to share with parishioners her enemies list!

What happened to the days of vegetarian Chili cook-offs and Buddhist drum circles? Are we going to learn about the ABCs of doxing in next Sunday’s sermon?

As obscene as the minister’s words were to my ear (my wife enjoyed watching me get triggered), it wasn’t as offensive as Hillary Clinton declaring civility only returns when the Democrats are back in power? Has everyone in the Democratic Party, save for Bernie Sanders, Susan Sarandon and Tulsi Gabbard, gone totally loopy?

Still, independent of my recent disillusionment with my church, it is possible Klein is an extreme outlier and that very few women (as in none) would willingly put themselves in such a vulnerable position, either on the streets of Brooklyn or in a Senate confirmation hearing. Public scorn and ridicule are a powerful deterrent to making false accusations. Its what keeps me in line.

However, initially in Klein’s mind, she didn’t make a false accusation. She believed she was sexually assaulted (minor as it was) and had no qualms about letting the police, and anyone within earshot, know about it.

If not for the surveillance tape, Klein would have passed a lie detector test with ease. She believed her ass was grabbed by a nine-year-old boy…except it wasn’t.

Klein’s account of the alleged assault was grossly inaccurate at time t-minus-zero. Forget about issues of long-term memory decay or dynamic recall bias, human’s are gloriously capable of screwing up recollections of even simple events in the present.

This is why physical evidence is so critical in criminal trials and why empirical evidence trumps (no pun intended) even the most elegant and elaborate theories (Remember String Theory? Total crap.). Humans need data to make good judgments. Trust but verify. We should always listen to people — that is just good manners — but believing them requires more than just their word.

Let us hope ‘Cornerstore Caroline’ is an extreme outlier, but use her as a reminder of our need for evidence as we go about our everyday lives.


The Coming Climate Change War

By Kent R. Kroeger (October 12, 2018; Source:

Current global warming is real, it is man-made, and its consequences will be profoundly negative over time. The significant loss of polar ice, damage to the coral reefs, increased flooding along coastlines and other waterways, more frequent heatwaves, and an increased risk of forest fires are among the most likely consequences as the earth continues to warm.

Theory and empirical data support these predictions, unequivocally.

That reality, however, is being cynically weaponized by an unqualified chattering class that seeks partisan advantage, even at the risk of war.

Reactions to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change exemplify this problem…

“The impact of human-induced warming is worse than previously feared, the IPCC report released Monday says, and only drastic coordinated action will keep the damage short of catastrophe,” warns Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.

“Food shortages and wildfires will get worse, coral reefs will die off and sea levels will rise by feet rather than inches in our lifetimes if too little is done,” writes The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. “It’s the epic battle of our age. Every nation, every major corporation — all of us — must work to win it.”

Replace the term ‘human-induced warming’ with ‘terrorism’ or ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and its the kind of rhetoric you hear right before the bombs start dropping. The president’s national security advisers would already have a prioritized list of ‘rogue’ countries to attack and would be feeding the national media the necessary propaganda to build public support for such attacks.

But Robinson and The Sun-Times are talking about climate change, and their latest hair-on-fire rant on a topic where their knowledge is superficial is just another futile attempt to shock the American people into believing the human race is facing an existential crisis like no other in history. Soon the environmental lobby will be using Shriners Hospital kids to make their pleas.

The urgency of climate change is hard to sell to the American people — and for good reason. Though a majority of Americans believe in global warming is human-induced, most are still not willing to make a major financial sacrifice to address the problem. Politicians would have an easier time selling the additional tax burden of ‘Medicare-for-All’ than a carbon tax or ‘tax and ‘trade’ system to accelerate the phase-out of fossil fuels.

According to the IPCC’s own economic analysis, for every year through 2050, it will cost the world between $1.6 trillion and $3.8 trillion in “energy system supply-side investments” to possibly keep future global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That could end up costing the world $122 trillion by 2050…or as little as $51 trillion.

The IPCC harms the global warming cause when they float cost analysis nonsense like: $122 trillion by 2050. Economists are already calling the IPCC cost estimate preposterous. Yet, the climate change lobby thinks those mammoth cost numbers will spur people into action on the problem. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

Basic human psychology leads people to tune out such large, abstract numbers. It becomes Monopoly money.

If people are to fund a multi-trillion dollar, global effort to combat climate change, they will need specific estimates about how it will impact their household finances. And they’ll want to know how the money will be used and who will be making the decisions about where it goes. Some will ask, ‘Why are Midwest taxpayers forced to subsidize those who choose to build homes along coastlines in hurricane zones or in dry, heavily forested areas of California?’ And imagine the fraud and abuse that will inevitably occur should the governments around the world get an extra $122 trillion to squander.

Given the options, it is hard to blame someone if they decide to take their chances with global warming.

Let us assume the IPCC cost estimate is accurate. No democratically-elected government would survive raising taxes as much as $49 per gallon gas tax by 2030. Ergo, no government will raise taxes anywhere close to that number, which means the Paris Climate Accord goal to keep anomalous global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius is as good as dead. To limit the warming to 2 degrees Celsius, however, the IPCC estimates a $1.70 per gallon gas tax by 2030 is necessary — that number at least has a puncher’s chance of earning voter approval.

Putting the cost estimates aside, the latest IPCC report is trying to convince us that climate change poses an existential threat to the human race and its negative impact is happening now, is happening faster than expected, and will only get worse. In the IPCC’s view, doing nothing (or ‘muddling through’) is not an option (Truth: Muddling through is always an option). That is why the Paris Climate Accord was so important to the activist community. The primary accomplishment of the Accord, over even the specific country-level goals, was to get every country in the world to sign on to the notion that everyone must do their part. The Paris Climate Accord was good politics and wrongfully dismissed by climate change skeptics.

However, experience tells us that some countries will pursue a zero-carbon economy more vigorously than others. And some countries will be outright freeloaders, continuing to rely on fossil fuels for domestic energy production or as a major export commodity. Try to convince Russia that open Arctic sea lanes in the summer represent a global “crisis” or U.S. Midwest farmers that longer growing seasons are a threat to humanity.

They will never buy what the climate change activists are selling.

But, should the climate change lobby gain access to a new tax revenue stream, they WILL find ways to expand the tax. Give lobbyists the chance and they will pump money out of your paycheck faster than Aramco pumps crude out of the Saudi desert.

Besides, once a government convinces its people about the necessity of a surtax or some other new revenue stream, the lobbyists make sure the problem never goes away.

The Free-rider Problem

In the near-term, there are large segments of the world population that benefit from global warming (for example, people spend more on entertainment when the weather is warmer).

That reality escapes most climate change activists, but if they expect the average citizen to give up a significant portion of their incomes to solve the global warming problem, they will need to understand Who wins? and Who loses? in the battle against climate change.

When the IPCC throws out financial numbers in the tens of trillions of dollars, there will be industries and countries that stand to gain (or lose) a lot of money from combating climate change. It will be one of history’s largest transfers of wealth — most likely, from the advanced industrialized economies (e.g., U.S., Europe, Japan, etc.) to the developing world. So, don’t act surprised if the Kremlin draws a clear line in the sand over the limits of what Russia is willing to sacrifice over climate change. And don’t be surprised if that means using their military power to protect their interests.

And all of this begs the questions: Is it possible the human race could spend tens of trillions of dollars to fight global warming and still not appreciably slow it down? Or might we engage in a geoengineering project to slow global warming — such as creating more clouds — and end up doing more damage to the planet?

Despite the Paris Climate Accord, not all countries are going jump on board this climate change bandwagon with the same levels of fellowship and cooperation as the Germans or French.

If Malawi or Trinidad and Tobago decide not to participate in the worldwide decarbonization effort, it won’t have a major impact. But if the country is Indonesia, currently the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China, the likelihood of meeting the Paris Accord goals are jeopardized.

Despite being a signatory to the Paris Climate Accord, Indonesia continues to develop peatland forest areas, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and remains the world’s second largest exporter of coal and lignite, behind only Australia.

This September 8, 2013, photograph shows an access road being constructed in a peatland forest being cleared for a palm oil plantation on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. The destruction has led to the release of vast amounts of climate change-causing carbon dioxide. Indonesia is the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US. (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

Domestic energy generation remains very carbon intensive in Indonesia and other Southeast Asia countries (see Figure 1). According to the energy consulting firm Enerdata: “The share of coal in the region’s power mix will remain stable through 2050 at current levels: approximately 35% of total generation. Wind and solar combined will account for 15% of the total power generation in 2050, from almost 0% today. Meanwhile, gas-fired generation will drop from about 40% in 2017 to 22% in 2050.”

Figure 1: Energy Generation by Source in Southeast Asia


As long as coal is cheap and available in Southeast Asia, it will be widely used to address the region’s growing electricity needs.

Unfortunately, that poses a problem for meeting the IPCC’s 2030 deadline for decreasing net human-caused emissions by about 45 percent from 2010 levels. Though Southeast Asia accounts for only 3.4 percent of the world economy and about 9 percent of the world’s population (~650 million people), the region emits about 40 percent as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as the European Union.

U.S. and European efforts alone are not enough to address global warming. That should be obvious.

Climate change is a collective action problem and the U.S. and Europe are dependent on other countries to do their part — countries that in some cases are already hostile to Western interests in general.

Are the U.S. and Europe going to carry the burden on implementing climate change solutions and passively let Indonesia or Brazil or India or any other large greenhouse gas emitter shirk their obligations?

Probably not.

But what exactly can the U.S. and Europe do to ensure climate policy compliance across the globe?

In the past, the U.S. has used its military to protect vital interests

Some analysts argue the U.S. military has already engaged in its first climate change-influenced conflict: The Syrian Civil War. The argument goes like this: Global warming exacerbated an extreme drought experienced within Syria prior to its civil war; which led to large-scale internal migration; and this migration contributed to the the socio-economic stresses that were the proximal cause of the Syrian Civil War.

As compelling as the argument may be to climate change activists, the empirical data supporting such a view of the Syrian Civil War does not hold up to scrutiny, according to a group of American, British and German researchers.

Regardless, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) at present sees climate change as a threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today — from infectious disease to terrorism.” In the DoD’s opinion, climate change will instigate resource shortages for human necessities such as water and other basic foodstuffs that will, in turn, increase social instability and the likelihood of ‘resource’ wars.

In its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, DoD planners see climate change most likely impacting U.S. humanitarian and peacekeeping requirements abroad, as well as threatening military training facilities at home and overseas through more intense natural disasters. Specifically, DoD considers rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and more extreme temperatures as the primary threats to U.S. military personnel and readiness posed by climate change.

“We must also work with other nations to share tools for assessing and managing climate change impacts, and help build their capacity to respond,” writes then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in the 2014 Roadmap. “Climate change is a global problem. Its impacts do not respect national borders. No nation can deal with it alone. We must work together, building joint capabilities to deal with these emerging threats.”

Since the publication of the 2014 Roadmap, its most tangible results have been: (1) transitioning as much of DoD’s energy needs as possible to renewable sources, and (2) adapting U.S. military installations worldwide to the most likely weather-related threats associated with climate change.

The problem with climate change, however, is that the U.S. is dependent on other countries to also reduce carbon emissions on a worldwide scale. If only the advanced economies significantly reduce emissions, while other large developing countries such as India, China and Indonesia continue to burn fossil fuels, the U.S. and European efforts will be for naught. For the world to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, every large economy must cooperate. Failing on this requirement will have dire consequences on all nations, according to the IPCC.

But what exactly can the U.S. do to impel Indonesia, for example, to abandon its coal industry or for India to stop building new coal plants?

The last three years offer a vivid example of this problem. According to British Petroleum’s data on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide between 2015 and 2017, the world’s CO2 emissions have gone up 1.8 percent (!) since the signing of the Paris Climate Accord (see Figure 2). And you can’t blame the U.S. for this increase, as its CO2 emissions have decreased 2.4 percent in the same period.

Figure 2: Change in Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions since 2015

Source: British Petroleum


Why have U.S. CO2 emissions decreased, while in other regions of the world they have increased? Two reasons: (1) increases in renewable energy power generation and (2) an increase in the exploitation (including fracking) of natural gas reserves account for the U.S. success story.

Contrary to what is often reported in the U.S. mainstream media, the U.S. is aggressively converting to renewable energy and is on the path to a 100-percent renewable energy economy by 2055 — only five years beyond the Paris Climate Accord goals (see Figure 3 below). The U.S. is not the problem.

Figure 3: U.S. Renewable Energy Forecast for Renewables, Nuclear and Hydroelectric (Share of Total Electricity Generation)

Failure to meet the IPCC’s 2030 goals will not be because of U.S. inaction on global warming. More likely, the failure will originate from the fastest growing regions of the world — Asia and Africa.

And how should (or will) the U.S. respond to these climate change laggards?

Apart from doing nothing (an always attractive option), there are four policy options at the U.S.’s disposal when dealing with countries that are falling behind the Paris Climate Accord and IPPC goals:

(1) Engage in diplomacy that incentivizes countries to change their policies,

(2) Implement economic boycotts and trade restrictions to coerce policy change,

(3) Use covert operations to engineer coups against the leaders of climate change laggards, or

(4) simply attack or invade the laggard countries and force their conversion to renewable energy.

It may sound laughable to think the U.S. and its allies would consider military attacks, coups or invasions to force climate change policy changes, but that is exactly what the advanced industrialized countries have been doing for the past 60 years in the Middle East to protect Western energy interests.

Why should renewable energy and climate change be any different? If U.S. national security is at risk due to climate change, as reflected in official DoD policy and inferred in the most recent IPCC report, why wouldn’t military force and covert intelligence operations be included on the policy options menu?

If the IPCC is correct, failing to address climate change is an existential threat to the U.S. and all nations. In such a circumstance, it would be irresponsible for the U.S. not to consider military options with respect to climate change. If humankind is at stake, why not bomb some coal plants in Indonesia and India?

Even senior U.S. military officers are regurgitating the urgency of the IPCC position on climate change.

“Planning for the long-term implications of climate change today is as important as planning for a major Pacific conflict was in the last century,” according to U.S. Navy Commander Timothy McGeehan. “To address climate change, the Department of Defense (DoD) and Pacific Command (PaCom) in particular need a 21st-century War Plan Orange.”

War Plan Orange was a secret strategy the U.S. military had been developing since 1906 in case a war with Japan ever broke out. As we know, on December 7, 1941, a war with Japan did materialize and War Plan Orange formed the blueprint for our nation’s successful defeat of Japan.

If you believe climate change is as big a threat to U.S. strategic interests as the Japanese were in 1941, why wouldn’t you consider of using U.S. military superiority to enforce the goals set forth by the IPCC?

That argument is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

It doesn’t take much for the neoliberal and neoconservative hawks in the U.S. to justify a regime change war. Offer them the premise that war will save the planet from the ravages of global warming and you have a formula for concocting all sorts of excuses to attack Venezuela or Indonesia or Iran or Russia…and the list goes on…

With this newest IPCC report, we already see the machinations of the political and media elite preparing the American people to fight the good fight against climate change — and, yes, don’t argue with them when the federal and state governments take more and more of your income to solve a problem that’s already being solved. They will do it because they have the moral high ground and know what is best.

We are watching you Indonesia, China, Brazil, Russia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If you are not doing your part to fight climate change, our Marines are more than happy to set you straight.

That the current climate change hysteria could lead to a hot war is not inconceivable. Is there anything about today’s Democratic Party and Never Trump Republicans that suggests they would rule out using overwhelming military superiority to promote their dearest cause?

The U.S. and international media consistently misrepresent the climate change threat, a man-made menace that is real but manageable, because accepting this doomsday premise further empowers the Davos elites who have been talking about this potential power grab for well over a decade.

Imagine what they could do with an additional $122 trillion dollars of everyone’s money. The climate change alarmists have every incentive to exaggerate its dangers and the cost of its mitigation.

Luckily, history is still on the side of climate change realists. When former Vice President Al Gore warned us in 2006 that we had only a decade left to save the planet from global warming, he was deliriously uninformed. In his words, 2016 was the point of no return.

It is 2018. The Earth is doing just fine. Humans on this Earth have never been more prosperous or safer. Perhaps Al Gore’s apocalyptic prediction has been delayed? Maybe we should still be worried that he is right?

No, Al is not right. He’s never been right on this issue. He (and the Democrats, in general) have taken a real problem — the warming of the planet due to human activity — and exploited it for political and personal gain.

They are exploiters, not leaders.

Al Gore and the climate change panic mavens need to spend more time in the science labs at MIT where they are leading the research on carbon capture and sequestration. Or how about going to China where their research and development of solar farms is on the brink of transforming how humans capture energy?

The climate change scaremongering exhibited by the mainstream media over this latest IPCC report has one unspoken goal: It is a raw power grab by political statists (mostly in the U.S. and Europe) trying to control as much of your money as they can possibly get their grubby hands on.

Don’t be fooled. Climate change is just another problem humans will ultimately solve. It is what humans do best. We solve problems — and make money in the process.

The world is moving as fast as can be expected in converting to a 100-percent renewable energy economy (see the evidence here). It will never be fast enough for environmental doomsayers, but it is fast enough to save this planet from the worst consequences of global warming. And a mix of incremental policy-making and targeted crisis spending will help the world’s nations adapt to the likely consequences of climate change. The incremental adaptive approach is not sexy and will not be as pro-active as the climate change lobby would like, but it is how the human race will address climate change.

Climate change will lead to wars fought over resources (water, arable land) and migration. And, as suggested in this essay, the climate change vanguard may even try to impose their will on some climate change free-rider nations who refuse to take orders from the West.

In the meantime here in the U.S., beware of climate change hysteria being exploited by neoliberals and neocon military hawks as a way to justify their lust for expanding the role of government or finding new ways to get the U.S. military involved in more regime change wars.

Climate change activists are the modern crusaders and they will do anything to save the planet — including spending your money to do it.

Consider yourself warned.

  • K.R.K.

Press freedom is declining worldwide

By Kent R. Kroeger (October 9, 2018; Source:

This essay was originally published on October 5th. Since then, a Saudi journalist has disappeared in Turkey and a Bulgarian TV journalist has been killed.

According to sources speaking to The Washington Post, the Turkish government believes Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was “killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week by a Saudi team sent specifically for the murder.” The Post’s sources offered no evidence to support their account of events.

Khashoggi, missing since October 2nd, has been an open critic of the current Saudi regime, led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“The humble man I knew, who disappeared from the consulate in Istanbul, saw it as his duty to stand up for ordinary Saudis,” says fellow journalist and friend of Khashoggi, David Hearst.

“Again a courageous journalist falls in the fight for truth and against corruption,” Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, said Monday in Brussels.

In the other incident, 30-year-old TV journalist Viktoria Marinova was found dead on October 6th in a park in Ruse, Bulgaria.

Marinova was a director of TVN, a TV station in Ruse, Bulgaria and a TV presenter for two investigative news programs, one of which, Detector, recently featured two investigative journalists reporting on suspected fraud involving European Union funds.

Her final TV appearance was on Sept. 30.

Though Bulgarian authorities do not know yet if there is a connection between Marinova’s death and her work as a journalist, many European journalists are concerned as she is the third journalist to be killed in Europe in the past year. The other two murdered journalists were Jan Kuciak in Slovakia and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta.

These deaths add to a growing concern among European journalists that their profession is being targeted by power elites and criminal elements threatened by investigative journalism.

Original essay (published October 5, 2018):

In late August, an anti-immigration rally jn Chemnitz, Germany provided vivid evidence of the far right’s growing popularity, the crowd’s anger directed mainly at Chancellor Angela Merkel and her 2015 decision to allow into the country more than 1 million refugees fleeing civil war and violence in the Middle East.

In Germany, the anti-immigration sentiment has been accompanied by a rise in violence attacks on journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders(RSF), who reports “after reaching a peak of 39 attacks against journalists in 2015, this figure dropped to below 20 in 2016 and 2017.” However, in 2018, such violent attacks are already higher than in 2016 or 2017.

RSF also reports this trend is growing worldwide.


According to RSF, 70 journalists, including citizen journalists and media assistants, have been killed so far in 2018, and is on pace to exceed 90 deaths by year’s end. In addition, 316 journalists are currently imprisoned, including two Reuters journalists who were recently sentenced by a Myanmar judge to seven years in prison for breaching a law on state secrets.

In comparison, 74 journalists died worldwide in 2017, and 80 died in 2016.

But RSF does more than monitor violence against journalists. Since 2002, the Paris-based group has computed the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) for over 180 countries. RSF describes the WPFI as follows:


The Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.


The degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated. The criteria used in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

RSF’s 2018 report on worldwide press freedom is one of its most pessimistic.

According to the WPFI, in 2018, press freedom in 74 percent of countries is either problematicbad or very bad (see Figure 1). In 2002, the first year RSF calculated the WPFI, press freedom in only 45 percent of countries was categorized as problematicbad, or very bad.

Figure 1: Distribution of World Press Freedom Index Scores (2018)

Source: Reporters without Borders

“Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey (ranked 157th out of 180 countries, down two ranks from 2017) and Egypt (161st), where “media-phobia” is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned,” reports RSF. “More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.”

While citing President Donald Trump as one of the most visible culprits in verbally attacking journalists, RSF’s deepest concern is directed towards younger democracies.

“The line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving. In the Philippines (ranked 133rd, down six from 2017), President Rodrigo Duterte not only constantly insults reporters but has also warned them that they “are not exempted from assassination,” says RSF. “In India (down two ranks to 138th), hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay. In each of these countries, at least four journalists were gunned down in cold blood in the space of a year.”

Though physical attacks on U.S. journalists are still rare, the murder of five Maryland journalists last June being a sad exception, press freedom in the U.S. has nonetheless experienced an almost monotonic decline since 2002 (see Figures 2 and 3; high WPFI scores indicate lower levels of press freedom). Only a two-year interlude immediately before and after the 2008 presidential election saw the U.S. score significantly improve.

In 2002, the WPFI score for the U.S. was 4.75 (Rank 17th). Today, the U.S. score is 23.73 (Rank 45th). RSF’s singling out of President Trump as a causal factor in the U.S.’s press freedom decline is misplaced given that the U.S. WPFI score has been relatively flat over the past four years (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: World Press Freedom Index Score for the U.S. (2002–2018)

Source: Reporters without Borders


Figure 3: U.S. Rank on the WPFI (2002–2018)

Source: Reporters without Borders

And RSF is not the only monitoring organization that has found press freedom to be in decline worldwide.

“Only 14 percent of the world’s population live in societies in which there is honest coverage of civic affairs, journalists can work without fear of repression or attack, and state interference is minimal,” according to Freedom House’s Leon Willems and Arch Puddington. “Far too often today, the media present a regime account of developments in which the opposition case is ignored, distorted, or trivialized. And even in more pluralistic environments, news coverage is frequently polarized between competing factions, with no attempt at fairness or accuracy.”

The most troubling aspect of Freedom House’s finding is that even countries within the 14 percent (such as the U.S.) are witnessing an alarming rise in highly-polarized, non-objective journalism. And, in the case of the U.S., journalism is one of the least respected professions, according to the Gallup Poll.

Why has press freedom declined?

The decline in press freedom, worldwide and within the U.S., has many causal antecedents, according to RSF. In explaining the worldwide decline in press freedom in 2014–2015, RSF concluded, “Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents.”

In the U.S. context, RSF’s hypotheses are plausible. Since 2002, the U.S. has engaged in two significant wars (Iraq, Afghanistan), both of which have produced mixed results (at best), has led or assisted military actions in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, has experienced a significant economic crisis (2008), and has seen the rise of two large domestic protest movements against an incumbent administration (Tea Party, #Resistance).

Declining media competition may be the biggest threat to journalism

RSF and other media researchers also cite media competition as a significant factor in explaining levels of press freedom. At one extreme is state-controlled media (China, North Korea) where there is no competition and press freedom is severely or completely curtailed. On the other end are pluralistic, democratic societies where media competition is not only present, but facilitated through government policy (Scandinavian countries, Germany New Zealand, Austria).

For the U.S., the media regulatory environment fundamentally changed in 1996 with the U.S. Telecommunications Act.

“There is no doubt the 1996 U. S. Telecommunications Act fueled increasing consolidation across the communication industries. Designed to eliminate barriers to competition, the 1996 Act greatly liberalized ownership limitations for broadcasting and cable companies, allowing companies to acquire more competitors,” according to media economics researchers Alan Albarran and Bozena Mierzejewska. “For example, in the radio industry alone, some 75 different companies operating independently in 1995 were consolidated into just three companies by 2000.”

In 1983, 90 percent of US media was controlled by 50 companies. Today, according to Fortune magazine, 90 percent of U.S. media is controlled by just six companies.

Figure 4: Media concentration in the U.S.

Source: Jason of Frugal Dad

How can media consolidation be bad given that the average American has access to over 100 TV channels, not to mention the thousands of internet websites? Shouldn’t the profit-motive impel major corporations to increase the number of information and entertainment choices in order to capture as much of the audience as possible?

That is the argument The New York Time’s Jim Rutenberg made in 2002 as the media consolidation trend was hitting its stride: media mergers create more choice, not less, according to Rutenberg.

Unfortunately, the evidence is not clear at all on that contention. In fact, it appears the opposite is true. Instead of getting real choice, consumers are given the illusion of choice.

“As massive media conglomerates persevere in their quest to monopolize the industry, it is important to realize what this means for alternative viewpoints in media and the already overwhelming effort to hush voices these media giants consider outside the mainstream,” according to Rick Manning, President of Americans for Limited Government. “Differing ideas and perspectives are what make up the very fabric of this great nation, and if we’re not careful with putting too much power in the hands of too few, this could all disappear.”

And when Manning says “alternative viewpoints” he is not talking about the Traditionalist Worker Party getting its own cable TV network. He’s talking about news organizations such as Bloomberg getting squeezed out of the news and information marketplace. Manning is particularly critical of Comcast-NBCU (which owns MSNBC and CNBC).

“Since the Comcast-NBCU merger in 2011, they have proven time and time again that they are not beneath stifling competition or other viewpoints that may not line up with their own. In fact, not only are they not beneath it, there is ample evidence that points to Comcast repeatedly doing so,” contends Manning. “Take Bloomberg TV, for example. Comcast’s conditions stipulated that they place Bloomberg programming next to MSNBC and CNBC, or other competing news channels such as Fox or CNN, in the channel lineup — yet for three years Bloomberg was blocked from the news channel neighborhood and slotted in an unfavorable spot, which negatively affected their viewership.”

With respect to journalism, another potential information-biasing process occurs when large media companies control journalists’ access to audiences through the allocation of broadcast airtime or print space [Whatever happened to Dylan Ratigan and Ed Schultz on MSNBC?]. And instead of providing in-depth information and analysis, today’s news outlets, particularly the cable news networks, bludgeon Americans with lively but mostly content-sparse debate. Why? Because it is profitable. The rule for cable news is this: find your audience, reinforce what they already believe, and for God’s sake don’t make them uncomfortable. Disney, Fox, and Comcast would be delinquent in their duties to shareholders if they did otherwise.

Noam Chomsky, as he often does, offers the most damning critique of cable news: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Large media conglomerates have enormous power through a variety of effective tools to influence, modify, and censor information disseminated through the major media outlets. Only the U.S. Government wields greater power in that respect.

Here is a specific example of how The Disney Company recently attempted (and thankfully failed) to deny the Los Angeles Times access to advance screenings which are critical to the paper’s ability to do its job.

Access to credible sources is the lifeblood for any journalist. A journalist with sources is called an unemployed journalist.

So why would Disney deny the LA Times access to their advance screenings?

Case Study: Disney Bans LA Times

This is a note the Los Angeles Times offered to its readers last November:

The annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section published by the Los Angeles Times typically includes features on movies from all major studios, reflecting the diversity of films Hollywood offers during the holidays, one of the busiest box-office periods of the year. This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.

So why was the LA Times excluded from advance screenings of Disney films during the 2017 Christmas season?

LA Times writer Glenn Whipp explained on Twitter that The Disney Companywas unhappy with the LA Times’ investigation into Disney’s questionable business ties in Anaheim, California, home of the company’s Disneyland theme park.

Apparently, the LA Times’ critical reporting on how The Disney Company‘strong-armed’ Anaheim’s local government was not well-received at Disney headquarters, prompting the company to blacklist the LA Times from interviews and advance screenings of Disney films in late 2017.

However, days after Disney banned the LA Times, other critics condemned the Disney action and compelled the company to lift its screening ban of the LA Times. Nonetheless, Disney made its point clear to entertainment journalists: Don’t cross the Mouse.

Since their late-2017 kerfuffle, Disney and the LA Times are cooperating again, but the recent approval of the Disney/Fox merger should raise an alarm for journalists. With every new Disney acquisition, its control over the information and entertainment landscape grows. With their acquisition of Fox’s entertainment properties, Disney will add the AvatarThe X-Men and Planet of the Apes franchises to its portfolio. And for every entertainment journalist working today, the Disney/Fox merger just makes the likelihood of their pissing off Disney (and losing access to critical industry sources) a little more likely.

Where media control is concentrated, press freedom suffers

What evidence exists showing the negative effects of media consolidation on press freedom? The amount of published research demonstrating this connection is small, but growing (some recent examples can be found: herehere, and here).

Along with RSF and Freedom House’s empirical work on press freedom, Columbia University Economics Professor Eli Noam has pioneered some expansive work on quantifying levels of media concentration across the globe.

In his 2016 book, Who Owns the World’s Media?, Noam and his collaborative team provide a data-driven analysis of global media ownership trends and their drivers. Using 2009 data (or later), they calculate overall national concentration trends, the market share of individual companies in the overall national media sector, and the size and trends of transnational companies in overall global media.

Employing a variety of concentration measures — in particular, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) and the Per Capita Number of Voicesfor firms with at least 1% market share (PCNV), both commonly used measures of market concentration — Noam computes media concentration scores for 30 countries where sufficient market share data are available.

The HHI (λ) is generally computed as follows:

where p is each firm’s market share, i is an individual firm, and n is the number of firms in that industry

Within each country, Noam computes an HHI score for each media sector and creates a total HHI score using a weighted average across media sectors.

The HHI is influenced by the relative size distribution of the media firms in each country and is not related to a country’s absolute market size. Whereas, the Per Capita Number of Voices (PCNV) is heavily influenced by a country’s population size. Hence, the U.S., China, India, Russia, and Brazil have very low PCNV scores (high media concentration). Also, for the graph below, RCF’s World Press Freedom Index was inverted (100 — WPFI) for ease of interpretation (i.e., high values of the inverted WPFI equals high levels of press freedom).

The Results

Figure 5 reveals a negative linear association between press freedom and media concentration (as measured by an additive index combining the HHI and PCNV scores computed by Noam).

While China is clearly an extreme outlier, pulling the relationship into a strong positive direction, its exclusion from the analysis does not change the significance of the relationship. The linear regression models shown in the Appendix — using these explanatory variables: HHI, PCNV, Media Concentration Index (HHI+PCNV) and an indicator variable for democracies — found all four variables to be significantly associated with press freedom. Overall, both linear models explained almost three-quarters of the variance in press freedom.

Figure 5: Relationship between Press Freedom & Media Concentration

Notice in Figure 5 the location of Egypt, India, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, and China. All five countries have experienced significant violence against journalists in the past decade, according to RCF, and are either ruled by autocratic regimes (China, Russia, Egypt) or are democracies under significant internal stress (Mexico, Turkey, India). Press freedom and autocracies are incompatible.

Even within the subset of democratic countries, there remains a significant positive relationship between press freedom and media concentration. In countries such as Switzerland, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands, where media pluralism is strong, their press freedoms are among the highest in the world. Though, Israel is an interesting outlier (low media concentration / relatively low press freedom).

Europe addresses media pluralism as the U.S. continues to approve mega-media mergers

Much of the recent research on media pluralism and market concentration relates to Europe, with the most comprehensive research conducted by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) at the European University Institute. CMPF, a European Union co-funded research center, publishes the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) to assess the risks to media pluralism in a given country.

In its 2016 MPM report, the CMPF concluded: “Amongst the 20 indicators of media pluralism, concentration of media ownership, especially horizontal, represents one of the highest risks for media pluralism and one of the greatest barriers to diversity of information and viewpoints represented in media content.”

The European Union is actively monitoring media concentration, even using Russian election meddling in the U.S. and Europe as one of the justifications for addressing the issue. In March 2017, the EU’s High Level Expert Group (HLEG) for online disinformation concluded that one way to counter disinformation is through safeguarding the diversity of the European news media. In May 2017, the European Parliament adopted HLEG’s recommendation to create an annual mechanism to monitor media concentration in all EU Member States.

And what has the U.S. done for the past two decades with respect to media concentration?

Despite a significant number of major media mergers since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, most recently the Disney-Fox merger which still needs antitrust approval from Europe before it can be executed, the U.S. has not been silent on media pluralism and the dangers of media consolidation.

In 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in AP v. United States, “[the First] Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.” In its 8–0 ruling (Justice Robert Jackson did not participate in the ruling), the Court upheld media ownership regulations to ensure source diversity, arguing “freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not.”

Officially, the FCC’s policy objectives are competitionlocalism and diversity. Thus, before media mergers can occur they need approval from the FCC to ensure competition, localism and diversity are not threatened by a proposed merger.

In 2003, the FCC relaxed its ownership rules by eliminating cross-media ownership regulations in media markets with eight or more television stations, and allowed newspaper/television/radio cross-ownership in media markets served by four to eight television stations.

To assist the FCC in this new regulatory policy, the FCC developed a Diversity Index in 2002, which measured viewpoint diversity using a formula related to the Herfindahl-Hirschmann Index (HHI), a metric U.S. antitrust authorities have used to assess market competitiveness (i.e., concentration). The FCC Diversity Index (FDI) used consumers’ average time spent with each medium to weight its importance. It then assigned equal “market shares” to each outlet within each medium and combined those “market shares” for commonly owned outlets.

The FDI was controversial at its onset with many consumer advocacy groups arguing that it failed to capture the real degree of media concentration occurring in the U.S.

During testimony before the FCC in 2003, Dr. Mark Cooper, Director of Research for the Consumer Federation of America, offered this assessment of the FDI:

“The decision to allow newspaper-TV cross ownership in the overwhelming majority of local media markets in America is based on a new analytic tool, the Diversity Index, that was pulled from thin air at the last moment without affording any opportunity for public comment. The Diversity Index played the central role in establishing the markets where the FCC would allow TV-Newspaper mergers without any review. It produces results that are absurd on their face.”

“The Commission arrives at its erroneous decision to raise the national cap on network ownership to 45 percent and to triple the number of markets in which multiple stations can be owned by a single entity because it incorrectly rejected source diversity as a goal of Communications Act. The Commission ignored the mountain of evidence in the record that the ownership and control of programming in the television market is concentrated and extensive evidence of a lack of source diversity across broadcast and non-broadcast, as well as national and local markets. Allowing dominant firms in the local and national markets to acquire direct control of more outlets will enable them to strengthen their grip on the programming market, which undermines diversity and localism.”

Twenty-two years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a sweeping piece of legislation that was “essentially bought and paid for by corporate media lobbies…and radically opened the floodgates on mergers,” according to the media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Understandably, PACs and lobbyists for the big media companies put their money behind Hillary Clinton in 2016 (about $50 million, not including internet-related PACs or individual contributions…and that does not include donations to the Clinton Foundation from media-related sources). But, as we’ve seen so far in the Trump administration, the media mergers have continued unabated and, if anything, Trump’s presence in the White House has lifted profits for all of the major media companies.

Why does this all matter?

The news media plays a critical role in informing the public about our democracy and, as we saw in the 2016 election, the mere possibility that malevolent forces might have manipulated information in that election is unsettling. Add in social media and other new media platforms and the potential for real mischief is substantial.

But it isn’t just foreign actors like Russia that we need to guard against. We need to look closely at the domestic forces that can censor and manipulate what information Americans receive.

“How can we have a real debate about media issues, when we depend on that very media to provide a platform for this debate?” asks Boston journalist Michael Corcoran. “It is no surprise, for instance, that the media largely ignored the impact of Citizens United after the Supreme Court decision helped media companies generate record profits due to a new mass of political ads.”

“Democracy suffers when almost all media in the nation is owned by massive conglomerates. In this reality, no issue the left cares about — the environment, criminal legal reform or health care — will get a fair shake in the national debate,” laments Corcoran.

Of course, it is not just the progressive left that suffers under the American media oligarchy — any viewpoint or perspective substantially deviant from the interests of the media oligarchs suffers. The agenda-driven journalism that defines most of what we watch and read today, effectively discharged from the strict requirements of objectivity and backed by the enormous resources of the major media companies, is becoming ever harder to counteract.

Conversely, the major media companies — along with the social media giants — are increasingly equipped to suffocate news and information that threatens their corporate interests.

If Comcast, News Corp., Viacom, Disney, CBS, and Time Warner collectively or informally decide a U.S.-backed invasion of Iran will help keep their corporate revenues growing, what independent news outlet or journalist is going to have the coverage and market share to challenge them?

Democracy Now, The Intercept, and The Empire Files are not enough to defend against the palpable threat the major media companies pose to American journalism and, by necessary extension, the American democracy.

  • K.R.K.


Three-Variable Model

Dependent Variable: Press Freedom as measured by WPFI

Independent Variables: HHI, PCNV, Democracy Indicator

Two-Variable Model

Dependent Variable: Press Freedom as measured by WPFI

Independent Variables: Concentration Index (HHI+PCNV), Democracy Indicator