Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

From Reed Hundt, Former Chair, FC<$NoAd$>C ...

Dear Josh:

Why is it important that Sinclair Broadcasting be urged in all lawful ways that can be imagined to reconsider its decision to broadcast on its television stations the anti-Kerry "documentary"? Because in a large, pluralistic information society democracy will not work unless electronic media distribute reasonably accurate information and also competing opinions about political candidates to the entire population. Certainly, for the overwhelming number of voters this year, controlling impressions of the candidates for President are obtained from television. In all countries, candidates for public office governments aspire to have favorable information and a chorus of favorable opinion disseminated through mass media to the citizenry. In a democracy, on the eve of a quadrennial election, the incumbent government plainly has a motive to encourage the media to report positively on its record but also negatively on the rival. But its role instead is to make sure that broadcast television promote democracy by conveying reasonably accurate reflections of where the candidates stand and what they are like. To that end, since television was invented, Congress and its delegated agency, the Federal Communications Commision, together have passed laws and regulations to ensure that broadcast television stations provide reasonably accurate, balanced, and fair coverage of major Presidential and Congressional candidates. These obligations are reflected in specific provisions relating to rights to buy advertising time, bans against the gift of advertising time, rights to reply to opponents, and various other specific means of accomplishing the goal of balance and fairness. The various rules are part of a tradition well known to broadcasters an honored by almost all of them. This tradition is embodied in the commitment of the broadcasters to show the conventions and the debates. Part of this tradition is that broadcasters do not show propaganda for any candidate, no matter how much a station owner may personally favor one or dislike the other. Broadcasters understand that they have a special and conditional role in public discourse. They received their licenses from the public -- licenses to use airwaves that, for instance, cellular companies bought in auctions -- for free, and one condition is the obligation to help us hold a fair and free election. The Supreme Court has routinely upheld this "public interest" obligation. Virtually all broadcasters understand and honor it. Sinclair has a different idea, and a wrong one in my view. If Sinclair wants to disseminate propaganda, it should buy a printing press, or create a web site. These other media have no conditions on their publication of points of view. This is the law, and it should be honored. In fact, if the FCC had any sense of its responsibility as a steward of fair elections its chairman now would express exactly what I am writing to you here.

-- Reed Hundt

Speaks for itself ...

From a reader ..<$NoAd$>.

I’ve worked in the media business for 30 years and I guarantee you that sales is what these local TV stations are all about. They don’t care about license renewal or overwhelming public outrage. They care about sales only, so only local advertisers can affect their decisions.

Here's how to have an impact on the local Sinclair stations: first, watch the station and make a list of all of the local advertisers. Then, write to the sales manager -- not the general manager, but the sales manager -- and tell him that you're going to contact all of the local advertisers to register a protest about the station airing this program. Be specific -- mention the names of those local advertisers. Then, actually contact them (if you write or email, cc the sales manager). These stations make most of their income (around 60%) from local advertisers and will NOT want to have that income threatened.

This has worked numerous times. A recent example was when a local radio morning show host in North Carolina told his listeners to aim for bicyclists on the road (he was ranting about how cyclists have no right to share the roadways). The station defended him for several days amidst public outcry, until the advertisers, under pressure from outraged cyclists, began to make noise. Suddenly, the station reversed itself, suspended the host for several days, and made him do public service announcements for weeks about sharing the road with cyclists.

This can work! I plan to start tonight!
Sounds right to me.

Schadenfreude on the prairie ...

So many Republican bark lines really do come down to simple projection. John Thune and the South Dakota GOP have now spent two elections trying to get him back into office with trumped up charges of voter fraud -- largely aimed at the state's Native American population.

Last night six employees and affiliates of the state Republican party had to resign over their own burgeoning ballot fraud scandal.

Meanwhile, if you needed more evidence of what sort of sick trash we're dealing with here, according to a poster on DailyKos, Sinclair vice president Mark Hyman just said on CNN that Kerry and the Democrats are like "holocaust deniers" and that if the Sinclair stunt is an "in-kind donation to George Bush" then "every suicide bomb that goes off in Iraq is an in-kind donation to John Kerry."

Presumably this was just down from on-air within the last hour. So I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the quotes. But a quite look at this morning's Post shows that yesterday Hyman said "the networks are acting like Holocaust deniers" for not showing the POWs' story. So I think there's every reason to believe that the quotes are accurate.

Many readers have written in to say that the link below to a database of Sinclair advertisers does not work. I'm not sure why or what to suggest. It opens up fine for me and at least some other readers. All I can figure is that perhaps it's a brand new domain (URL) and it hasn't propagated fully yet. So keep trying and if anyone has another site or address for the same info, send it along and I'll post it.

Zogby has the race back to a tie at 45%. CBS has a new poll out with Bush up by three -- 48% to 45%. (CBS has a one point Bush lead if Nader isn't included, which shows you the impact of the fools who are planning to vote for Nader.) Gallup has Kerry up by one, 49% to 48%.

The buck stops with the Joint <$NoAd$>Staff ...

KERRY: He rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.

Ladies and gentleman, he gave you a speech and told you he'd plan carefully, take every precaution, take our allies with us. He didn't. He broke his word.

GIBSON: Mr. President?

BUSH: I remember sitting in the White House looking at those generals, saying, "Do you have what you need in this war? Do you have what it takes?"

I remember going down to the basement of the White House the day we committed our troops as last resort, looking at Tommy Franks and the generals on the ground, asking them, "Do we have the right plan with the right troop level?"

And they looked me in the eye and said, "Yes, sir, Mr. President." Of course, I listen to our generals. That's what a president does. A president sets the strategy and relies upon good military people to execute that strategy.

From Friday night's debate.

A suggestion from a reader ...

A stockholder in Sinclair Broadcast Group can file what's called a "shareholder's derivative action" against the officers and directors of the corporation, which is publically traded, to enjoin the officers and directors from using corporate resources in ways that do not benefit the shareholders. I believe Sinclair is incorporated in Maryland, and if so that's probably where the action should be brought. One stockholder has standing to sue and should request a temporary restraining order before the pseudo-documentary airs to prevent the officers and directors from misusing corporate property to benefit their political agenda. The reason it is misuse of corporate property is because ordering the local stations to air the anti-Kerry propoganda will likely cause a loss of network advertising revenue, may in fact violate the stations' contracts with the networks they are affiliated with, and is almost sure to embroil the corporation in costly legal battles, for example from entities complaining that this is an illegal corporate campaign contribution, or from angry consumers who will contest the stations' license renewals. Against this, there has to be some plausible benefit to the stockholders or the corporate action is unlawful and could subject the officers and directors to personal liability for any damage to the stockholders. They also could be stuck with the legal fees of both the corporation and the stockholders who sued them.

Shareholders derivative actions are fairly complex; we need a Maryland corporate lawyer type. I'm a lawyer in Texas and was thinking to file the suit here but under Texas law, the acts of the officers and directors are governed by the corporate law of the state of incorporation, about which I know little. However, I do know that as a general principle, corporate officials have a fiduciary obligation to the stockholders, and everything they do is supposed to be for the benefit of the same. Normally a court won't second-guess the decisions unless the stockholder can show that there is no plausible benefit to the corporation in the complained-of act. What could the benefit be here?

I'd be curious to hear <$NoAd$>reactions from readers with relevant legal or business experience how practicable this would be. Of course, I'm curious about everyone's reactions. But in this case I'm particularly interested in hearing with folks with professional insight into how this might work. Of course, the most direct approach -- and I suspect a successful one if done correctly -- is to target Sinclair's advertisers. Another reader writes in the following ...

[I've removed the introduction to this letter where the reader describes a local TV market where he works. Suffice it to say that he works in local TV and says he has friends who work at some of the Sinclair affiliates in question.]

Let me tell you, they're NOT afraid in the least of the license challenges that Steve Soto has proposed. I mean, what's the point? If they air it, then fine, challenge away, I'm all for taking revenge on them. But the goal should be to shut down the broadcast before it happens.

What they're deathly afraid of is the stink of this thing will somehow waft over to their advertisers. That's of course why they're not selling local ad time for this show. Having worked in the ad department of Sinclair's competitor, I know that local Sinclair stations make over 60% of their ad revenue from their nightly 6pm newscast. That's their bread and butter. You make a concerted effort to go after their top advertisers on the 5pm/6pm news hour and you'll have the executives spiking this show so fast it'll be amazing.

Again, I have no basis for judging what would work best, though common sense suggests that going after these guys on every front simultaneously would probably be the best bet.

As we move into the rough and tumble of the final month of this campaign, let me take a brief moment to restate the TPM ad policy first discussed here just under a year ago.

(If you'd rather read about US politics rather than this site's ad policy -- which I'd entirely understand -- by all means scroll down to the next post.)

I've gotten many questions about this via email. So let me try to address them again in one fell swoop.

The ads that run on this site represent a commercial transaction. There is no implied endorsement whatsoever.

Recently, there was one ad running on this site that was pro-Nader; another that was anti-Nader. People wrote in complaining about the pro-Nader ad; others were miffed by the anti-Nader ad. And when they were both running at the same time there were several complaints from folks claiming it was hypocritical to run both of them since I could not support the messages contained in each.

Anybody who's read this site for any length of time knows there aren't many people who have a dimmer view of Ralph Nader these days than I do. But, again, the ad space is open to all political views -- left, right and center.

That doesn't mean that everything is allowed. I reserve the right to reject ads that I find inappropriate for reasons of content or taste. And I would reject ads that I thought were unambiguously spreading falsehoods. But in each case my effort would be to lean in the direction of inclusion. And I would do my best to make the judgment with as little coloration as possible by my political views.

(I have, for instance, rejected a number of ads over the last year. Some of those were simply cases of content that censors wouldn't let you put on TV -- four letter words, sexual content, etc. Most though were ads that attacked the president in ways I found tasteless, needlessly degrading or just disrespectful.)

I think this is a sound policy, both practically and in principle. And I don't plan on changing it. But I welcome your views and suggestions.