By Doug Porter
The sameness of the content can become overwhelming.
It’s happy, rappy and don’t-be-crappy whenever possible. Drama is reserved for ledes that bleed, i.e., crime and confrontations. Nuance is too difficult to jam into 30 seconds. It’s a formula, differing mostly in graphics, presentation and the personalities of the persons reading the script.
It’s by-and-large an echo chamber. There’s a long standing tradition of prioritizing content based on what appears in print media. In San Diego that means “Papa Doug” Manchester and his Mission Valley minions have a disproportionate influence when it comes to political reporting.
Welcome to the world of commercial broadcast news in San Diego.
Of Course It’s Biased (Everybody Is)
Although it’s common for critics of media to complain about bias on a political scale, with the exception of KUSI locally, most local news operations make some effort to keep their leanings out of view. The real work of broadcast news (and most other media) lies in promoting common assumptions (“everybody knows”).
So the real “bias” is more subtle. Usually. The leanings easiest to spot are commercial biases, often in the form of infomercials wherein messages crafted by advertisers are packaged as news. And assumptions about well known institutions–i.e., reporting on XYZ Company as benign entity, when in reality XYZ is not-so-nice– pervade the messages being delivered.
Beyond that the three main forms of bias–means by which media hope to influence opinions–are, as defined inWikipedia:
- Mainstream bias, a tendency to report what everyone else is reporting, and to avoid stories that will offend anyone.
- Sensationalism, bias in favor of the exceptional over the ordinary, giving the impression that rare events, such as airplane crashes, are more common than common events, such as automobile crashes.
- Concision bias, a tendency to report views that can be summarized succinctly, crowding out more unconventional views that take time to explain.
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky have advanced a concept called the propaganda model explaining howpropaganda and systemic biases function in mass media. Their 1988 book on the subject (Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media) discussed their views about how populations are manipulated and how consent for economic, social and political policies is “manufactured” in the public mind.
There are many critics of their thesis, and they commonly assume Herman/Chomsky’s research is driven by conspiracy theories. I hold their essential points to be the best starting place for gaining a deeper insight into understanding the role of the media. And besides, look at the competing schools of thought–if you’re willing to believe in the objectivity fairy, more power to you.
Motivated by an attempt to save a progressive talk radio station in San Diego, Jennifer Douglas and Jon Monday made the film Save KLSD. Using the station’s demise as a launching point for discussion about the results of corporate media consolidation nationwide, they paint a sad picture about the state of broadcasting that’s equally applicable to radio and television.
Corporate consolidation has also lessened the impact of TV news as a tool for local plutocrats. None-the-less, made for TV events highlighting (mostly monied) interests do get regular coverage. And in that way, the debate on issues gets framed.
It’s easy enough to discover who owns San Diego’s TV Stations by going to Station Index.com. Here’s a little run down of each station’s corporate lineage.
XETV – San Diego 6 (The CW Network)- http://www.sandiego6.com/Owner: Televisa Grupo Televisa. The company was listed as a monopoly in a 2006 embassy memo released by Wikileaks. In addition to owning 56% of the country’s broadcast tv stations, they own Cablevision which dominates Mexican cable companies and Sky, which has a majority of the country’s satellite business.
Televisa also holds an interest in U.S. Spanish-language media company Univision Communications. The company is headed by billionaire Emilio Azcárraga Jean.
Over the past few years, Televisa has been making inroads into telephone and internet services. It also owns a 50% stake in Mexico’s third-largest mobile telephone company, Grupo Iusacell. The Mexican phone business is worth an estimated $80 billion, 10 times larger than Mexico’s TV industry, with an estimated value of $8 billion. Azcárraga and Televisa might also benefit from a recent FCC proposal to soften the decades-old 25% limit on foreign ownership of TV and radio stations. Televisa is looking to control U.S. Spanish television network Univision. Azcárraga became the CEO of Grupo Televisa after the death of his father in 1997.
Televisa also operates XEWT 12 “Tu Canal” (Spanish Language) in this market.
KFMB – “News 8” (CBS Affiliate) – http://www.kfmb.com/ Owner: Midwest Television/ Elisabeth M. Kimmel. She also owns KFMB radio, home to talk show host Roger Hedgecock, who’s drawn complaints to the FCC regarding fundraising activity on behalf of Carl DeMaio using the station’s address. And then there’s the overlap with Kochtupous… And the friendship with UT-San Diego owner Pap Doug Manchester.
From a Matt Potter piece at the Reader:
KFMB owner Elisabeth Kimmel of La Jolla, a longtime DeMaio financial backer and a mega-millionaire in her own right, has been accused by conservative Republicans of manipulating the stations’ political coverage in favor of DeMaio and keeping the ex-city councilman’s GOP foe Kirk Jorgensen off the air during a hard-fought, social issues-laced primary battle this spring.
Kimmel — an heiress to August C. Meyer, Sr., who bought the TV station and its two radio stations in the 1960s — has also backed causes linked to the billionaire Koch brothers of Kansas by way of her family’s charitable foundation.
Talk-radio personality Roger Hedgecock, employed by both Kimmel and U-T San Diegopublisher Douglas Manchester, another well-moneyed DeMaio backer, has used emails with KFMB’s address to raise funds for DeMaio.
KGTV -”10News” (ABC Affiliate) –http://www.10news.com/ Owner: Scripps TV Station Group/ E.W. Scripps Co. The company currently owns twenty-one television stations in sixteen markets; eleven ABC affiliates, three NBC affiliates, five Azteca América affiliates, one My Network TVaffiliate and one independent affiliate.
KGTV has an investigative unit that actually reports on stories not found elsewhere in the local newsmedia. They have been “played” in the past by political operatives, most notably when photographs of a staffer for former Mayor Bob Filner’s bachelorette party were leaked to them. That said, KGTV’s coverage of the ongoing lawsuits against the SDPD has been top-notch.
KPBS Channel 15 (Public Broadcasting) – Will be covered in a future segment of this series focusing on non-profit media.
KBNT “Univision 17″ http://www.kbnt.com/, XHAS “Telemundo 33,” XHDTV 49 “MY TV 13″ http://www.mytv13.com/ are all owned or operated by Entravision, the largest affiliate group of the Univision and UniMás television networks. The Santa Monica based company owns and/or operates 53 primary television stations located primarily in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Washington.
KNSD 7/39 “NBC San Diego” (NBC owned affiliate)http://www.nbcsandiego.com/ NBC is part of Comcast, the largest broadcastingand cable company in the world by revenue, and the largest cable company and home Internet service provider in the United States.
In addition to 10 broadcast stations in major media markets, Comcast owns 19 cable channels, nearly two dozen regional networks, along with the Telemundo network and station group.
The news operation for the station includes a jointly produced show with Voice of San Diego, featuring fact checks and explainers-type programming. The Sunday morning “Politically Speaking” show features long-time San Diego reporter Gene Cubbison and includes interviews with local candidates and discussions about local issues.
KUSI 51 “San Diego’s News Channel” http://www.kusi.com/ Owner: McKinnon Broadcasting. The McKinnon family may have started out on the Democratic side of the political aisle–grampa Clinton Dodson McKinnon was a Congressman and founded the San Diego Journal to compete with the Union-Tribune–but these days they and their TV station are a bastion of Republicanism.
KUSI is the outlier in local TV news, proudly waving their viewpoints whenever possible. They even been known to take right wing spin and–presto-chango!— turn it into fact.
A look at the FCC files for 2014 political advertising buys shows just two names: Carl DeMaio and Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs (CAHC), an insurance company funded campaign opposing Proposition 45. (Prop 45 is a measure on the November ballot requiring insurance companies to justify and explain their rates, placing them under the regulatory oversight of the state’s Insurance Commissioner.)
Unlike most other independent TV stations, KUSI has built its programming around local news, more than 50 hours a week. It’s safe to say their newscasts are grounded in the alternative reality that defines GOP politics these days.
My favorite anecdotal evidence of this slant comes from reviewers on Yelp.com:
KUSI only success is in making the local Fox News team look like polished professionals. It’s a hair above a Public Access show, so view it with the same fleeting curiosity you’d give the two-headed calf at the County Fair. At least the calf can’t talk.
Russell S (Gave the station a 4 star rating)
My wife and I watch KUSI news in the morning. I find some of their segments to be great but some of their political interviews seem to me to be very biased. For a while my wife thought city councilman Carl DeMaio was a member of the KUSI staff. I finally explained to her that He is just a blustery, loud mouth politician that likes to hear himself talk.
KSWB 69: “FOX 5″ (Fox Affiliate) http://www.fox5sandiego.com/The station is owned by Tribune Media, a group spinning off from the owners of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and other daily newspapers.
They currently broadcast 46.5 hours of locally produced news, a quantity exceeded only by KUSI. The KSWB newscasts, once verging on nearly always embarrassing, have risen to infotainment quality.
From MediaBistro’s TVSpy blog (2011):
Raoul Martinez, Zomorodi’s co-anchor on the Fox-affiliate’s morning show, shared an intriguing news item on Friday: a new app that allows you to taste and smell food or beverages right on your smartphone or iPad. Smirking, Martinez asked Zomorodi to try it out with him.
After Zomorodi skeptically sniffed and even licked an iPad, it was revealed that the “Virtual Sip” app was, yes, an April Fool’s prank
Unlike their big brethren in New York, grinding out right wing noise is not their top priority; smiling is.
Looking beyond the smiling faces, the times when the TV stations deviate from the norm can be good indicators of debate between different interests in San Diego.
From the UK’s Fifth Estate:
Herman and Chomsky have said that the media “is not a solid monolith” but that it represents a debate between powerful interests while ignoring perspectives that challenge the “fundamental premises” of all these interests.
There is, for instance, a significant difference of opinion on the role of law enforcement that’s largely being fought out in the courts. Stories based on the odds and ends leaking out of the various lawsuits against the San Diego Police Department are one example. Allegations aimed at the incumbent County District Attorney are another.
The Pew Research Journalism Project issues an annual “State of the News Media” report. This year’s research doesn’t bode particularly well for the future power of broadcast TV news:
While the first and hardest-hit industry, newspapers, remains in the spotlight, local TV finds itself newly vulnerable. Local TV audiences were down across every key time slot and across all networks in 2012. And the off-peak news hours like 4:30 a.m. that stations had been adding for years seem to have hit their audience ceiling. While local TV remains a top news source for Americans, the percentage is dropping—and dropping sharply among younger generations. Regular local TV viewership among adults under 30 fell from 42% in 2006 to just 28% in 2012, according to Pew Research survey data. What’s more, the topics people go there for most—weather and breaking news (and to a lesser extent traffic)—are ripe for replacement by any number of web- and mobile-based outlets.
When it comes down to “Who Runs San Diego?” my conclusion is that broadcast TV is best thought of as tool for reaching older (and largely white) demographic groups. Advertising on popular newscasts is the most effective way of reaching those folks, who happen to be the most regular voters.
Doug Porter was active in the early days of the alternative press in San Diego, contributing to the OB Liberator, the print version of the OB Rag, the San Diego Door, and the San Diego Street Journal. He went on to have a 35 year career in the Hospitality business and decided to go back into raising hell when he retired. He won awards for ‘Daily Reporting and Writing: Opinion/Editorial’ from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013 and 2014. Doug is a cancer survivor (sans vocal chords) and lives in North Park.
This article first appeared in the San Diego Free Press July 30, 2014.