More on media reform vs. the evidence | Bleader

More on media reform vs. the evidence

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Readers of this week's Reader already know I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about sociologist Eric Klinenberg's new book Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media as is, say, Rick Kaempfer at Beachwood Reporter.

Reasonable people can disagree about exactly how bad Big Media is, compared to earlier forms of venality and neglect. In their very different ways, Jack Shafer at Slate and Michael Schudson at the Columbia Journalism Review raise some tough questions about Klinenberg's thesis. But it's hard for me to excuse Klinenberg's distortion of the facts.

"There's not a shred of evidence in favor of deregulation," he told me in an interview. That would come as a surprise to the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2004 OK'd a key part of the FCC's deregulatory program. The court wrote that the agency's decision to allow newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership "is justified under [the law] and is supported by record evidence." Among other things, the court relied on a report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, showing that cross-ownership can improve the quantity and quality of TV coverage. This certainly isn't the last word on fostering competition -- when was the last scoop by the Tribune's WGN? -- but the issue isn't open-and-shut.

Klinenberg wrote about the decision but left this part out. He portrayed it as a victory for the critics of Big Media and FCC deregulation (page 273). The court did say the FCC did a poor job of deciding when to deregulate -- a hilariously bad job by Klinenberg's account -- and sent the case back to the federal district court for further consideration.

You can read or download the court's decision here (PDF of 213 pages; the relevant parts are pages 15, 48-54, and 85). Even if I were onboard Klinenberg's cause, I wouldn't like the way he deals with evidence. Nobody -- certainly no movement seeking credibility and change -- is well served by simple cheerleading when the facts are mixed.

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