This month the Center for Media and Democracy will be making some great improvements to our free newsletter and email information service. We will also be changing the name from the "Weekly Spin" to "The Spin."
On February 11, 2011, after 30 years of dictatorship, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced he was stepping down. As ancient pharaohs slumbered inside, a crowd of over a million surrounded the rose-colored Cairo Museum setting off fireworks and jumping for joy as they peacefully forced a modern pharaoh to flee. This hopeful moment will be studied for years, and no topic will be more hotly debated than the role of social media in the uprising.
Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, the second largest privately-held energy company in America, have poured millions of dollars into creating a web of media influence to increase their power to sow doubt about climate change among the American public. A network of bloggers, pundits, think tanks and foundations get funding from the Kochs, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received over $700,000, and the libertarian Cato Institute, which has received $13 million from the Kochs since 1998. The Manhattan Institute received $1.5 million, Americans for Prosperity has gotten $5.5 million, the Pacific Research Institute has gotten $1.2 million and the Federalist Society $2 million. This web of think tanks and foundations operates blogs and Web sites and house prominent writers who pump out climate denial writings that help spread the Kochs' anti-climate change ideology. The Kochs' influence isn't limited to fringe media, either. Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, who writes for the Weekly Standard and the Washington Post, Philip Anshutz, owner of the Examiner newspapers and the Weekly Standard, Stephen Moore, a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, are just some of the conservative media figures who attend the Kochs' exclusive, private annual gatherings.
The NFL threatened Toyota to get the auto maker to modify a television commercial that highlighted the problem of the brain damage football players suffer from repeated concussions. In the original version of Toyota's ad which aired last November, a mother says she worries about her son playing football as viewers are shown two young players colliding head to head. The scene is enhanced with crashing sounds, as animated force lines ripple from the player's helmeted heads. The mother says Toyota's decision to share crash research with scientists who study football concussions makes her feel more comfortable about her son playing football. The ad bore no NFL trademarks or team names, but the NFL threatened to end the car maker's ability to advertise its products during games if it didn't modify the ad to downplay football as a cause of traumatic brain injury. Toyota capitulated, and in the new version of the ad, the helmet collision has been removed and the mother now worries about "my son playing sports," instead of "playing football."
It is a known fact that money taints every aspect of American politics, and most prominently, elections. The Raw Story reports that sometimes you actually don't have to pay to play, or at least that if you pay enough, sometimes the favor is returned.
Being on the Fox News payroll has its advantages. Not only did five potential Republican candidates get regular paychecks from the network last year, but they also got something even more valuable: airtime. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee appeared for almost 48 hours. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin had nearly 14 hours of appearances. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was given close to 12 hours. Former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum and former UN Ambassador under George W. Bush John Bolton both received about six hours.
The answer is when it is home-grown.
The mainstream media largely ignored a story about an especially sophisticated and deadly backpack bomb found along a Martin Luther King Day parade route in Spokane, Washington last week, barely covering it beyond an initial mention. The device drew special attention from some news outlets because it contained shrapnel, was equipped with a remotely-controlled detonator, was "directional" (meaning aimed toward the parade route) and in the FBI's words, was "capable of inflicting multiple casualties." The major media barely mentioned the incident, and the lack of follow-up stories on it is even more deafening now that the FBI has concluded that the connection between this incident and racism is "inescapable."
Advertisers are using a new technique to trick DVR users and people who mute TV ads into watching their ads. The new ads, called "interstitial ads," "podbusters" or "DVR busters," are designed to look and feel just like the shows viewers are watching. They often feature the same actors, in character, and may use brief, insipid out-takes from the real show to lure unsuspecting viewers into watching them. Advertisers run podbusters late in the show, around the time that cliffhanger-endings are keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. Examples of DVR busters include Tina Fey starring in an ad for American Express during her show, 30 Rock, and commercials seen near the end AMC's Mad Men that feature actors from the show in an office environment and wearing 60's fashions, to make people think the show has started again. By the time people realize they are really watching an ad and not the show, the commercial is almost over. Mike Rosen, an executive with a media agency, explains that ads that mimic shows viewers really like help transfer the positive feelings people have about those shows to the products being advertised on them.
Steven Antin's new movie, Burlesque (PG-13), features about twenty different brands of products, including gratuitous use of R.J. Reynolds' Camel cigarettes. Other films that have showcased cigarettes this year include the Disney film The Sorcerer's Apprentice (rated PG, which features Newport cigarettes), and For Colored Girls (rated R, by Lionsgate, which features Marlboros). States are now spending millions to subsidize the production of movies, meaning taxpayers are not only paying to help big companies advertise their products, but they are also helping pay to showcase smoking -- a harmful addiction that many states are simultaneously spending millions to reduce. California taxpayers shelled out $7.2 million to subsidize the movie Burlesque alone, which not only features gratuitous smoking, but also showcases a slew of other brands, including Famous Amos cookies (the character Jack holds a box over his genitals), Dos Equis beer, Michelob, Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Oreos, KitchenAid, Ultimat Vodka, Coldwell Banker, Chase Bank, Patron Tequila and many more.
A poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org has found that the higher amounts of money flowing to the 2010 elections led to a more poorly informed public. The poll, titled "Misinformation and the 2010 Election: A Study of the U.S. Electorate," was the first conducted after a national election since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money to influence U.S. elections. The poll found strong evidence that voters were significantly misinformed on many issues that figured prominently in the 2010 election campaign, including the stimulus legislation, the healthcare reform law, TARP, the state of the economy, climate change, campaign contributions by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and President Obama’s birthplace. In most cases, increased exposure to news sources decreased misinformation, but exposure to certain news sources were found to create higher levels of misinformation. For example, people who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely to hold beliefs that are not true, including that their own income taxes have gone up, that most scientists do not believe climate change is occurring, that most economists estimated the new health care reform law will worsen the deficit, that most Republicans opposed the TARP bailout, and that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and cannot legitimately serve as president.
In the weeks before the 2010 mid-term elections, the Tea Party and its activities dominated the media, but there was a decided lack of discussion about exactly what the Tea Party is. Major media seemed sold on the idea that the Tea Party is one big homogenous, spontaneous grassroots uprising, but this was not the case. Apart from a single, exhaustive article in the August 30, 2010 edition of The New Yorker (aptly titled "Covert Operations,") that linked the wealthy billionaire Koch Brothers' and their corporate interests to the Tea Party, few media outlets discussed which factions of the movement were truly grassroots, which were corporate-backed, and to what extent corporations supported the "movement."
Here at PRWatch, we strove to tease out the difference between various Tea Party factions, like the GOP-backed Tea Party Express, the grassroots Tea Party Patriots and the for-profit corporation called Tea Party Nation. We found out which factions were getting the big money, who their PR operatives were, what types of PR tricks they were engaging in, and more.