Cash Clowns

Local TV stations raked in a record $47 million last year from political ads (a lot of them misleading), but they rarely report hard political news. What's their excuse?


"..they have a real civic responsibility..."

Obvious bullshit. TV stations are commercial enterprises, intended to make a profit. If they can make millions while sitting on their asses, why should they stop?

And the stuff about "public airwaves" & "broadcast license" is useless polyannaism. Civic responsibility got buried under profit margins decades ago. The FCC is bought & paid for.

This should at least make is clear why there will be no meaningful campaign finance reform. The group that would have to push it the hardest (TV media), is the group that would suffer the most (ad revenue). Ain't gonna happen. The only hope is completely bypassing the established media, maybe with this internet thingy.
I grew up near the other Washington (D.C.) and political news was as regular there as can be.
Here we all get to know when there is an issue with a plane, anywhere in the world, but r.e. what happened in Olympia today, nothing. Not even George Carlin-esque...tonight's forecast is...DARK, continuing dark until morning.

I never put it together that it is politically incorrect to report on politics in Washington and that NONE of the 'news organizations' will risk themselves to do so. This is also why they will allow any and all comers a turn using them as long as it pays for the advertising.

It was years that Nordstrom's and the Bon Marche kept the PI alive and well in the advertising print business that went with their 35% text.

Thanks for this insightful commentary.
Because Mr. Bush isn't in office anymore, and they don't want to assign blame to those that they supported.

When commercial breaks are flooded with contradictory and often intentionally misleading political speech designed to influence voters on complicated issues—as happened with, for example, Initiative 1098, Bill Gates Sr.'s failed high-earners income tax measure, over which both sides spent around $1.8 million on local TV ads—it becomes even more important that the TV stations devote serious time and resources to reporting facts, context, independent analysis, expert opinion, and all the other tools of serious political journalism.

Well, if the TV stations get in the habit of pointing out that their advertisers are dishonest, deceptive, or just plain assholes, then those advertisers will likely go to another station. So, no, I don't think we'll see that sort of hard-hitting coverage anytime soon.

@1) We all have a civic responsibility. If you don't think that, go move to an island with the other Atlas Shruggers.

Newspapers and journalists could be our super heroes. (Think Clark Kent and Peter Parker). Someone's got to cut through the shit, expose what shouldn't be exposed, make the world a better place.

The fact that they are so easily bought by money is horrible, although nothing too surprising. But why not shine a light on this practice.
I've always had to rely on the Stranger for any local news reporting that and the Seattle Channel that's slatted towards being pro-whatever the mayor wants.

I only watch televised local news during snow storms so I can watch the reporters go ape-shit about how we're going to all die.

"And next on KING're next online date could be a RAPIST!!!"
I think political advertising revenue needs to be considered as a potential state general fund revenue stream.
Wouldn't the wealthy Republican candidates love that?
Are you sure the local TV stations aren't giving the public what it wants? As bad as political coverage is here, I don't think it is any worse than other cities (DC probably is an exception because so many people work in government and are interested in politics). I would argue that Americans as a whole are naive about politics and world affairs and have little interest in becoming informed.
I don't have a paper, but this seems more like an editorial than a story. I have another watching experiment for you--and it's very tough to do. But Watch King5's Up Front every week--especially during election years--and count a) how many times they are slanted against taxes or at least highlighting some revenue light tax b) how many times they interview or mention Tim Eyman c) how much time they have Republicans on. Everytime I watch on Sunday, I always look forward to learning how taxes are bad, a state run ferry system is evil and, oh!, let's look at the Tweets of the Week! Thanks Robert Mak! (Although I'd say that Mak is loads better than fucking shit-eating David Gregory.)

@1 I don't think it's pollyannaism to ask that the FCC enforce the laws on the books and fulfill it's mandate by threatening licensees that don't serve the public interest. I know that's a long-shot in this day and age, but perfect world and all, we'd actually treat them as public airwaves.
@5 I think you misunderstood my approach. While TV stations should live up to a certain civic responsibility, they clearly don't and haven't for some time, if ever. A broadcast license has almost always been akin to a mint, and with that money comes power. Power to "lobby" the FCC to relax or not enforce those pesky rules about civic responsibility.(@9)

Just having some professor declare that "..they have a real civic responsibility..." doesn't make it so. That was the bullshit I was calling out. And to hell with Ayn Rand.

I'm quite glad for the vacuum they've made for the Stranger to step into. I much prefer them doing nothing to the poor job they once did.
Jesus what are you - 15? The fact that local news is sensationalistic and light on serious issues isn't exactly news itself.

"What's their excuse?" Their excuse is that the vast majority of local news viewers find political news incredibly boring. It's a ratings boner killer.
Wow, where to begin? Random thoughts:

* Eli, thanks for this context. @12 points out that the theme is an old one but the $47MM figure drives a more thoughtful discussion of it, which you have done here.

* Sir Vic says much of what I would have.

* It boggles my mind that the local media doesn't cover local politics more because our local politicians are, by and large, insane and ready-made for what passes for compelling TV content today. The Seattle City Council, our mayor, our police chief...who are they if not the human equivalent of an endless parade of water-skiing squirrels, talking dogs, hail storms and lesbian prom kings?
The argument "Duh, that's how local news has always been!" is the biggest cop-out possible. Just because they suck shit at their job doesn't mean we, as citizens, have to be happy with it.
@14 You're absolutely right: We don't have to be happy with it. I invite you to change it for the better and sincerely wish you luck doing so.
@3: Ya got THAT right!
Great job Stranger staffers! I love where your going. Loved the welfare state article too. Keep em coming. The investigative journalist is an endangered species.
Sorry, but while this is overall an excellent article, it is somewhat nonsensical in philosphy as with the lack of any real economy in the US, so to there is NO media today in the US.

With 5 corporations owning the media, and given that they are so financially interlocked, it is really just 1 or 2 corps which control the Corporate Non-Media.

Of course, this translates down to the local level.

And given the lack of any political party today in the USA (with the exception of the ruling Bankster Party), one expects no real news.

We are extremely fortunate to have exposure to real progressive news at KEXP's Mind Over Matters (weekend mornings, 6:00am to 9:00am), and KBCS's Democracy Now, but aside from that there is no actual news in the Seattle area.

We hear next to nothing about Hillary Clinton's appointment of that Bushie neocon, Grossman, to replace Holbrooke --- the fact that he was the dood to out Valerie Plame's covert ID to Richard Armitage, who spread it all over the known universe!

But then, it was Billygoat Clinton, lobbyist for the jobs offshoring industry (easy making that $100 mil, huhg, Billygoat??), who as prez signed the Telecommunications Act in 1996, allowing for the absolute consolidation of Amerika's non-media, a consolidation which began in the late '70s.

Robert Mak, the hack, was such a joke the last time I bothered listening to him during the runup to the Seattle Monorail Project vote. That clown couldn't get anything right, and, no doubt, purposively so.

Nope, the only way to get news in Amerika today is to read the foreign press and government documents.
Congratulations - finally, someone from the "fourth estate" stepped up. Here's a message to KOMO4, KING5 and KIRO7 - We have stopped watching Local TV News for all the reasons listed in this article. We only watch National TV News, and we do that selectively.

We're in agreement with with Sanders and Professor Domke,Local TV stations need to step-up on reporting pertinent information to help the public in better understanding politics, environmental issues or any issue of significant importance.

$47M would hire a lot of hard hitting reporters on TV or wait - maybe instead hire new Managers, Vice Presidents or, gift those dollars to "The Stranger", "The Seattle Weekly, "The Seattle Times" - they seem to be doing your job.

Thanks for great reporting/commentary.
When the only discourse comes from the ads paid for by "people" like the American Beverage Association, there is no chance that Washington voters are going to be well informed. And when there is any coverage by the "news" it is simply about the effect on individual self interest (I can pay 8 cents less for pop) and nothing about the effect on the public good. There's never information on what happens afterwards. What is the effect of the vote, decisions, loss of funding, etc. But yeah, good job on telling us about that idiot Linsey Lohan.
@19: I agree! Great article, Eli Sanders!
This is one of many reasons why I'm glad I don't own a TV anymore.
Is this about us not getting their money's worth? They paid for local news. They get to decide. Hello? American free-market system, anyone?
Crime, freaks, celebrities, and the weather... so mostly voyeuristic, sensationalistic trash. Typical... and irresponsible. All it does is distract people from things that actually matter.
@22 Hello? The airwaves are a public resource? Btw, not a free-market system, either.
@10 (sirvic) - These stations are using the public airwaves and are therefore regulated by the FCC to act in the community/city-of-license's best interest.... NOT their own. There IS a real civic responsibility. If they don't act in the communities best interests, the FCC can be petitioned to shut them down/force a new owner.

It IS their LEGAL responsibility.
Now, as to my criticism of NPR, which I consider in the same class as Foxtard, CNN, et al., but perhaps more dangerous as the others are obviously propaganda networks, and there are still Ameritards out there who believe NPR (national petroleum radio) to be a "liberal" network.

For ever so long we've been hearing that boob, Steve Scherer, on there. I'm not sure what political affiliation, if any, that boob has, but back in the '90s, the third to the last time I turned his show on, a man called in to remark on Clinton's visit to Guatamala and his speech where Clinton apologized on behalf of America's interference in their internal affairs.

(Clinton's visit and speech, both in the public domain, had occurred one week previously.)

Scherer went ballistic on this guy, claiming he was lying and was fabricating the entire event! (Since this caller's speech pattern indicated he was a Jewish New York, and I believe Scherer also is Jewish --- there certainly was no cultural divide occurring between the two.)

Next I listened to Scherer's show a few months back, and he expressed ignorance and disbelief that the banksters were using those TARP funds (not to mention the other $13 trillion to $17 trillion in free monies they received from the Fed Reserve trough) for speculation purposes, instead of lending.

This AM I hear that CIA stooge, Michael Scheuer, who was on the Osama Search Team (great job finding OBL, Scheuer, dood!).

Of course, Scheuer's written another bogus book, and he's such a CIA "ace" he still evidently (being sarcastic here!) that a guy named Chalabi was Osama's top guy when bin Laden was in Libya in the 90s involved in guns smuggling. (Some real journalists, BTW, two French fellows, uncovered this.)

Therefore, Scheuer, who once claimed a connection existed between Saddam and al Qaeda, but later retracted this BS, also is therefore unaware of that name Chalabi later reoccurring during the Bushie Administration.

Scheuer keeps using that "we" stuff during the interview, thusly proclaiming that most Americans share his neocon BS views on everything.

Whether one hears the Heritage Foundation stooges, or Peterson Institute stooges, or Cato Institute stooges, or American Enterprise Institute stooges on either Foxtard, or NPR, we are hearing the same BS propaganda.

No, NPR is as rank and misdirectional as the rest, whether local or national, or int'l BS.

People who know nothing can be made to believe anything.
Why are you picking on Steve Pool (mr illustrator)?!? Isn't he a weatherman? Is it something personal or does the stranger have some sort of agenda?
The kicker to this story is that Tim Rosentiel and his co-authors, in their book "We Interrupt This Newscast: How to Improve Local News and Win Ratings, Too" conclude that when local stations devote time and resources to in-depth and substantive local reporting (i.e., deviating from the standard local news format) people actually tune in at higher rates than not. That is, investing more resources in meaningful local coverage is a winning formula for local news in that it increases audience size, and presumably educates the citizenry (and permits higher ad rates).