Advertisers to blame for hateful rhetoric?

Much, if not all, of the commentary on this horrifying event focuses on the culpability of individuals, and overlooks what is really fueling the flame of hate speech in this country. Most Americans don’t realize the power sponsors (i.e. advertisers) have over all broadcast content, even the news. It’s not that advertisers explicitly advocate hate speech, but they tend to support right-leaning content because it’s pro-business, and they support angry rhetoric because it gets great ratings. Now that we have no immediate terrorist threat, that hateful speech is directed at our government, our political candidates, and individual Americans.

The model is simple: Radio and TV networks tell stories and develop programs that please their sponsors, because advertising dollars are their source of revenue. What pleases sponsors programming that get high ratings, and that makes people want to buy things. What doesn’t please sponsors is anything that makes them, or corporate America in general, look bad. And the easiest way to increase ratings is by getting people excited, for example by making them angry. 

What most Americans don’t know is that major sponsors have actual censorship power. For example, a sponsor will call the network executive and tell them to change the “slant” of their programming (with the implied threat that they will stop advertising). On some shows, certain sponsors screen the show before it airs and routinely exercise their power to censor content. As a result, the networks engage in a great deal of self-censorship. For example, news networks and commentary programs air programming that criticizes “big government,” but never “big business.”

Obviously you’ll never hear about direct or indirect corporate censorship from any on-air commentator. When baby-faced Matt Lauer takes a bullet on the Today show, saying “there are no saints in the media either,” he’s supporting the illusion that the decisions about how to speak on-air are in the hands of individual news people. Those “journalists” we see on television do not have the authority to decide what to say or even how to say it. They speak the way they do, or someone else would be hired. Matt Lauer can never admit this, even to himself. How could he?

The obvious question is: if advertisers can (and do) censor programming directly or indirectly, why haven’t they censored the language of hatred? It is obvious that advertisers actively support shows that sponsor hate speech, otherwise such shows would not survive. Therefore it seems also obvious that the way to restore our national discourse is to pressure advertisers to remove their financial support from shows that promote violence, hatred and division among Americans. 

Please also read the great piece that prompted this comment.

As for the comment itself, any thoughts? I know many liberals/progressives who would agree. Do any conservatives concur?

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