Shock jocks – scaring punters and scaring off sponsors
Soon after arriving on holiday in the States, I was standing in a friend’s kitchen in which the telly happened to be on. Suddenly an expensive-looking ad came on sporting a British cancer specialist, Karol Sikora. His message was simple: Britain’s NHS is a failure that the United States should not attempt to emulate.
I found myself wondering what the NHS had done to upset him. But more importantly I wondered why America’s current debate on President Obama’s desire to introduce a healthcare system that will care for all, was going so wrong.
The last time I had been in the States, Obama’s mastery of the message and of its distribution was all but unchallenged. Not any more.
I suppose Hollywood has told us down the years that Americans love being scared witless. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News understands this. There is now a veritable baseball team’s worth of highly paid libertarian and right-wing “shock jocks” who spend their days scaring viewers in almost hypnotic ways. Healthcare and race have become their causes.
The current scare champion on Fox is the multi-million-dollar remunerated Glenn Beck, whose output has helped many Americans to come to believe that Obama’s health plans include “death panels” that will sit and decide which elderly patients live or die under his scheme.
Mr Beck adds of Obama: “This guy is, I believe, a racist.” He says Obama has “exposed himself over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred of white people”.
Add to all this the remarkable war that continues between Fox News and the rival news station, MSNBC. Beck’s colleague on Fox, Bill O’Reilly, spends his time exposing issues surrounding General Electric, the defence conglomerate, who own the NBC TV mother ship. MSNBC’s rival anchor, Chris Matthews, harangues the doings of the Murdoch empire that owns Fox.
So destructive had this war become during the summer (embarrassing truths uttered by both sides) that the two owner corporations negotiated a truce. The anchors of both sides have now broken the deal and restarted their war. But they are proving too valuable to sack as ratings go through the roof.
The only cloud (or is it a silver lining?) is that advertisers have been deserting Mr Beck in particular – according to the FT, 46 companies, “including Proctor & Gamble, Wal-Mart, and Geico”.
Could any of this happen here, as beleaguered media groups desperately search for viewers and listeners? Or is this the most expensive media suicide note in history?
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