There are days when one's reminded why one works in independent media. August 1st was one of those days, when the New York Times ran a front page media story that might as well have been headlined: GE and Fox Hush Hosts For Profits.
In a nutshell, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and Bill O'Reilly of Fox have been going at it. For months, Olbermann's called the Fox host out for his lies and smears, regularly dubbing him "Worst Person in the World," while O'Reilly's raised questions about MSNBC's corporate owners, General Electric.
The on-air feud was good for ratings. It wasn't even bad journalism, for these kind of programs. Olbermann held Fox's O'Reilly to account for dubbing Dr. George Tiller "baby killer" in the run up to Tiller's assassination. O'Reilly sent a producer to a GE shareholder's meeting to raise questions about company business in Iran.
The feud wasn't bad for ratings, but it was perceived as a potential threat to other corporate interests. And so it was that some time this May, the chairman of General Electric (which owns MSNBC), and Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation (which owns Fox News), were brought into a "summit meeting" for CEOs where Charlie Rose played peacemaker.
Said one General Electric employee quoted by the Times, calling the two into line meant, "Fewer headaches on the corporate side.”
The sniping's stopped. There's been virtually none of it since the deal took effect on June 1. When Glenn Beck called the President a racist, for example, commentators criticized Beck, but they obediently avoided going after the network that pays him.
It's just another reminder why we don't see stinging reporting, say, of General Electric's investment in the weapons trade, or the healthcare business, or News Corp's dealings with the Chinese government.
Posing divided, united they stand. In the all-about profits media business, ideological rifts are fine for the purposes of gaining notoriety and building audience. Stir things up and deepen divisions among parties, politicians, workers, little people. But go after business interests -- and that's another story. Then, the same media moguls who profit off our social divides sing corporate Kumbaya when their profits are in peril.
Making independent media's tough. It's hard to fund and it's tempting to think there must be a better way. Wouldn't it be easier if some corporation paid the bills?