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Jenn Ettinger, 202-265-1490 x 35
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission fined a pair of television stations for airing commercials masquerading as news segments. These video news releases (VNRs) are advertisements produced to be virtually indistinguishable from news stories and distributed to television news departments, and they violate the FCC's longstanding "sponsorship identification" rules when they are aired without disclosing their origins.
The fines, first reported in Communications Daily, came in response to a 2006 complaint filed by Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy, which exposed the rampant use of PR firm-generated VNRs disguised as news programming. The groups filed a follow-up report and complaints in 2007, further detailing the trend. Overall the groups cited the use of over 100 undisclosed VNRs.
KMSP-TV, a Fox-owned affiliate in Minneapolis, aired what appeared to be a news report on increased consumer demand for convertible cars in the summer. The video, which was sponsored by General Motors, presented multiple shots and favorable descriptions of GM products.
To view the FCC's Notice of Apparent Liability for KMSP click here: https://www.freepress.net/resource/kmsp-notice-apparent-liability
WMGM-TV, a NBC affiliate in southern New Jersey, aired a segment on how to treat the common cold. The station claimed the piece was sponsored by a local hospital, but it was produced and paid for by Matrix Initiative, the maker of Zicam zinc cold remedy. The segment featured the use of zinc products as a way to treat colds and exclusively focused on Zicam's product.
To view the FCC's Notice of Apparent Liability for WMGM click here: https://www.freepress.net/resource/wmgm-notice-apparent-liability.
Free Press Managing Director Craig Aaron made the following statement:
"Viewers deserve to know when they are watching paid propaganda instead of real news. If we can't trust the news to tell us what's happening in our communities without trying to sell us something, it's easy to become cynical and dismiss what they say even when we're getting the truth. If the news business wants to know why they're losing readers and viewers, they should look at decisions like this.
"The FCC has taken two more steps toward cracking down on fake news by levying these fines, and we commend the Commission for its action.
"We urge the FCC to continue to identify violators and enforce its sponsorship identification rules."
Free Press was created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media. We believe that positive social change, racial justice and meaningful engagement in public life require equitable access to technology, diverse and independent ownership of media platforms, and journalism that holds leaders accountable and tells people what's actually happening in their communities.(202) 265-1490
"This contract contains important gains on the issues most important to our members," said the president of the UIC United Faculty union.
Faculty members at the University of Illinois Chicago suspended their strike on Sunday after reaching a tentative deal with school administrators that includes minimum salary increases for both tenure-track and non-tenure-track staff.
"This contract contains important gains on the issues most important to our members," Aaron Krall, president of the UIC United Faculty (UICUF) union, said in a statement early Monday. "We are especially proud of winning $60,000 minimum salaries for our lowest-paid members and the commitments on student wellness and disability testing."
According to the union, the tentative contract deal—which must be ratified by UICUF members—includes:
The deal with university administrators was reached four days after faculty walked off the job last week to protest the lack of progress in contract negotiations and the school's refusal to budge on their demands for larger pay raises to account for higher living costs.
"We won! Strike suspended!" UICUF tweeted late Sunday following a nine-hour bargaining session that produced the tentative contract deal. "Feel free to notify your students that classes will resume tomorrow (Monday). Much, much more information is forthcoming, as well as a membership meeting where you all will vote on whether or not to ratify this contract."
As the local Chicago Sun-Timesreported Monday: "The agreement came after nine months of bargaining and 34 negotiation sessions, about half involving a federal mediator. Professors have been working without a contract since August."
Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, told the newspaper that "the academic labor movement is on fire right now."
"We've had decades of disinvestment at the federal and state level," Mulvey added. "[Higher education] is at a breaking point. And I think the answer is faculty organizing."
Last month, University of California graduate student workers ratified a contract deal that included better pay and benefits, ending a six-week strike that marked the largest academic employee walkout in U.S. history.
"The effects of the historic strike still reverberate across the nation, helping energize an unprecedented surge of union activism among academic workers that could reshape the teaching and research enterprise of American higher education," the Los Angeles Timesreported earlier this month. "In 2022 alone, graduate students representing 30,000 peers at nearly a dozen institutions filed documents with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election."
"The problem isn't that Senator Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party—it's that she's abandoned Arizona," said Rep. Ruben Gallego.
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego on Monday formally launched his 2024 campaign for the seat held by right-wing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who officially registered as an Independent in December after months of derailing the Biden administration's policy agenda and preserving tax loopholes for her corporate allies.
"The problem isn't that Senator Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party—it's that she's abandoned Arizona," said Gallego, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who represents Arizona's 3rd District. "She's repeatedly broken her promises, and fought for the interests of Big Pharma and Wall Street at our expense."
"I'm running for the U.S. Senate because the rich and the powerful don't need any more advocates in Washington—but families who can’t afford groceries do," Gallego added.
\u201cGrowing up poor, all I had was the American dream. It kept me going: as a kid sleeping on the floor, a student scrubbing toilets, a Marine losing brothers in Iraq.\n\nToday, too many Arizonans see their dream slipping away. I\u2019m running for the U.S. Senate to win it back for you!\u201d— Ruben Gallego (@Ruben Gallego) 1674478803
Sinema has not yet publicly said whether she plans to run for reelection in 2024.
If she does, as The Washington Postnoted Monday, "Gallego's bid sets up a dilemma for national Democrats, who must choose whether to pour their considerable resources into backing a Democratic nominee for the seat or to support an independent incumbent."
Several Republicans—including failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and failed U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters—are also weighing 2024 runs for the seat.
A recent memo by the Democratic Party-aligned firm Public Policy Polling found that Gallego is "considerably more popular" in Arizona than Sinema and "would be a top-tier Senate candidate regardless of what she decides to do in 2024."
Other polling, including a January 2022 survey by Data for Progress, has suggested that Sinema would lose in a landslide if she runs for a second term.
Sacha Haworth, a spokeswoman for the Replace Sinema campaign at the Change for Arizona 2024 PAC, said in a statement that
"we are thrilled that there's now a Democratic candidate in this race ready to take on Kyrsten Sinema and win."
"Ruben Gallego has never backed down from fighting for Arizona, and he has what it takes to win," said Haworth. "As she jet sets with the international elite and does favors for her Wall Street donors at the expense of working Arizona taxpayers, Kyrsten Sinema shows us daily that she is only out for herself, and it's time for new leadership. We will continue to make the case as to why Arizona deserves better than Kyrsten Sinema, and do everything in our power to help Democrats win this seat."
This story has been updated to include a statement from the Replace Sinema campaign.
"Zients as a businessman embodies much of the corporate misconduct the executive branch led by a Democratic Party ought to be cracking down on," said one progressive strategist.
Reports Sunday that President Joe Biden has chosen Jeff Zients to replace outgoing White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain were met with alarm among progressive watchdogs, who pointed to Zients' disastrous tenure as the administration's coronavirus czar as well as his history in the corporate world—where he built a fortune investing in healthcare companies accused of fraud.
Klain, who developed a solid working relationship with progressives in Congress, is expected to depart shortly after Biden's State of the Union address on February 7.
Revolving Door Project executive director Jeff Hauser called the elevation of Zients to White House chief of staff a "catastrophic decision," saying in a statement that "the Biden administration has been at its best when it has been on the attack against corporate excesses that wide majorities of Americans find abhorrent."
"Americans are appalled by profiteering in healthcare—Jeff Zients has become astonishingly rich by profiteering in healthcare," said Hauser. "Americans are aghast at how social media companies have built monopolies and violated privacy laws—Zients served on the Board of Directors of Facebook as it was defending itself against growing attacks from both political parties."
The Revolving Door Project's Daniel Boguslaw and Max Moran wrote for The American Prospect last year that Zients—who was replaced as Covid-19 response coordinator back in April—has "controlled, invested in, and helped oversee" healthcare companies that "were forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle allegations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud."
"They have also been accused of surprise-billing practices and even medical malpractice," Boguslaw and Moran noted. "Taken together, an examination of the companies that made Zients rich paints a picture of a man who seized on medical providers as a way to capitalize on the suffering of sick Americans. In the end, it seems to have all paid off."
"The most egregious violation is documented in a 2015 Justice Department settlement announcement," they added. "Portfolio Logic—the investment firm Zients founded with his own money—agreed to pay almost $7 million to resolve allegations of fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid billing, involving a subsidiary (Pediatric Services of America Healthcare, or PSA) that it purchased in 2007."
"Hopefully Zients will prove us wrong—but unless that unlikely and fortuitous surprise occurs, Biden will need a quick hook."
Progressives have also been highly critical of Zients' performance in government.
In early 2022, Boguslaw urged the Biden administration to fire Zients over his failure to "provide the materials necessary to improve the U.S. response" to Covid-19 "or the guidance necessary to keep the pandemic under control."
Following news that he would be leaving the coronavirus response post, Public Citizen's Robert Weissman lamented that Zients "refused to pay appropriate attention to global solutions to the global pandemic, because of political concerns or otherwise."
"And the Zients-led Covid response refused to challenge Big Pharma's monopoly control, in the U.S. and globally, over technologies that relied crucially on public support," Weissman continued. "As a result, the United States and other rich countries failed to expand vaccine supply sufficiently to meet global need. Without adequate supply, efforts to bolster low-income country distribution and delivery systems consequently have lagged and been similarly under-resourced."
Citing the Revolving Door Project's work, progressive strategist Murshed Zaheed said Sunday that "Zients as a businessman embodies much of the corporate misconduct the executive branch led by a Democratic Party ought to be cracking down on."
But the Biden White House doesn't appear remotely concerned about Zients' corporate past.
With Biden expected to launch a bid for reelection in the coming weeks, The New York Timesreported that "the president could lean on" Zients to "help run the government while other advisers focus on the politics of winning a second term."
Hauser said Sunday that "hopefully Zients will prove us wrong—but unless that unlikely and fortuitous surprise occurs, Biden will need a quick hook."