The Trump Campaign: Bad for America, but Good for CBS

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The Trump Campaign: Bad for America, but Good for CBS

Les Moonves: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” (cc photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia)

CBS CEO Les Moonves, who in December (Intercept12/10/15; FAIR.org, 1/23/16) said of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, “Go Donald! Keep getting out there!” because “the more they spend, the better it is for us,” had more to say about the business of politics at another investors’ conference, as The Intercept's Lee Fang (2/29/16) reported.

There's something in the air...

Speaking to the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference at San Francisco’s Park Hotel, Moonves observed that “in local [broadcasting], the No. 1 word is ‘political’ [advertising],” and continued:

Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? This is pretty amazing…. Who would have thought that this circus would come to town?

But, you know—it may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS, that’s all I got to say.

So what can I say?  It’s—you know, the money’s rolling in, and this is fun.

Moonves noted that the election has been a boost for ratings—“We had a debate a couple of weeks ago, it was 14 million people on a Saturday night. You know, it’s amazing, that’s all I can say”—but, more importantly, the spending by candidates on political advertising goes directly into CBS’s coffers:

Yeah, [Trump’s] getting a lot of free media, but all that’s happening out there, there’s a lot of money in the marketplace, there’s a lot of money in the marketplace….

They’re not even talking about issues. They’re throwing bombs at each other, and I think the advertising reflects that. Most of the ads are not about issues; they’re sort of like the debates. They’re saying, he did this or he did that. Doesn’t say what I stand for.

I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald, go ahead, keep going.

Moonves did not want his cheering on Trump—whose campaign promotes xenophobia, war crimes and threats of violence against various groups, including journalists—to be mistaken for an endorsement:

I said that at another investor conference, and the next day some blog put out, “Moonves Supporting Trump Wholeheartedly.” I said, no no no, I’m not taking any side. I’m just saying, for us, economically, Donald’s place in this election is a good thing.

Moonves chuckles like a Bond villain as he tells his wealthy audience how his company is profiting at the expense of the nation. It’s not actually all that funny, though, for a television executive to celebrate how a campaign that’s hurting the United States is  driving his network’s profit bonanza. Among CBS’s chief assets are the 16 TV broadcasting licenses it holds, along with its 117 radio station licenses. These licenses each include a public interest clause:

The licensee shall, during the term of this license, render such broadcasting service as will serve the public interest, convenience, or necessity to the full extent of the privileges herein conferred.

When a broadcaster cheers on  the electoral “circus” (“bring it on, Donald, go ahead, keep going”) that he acknowledges “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” can he really be said to be “render[ing] such broadcasting service as will serve the public interest”? Or when he brags about how much money he’s making from running ads that are “not even talking about issues…sort of like the debates”—you know, the ones that his corporation helps put on?

Over decades, the FCC has progressively lowered the standard broadcasters have to meet to fulfill their public interest requirements. But as long as there is any kind of standard, surely “the money’s rolling in, and this is fun” doesn’t meet it.

Hear Les Moonves’ remarks, courtesy of The Intercept:

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

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