James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘House of Representatives’

Congress approving digital delay that few want?

Posted by James McPherson on January 27, 2009

After last night’s unanimous Senate vote, the House of Representatives will take “emergency action” to vote on a bill to delay the switch to digital television from Feb. 17 until June 12. The House vote may come as early as later today, though I suspect ongoing stimulus talks and other issues (which fortunately included passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) will delay it until tomorrow or later this week. So much for the idea that interest groups and lobbyists have all the power in Washington, since students and I learned first-hand last week that representatives for several powerful groups actually oppose the delay to digital.

The “emergency” aspect of the House action is somewhat humorous, since the switch to digital has been scheduled for more than a decade and those of use with cable or satellite hookups probably won’t be seriously affected (though even we may need an extra cable box or experience a slight  increase in the number of neighbors who want to watch football games at our houses). A January startup date previously had been moved to Feb. 17 after legislators realized what might happen if the switch screwed up people’s Super Bowl viewing or messed with the plans of advertisers, who will pay up to $3 million for 30 seconds of advertising during the game. No, that’s not a joke–at least three experts we spoke with in New York and Washington, D.C., verified the Super Bowl-related reasoning behind the February date.

I don’t know the significance of the June 12 date, which among other things happens to be George H.W. Bush’s 85th birthday, the 70th birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the 22nd anniversary of the date Ronald Reagan urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and the 15th anniversary of when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered (an event that came 27 years to the day after the Supreme Court struck down state laws against interracial marriages, suggesting that O.J. may have an odd way of celebrating key anniversaries).

Regardless of the date, the Nielsen ratings folks are concerned about the switch to digital, as Dave Thomas, president of Global Media Client Services of the company, noted when we met him two weeks ago. He estimated that 5 to 6 percent of viewers are “completely unprepared” for the switch (despite the fact that as National Association of Broadcasters executive VP Marcellus Alexander told us last week, more than $1 billion has been spent on industry advertising warning viewers that “you may need a converter box” if your TV is too old and you don’t have cable or satellite television).

“What’s troubling is that it’s not going to fall evenly,” Thomas noted about the people who will be left without television. Young people, the elderly and poor people will be most likely to suffer problems, and not nearly enough cost-reducing coupons have been set aside for people who need converter boxes. I don’t know how much the problem might be aggravated by people like me who got converter boxes despite already having cable, just in case a natural disaster or the desire to watch a baseball game while camping forces me to rely on older, non-digital technology.

A bigger problem will be that some people won’t have signals even with their new converter boxes, as we were reminded last week by Seth Morrison, senior VP of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing. On the digital transition issue, members of CTAM–who naturally (but not “officially”) want everyone to switch to cable, anyway–find themselves in rare agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters in opposing the delay, in large part because in the meantime broadcasters and cable companies are paying to transmit both digital and traditional analog signals.

Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS, told our group last Friday (and apparently told the Associated Press a few days later) that a four-month extension would cost PBS stations more than $22 million in extra transmission costs. Coincidentally, just a few minutes into our meeting, she had to leave the room to take a call from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the sponsor of the bill (favored by Barack Obama) to delay the transition to digital.

“It sounds like they won’t extend the date,” Kerger said when she returned, indicating that there didn’t seem to be enough Senate votes to force the extension. Assuming that Rockefeller wasn’t intentionally misleading Kerger, just three days later the tide shifted dramatically to make the vote for the extension unanimous, while illustrating another Kerger point: “The conversion has not been well managed.”

On the other hand, as more and more Americans find themselves without work, at least the delay will let more of those people spend their suddenly free time watching the antics of politicians and thieving financial fat cats, so viewers can better understand just how screwed they really are.

Incidentally, for tonight’s viewing I recommend FRONTLINE/World on PBS, which starts a new season with stories about Guantanamo prisoners, the Italian Mafia and Barack Obama’s Brazilian appeal.

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Leaders & would-be leaders fail in bailout

Posted by James McPherson on September 29, 2008

George Bush, Barack Obama and John McCain all supported the bailout that failed today in the House of Representatives. Admittedly Obama and McCain are senators, but they clearly are not viewed as strong enough leaders to pursuade the House members of their own parties to vote convincingly for a bill that might have kept the economy from tanking.

And that whole reach-across-the-aisle thing? Ain’t happenin’. Some Republicans blamed a partison speech by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though Barney Frank pointed out the self-centered goofiness of the claim: Because somebody hurt their feelings they decide to punish the country. … I mean, that’s hardly plausible … I’ll make an offer. Give me those 12 people’s names [12 more votes were needed to pass the bill] and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them.”

Considering the fall of the stock market, each of those 12 votes apparently was worth about 65 points on the Dow.

The situation is worse for Bush and McCain than for Obama, of course–at least the majority of Obama’s party voted for the bill. Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about the bill, but as I’ve written before, Bush himself is to blame for the fact that people now know he can’t be trusted. When in doubt, people tend to favor doing nothing over potentially doing something wrong–especially if that wrong might enrich the same people who have been ripping us off for the past seven years.

As I’ve also pointed out, the news media also share the blame for the failing economy, and our pitiful understanding of it. On the other hand, if opponents of the “doomsday machine” are correct, we won’t have to worry about something as trivial as the world economy for long.

Assuming they’re wrong and the world doesn’t explode within the next few days, I’ll be back next week. I’m off tomorrow to a conference in Seattle, one of my favorite cities, and usually try to avoid blogging when I travel. We all need an occasional break, and I’m obsessive enough about it when I’m here–tomorrow will be only the fourth day this month that I didn’t post at least once, with more than one post on several days.

Same day update: The Dow closed lower today than when Bush took office. In short, if you invested money in the market when he was sworn in and haven’t touched it since then, you’ve actually managed to lose money in those seven years. Put another way, you would have done better by stuffing that same money in your mattress. Presidents usually get too much credit when the economy does well and too much blame when it does poorly, but in this case, thanks to the impact of Bush’s dishonesty, he deserves a bigger share than usual.

Same day update #2: The stock losses were estimated at $1.2 trillion, or $500 billion more than the bailout plan.

Have a great week, if you can. And if you’re interested in more while I’m gone, check out the links at right or some of my previous favorites below:

Vice presidential debate strategies for Biden and Palin

McCain’s ‘no-talk express’ going where unwanted to avoid rough road

In search of Sarah, and where Congress spends your money

Craig Ferguson: “If you don’t vote, you’re a moron”

GOP view of Palin: pit bull or pretty little lady?

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »