Posts about Howard_Stern

When I say jump

TV Guide just bought Jump the Shark and I think there’s a lesson in this for publishing: What started in 1997 as a web site that quickly found a community became a best-selling book and that helped drive the web site. Howard Stern took notice and so founder Jon Hein made frequent appearances on radio — finally moving there — and that helped drive the web site, which drove the book. More people, more content, more promotion, a bigger brand. And so now TV Guide will bring Jump the Shark to all its platforms, buying JtS for an undisclosed but apparently juicy sum. And round and round it goes (until, of course, it grows too big and jumps its own shark, but that’s another story).

This all started because a smart and funny guy had a good idea and the internet’s tools and connections allowed him to create a franchise with a community of contributors, not gatekeepers. And though the book brought in lots of bucks, in the end, the real franchise and value lived online because it could keep growing there. Print had an important role in this success story, but it’s not the whole story.

On China

Nick Kristof has a terrific column in The New York Times today on the power of blogs and the internet to challenge Chinese dictatorship. Yes, it’s behind the Great Wall of New York. But I’ll quote some good bits.

Kristof starts his own blogs in China and posts all kinds of things that censors should consider inflammatory — about imprisoned journalists, corruption, Falun Gong, and Tiananmen Square. The censors put asterisks on a few words but the posts stay up. And Kristof says:

All this underscores, I think, that China is not the police state that its leaders sometimes would like it to be; the Communist Party’s monopoly on information is crumbling, and its monopoly on power will follow. The Internet is chipping away relentlessly at the Party, for even 30,000 censors can’t keep up with 120 million Chinese Netizens. With the Internet, China is developing for the first time in 4,000 years of history a powerful independent institution that offers checks and balances on the emperors.

It’s not that President Hu Jintao grants these freedoms, for he has arrested dozens of cyberdissidents as well as journalists. But the Internet is just too big and complex for State Security to control, and so the Web is beginning to assume the watchdog role filled by the news media in freer countries. . . .

He tells the story of blogger Li Xinde, whom he has covered before, going around China “reporting on corruption and human-rights abuses.” In a great game of political wack-a-mole, Mr. Li keeps popping up. He told Kristof:
“They can keep closing sites, but they never catch up. You can’t stop the Yellow River from flowing, and you can’t block the bloggers.”

Put that on a T-shirt and wear it in the Forbidden City.

Kristof concludes:

China’s leaders decided years ago to accept technologies even if they are capable of subversive uses: photocopiers and fax machines at first, and now laptops and text messaging. The upshot is that China is much freer than its rulers would like.

To me, this trend looks unstoppable. I don’t see how the Communist Party dictatorship can long survive the Internet, at a time when a single blog can start a prairie fire.

: These movements and technologies need our support. That’s why I’ve been lambasting or lampooning Yahoo and Google executives over their China policies.

But at last week’s Hyperlinked Society conference, I spent a little time with people who know one helluva lot more about this issue than I do, including Xiao Qiang of the UC-Berkeley China Internet Project and Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices. I won’t attempt to say what they say for fear of misquoting them. I’ll just give you my own thoughts. First, I’ll try to capture the back-and-forth we see on China and the internet:

The company lines we keep hearing from those who do business in China are (1) that the Chinese people are better off with a crippled internet than no internet at all, and (2) that these companies need to follow local laws. The other line we sometimes hear is that the Chinese people don’t care about politics and don’t want or need these freedoms, but I won’t dignify that with a response.

The problem with hiding behind these company lines is simply that if you never say no to the Chinese government, they will keep doing what they do. Not saying no to them is saying yes.

Many of us wish these companies would take the risk of saying no when China’s dictators demand information that might send people to jail or cripple their services. But the companies and their defenders reply they these are businesses that have an obligation to their shareholders to make money; they can’t pull out of China or even risk having to. Some of us say in return that these companies need to have an ethical compass or else they are damaging not only their ability to look at themselves in the mirror in the morning but also their brands and reputations around the globe — and that is, indeed, a business issue.

But I think it is also up to us to put countervailing pressure, to give these companies cover. The problem in our own First Amendment fight against the so-called Parents Television Council and its lapdogs at the FCC and in Congress is that no one wants to vote in favor of the First Amendment when they can be accused of voting for smut. We need to give them cover; we need to demand our freedom of speech. At a much more urgent level, the same is true for internet companies doing business in China.

It’s fair to say that perhaps these companies should not be expected to do this on their own — to stand up to the world’s biggest dictatorship and their shareholders at the same time, just because they want to be decent. So perhaps it is up to us to put that pressure on by asking that they stand up for principle to protect their trusted relationships with us — their brands and businesses, in short. I’m not talking boycotts and nasty campaigns. Think of this less as an attack on the companies and more as a favor to them. We need to help them out by giving the a reason to stand up and have guts. I’m simply saying that when they try to say no to the Chinese dictators, they need a reason why — because of the pressure around the world supporting freedom of speech for everyone.

That means the first step is to state those principles. I think Amnesty International made a good first step at its Irrepressible.info:

I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference. I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet – and on companies to stop helping them do it.

FU, PTC

CBS affiliates are arguing to the FCC that the fine against them for Without a Trace because the alleged complaints didn’t come from people.

CBS affiliate stations told federal regulators on Tuesday that proposed fines for a prime-time TV drama depicting teenagers engaged in sex should be tossed out because complaints about the show did not come from real people.

In a motion filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the affiliates argued against complaints that resulted in a FCC proposal to levy $3.3 million in fines for CBS stations that aired the “Without a Trace” episode.

The affiliates claim that not one of the 4,211 complaints the FCC received came from any place outside “the Web sites operated by two advocacy groups — the Parents Television Council and, to a much lesser extent, the American Family Association.” …

“Permitting enforcement reliance on a uniform, national mass e-mail campaign is akin to simply permitting the commission to single out programming it dislikes — even in the absence of any viewer complaint — and to target that programming for punishment,” the affiliates wrote. “The commission wisely has eschewed playing the role of roving enforcer of indecency policy in the past, and it should continue to do so here.”

The FCC — and the media, blindly falling for this ruse — are complicit in a fraud against the First Amendment.

A tragic day for America

The House has now passed the indecent indecency bill.

We are the only nation with a First Amendment. In a time when speech is being attacked in China — with help from American corporations — and across the Middle East and in Russia and in too many places to name, we should be standing by this principle above all others. If we can’t show the way in anything else, we should show the way in protecting free speech.

Instead, Washington played a cynical political game with a cult of allegedly religious nuts who share kinship with the mobs that burned down embassies and businesses because they were offended by the Danish Mohammed cartoons. Those nuts took their toll in blood. Our nuts take their toll in money. That’s American.

We are suffering under they tyranny of the offended and we must fight back. As Christopher Hitchens said at the Hay Festival in the UK last week, it is our right not only to practice religion but to criticize it. It is our right to offend.

: By the way, as I understand it, this legislation carries a maximum fine of $3 million per incident. The FCC already multiplied fees for its latest record fine to go over that amount. So the financial impact of this may be nothing. Which makes it an even more cynical act. It’s a PR move. And my colleagues in media keep falling for it. There is no public outcry, damnit. The public is watching the shows that offend the allegedly religious nuts. The allegedly religious nuts offend me.

Well, whadya know….

I agree with Eric Alterman. He supports Harpers’ publication and analysis of the Mohammed cartoons.

By publishing the articles in a semi-scholarly context, or at least an expert one, Harper’s cannot be credibly accused of exploiting the controversy – at least no more than is the norm for any media property. …

What is most interesting about this controversy is that the issue plays quite differently on the left/right axis in the US relative to Europe. In the States, right-wingers are once again in their familiar spot of standing strong for freedom of expression somewhere else. (It’s Gdansk ’81 all over again.) Hitchens is singing out of his old socialist songbook, holding hands with Andrew Sullivan on one side and David Horowitz on the other. Liberals meanwhile, are caught between the free speech and cultural sensitivity polls, and hence, a bit mealy-mouthed, particularly since they take the hypocrisy charge more seriously than right-wingers.

Personally, I am a right-winger on this issue, and wish I could be a European so I could take advantage of it with lots of grants and high-paid speaking engagements. What right do Islamic people have to tell us westerners how to live our lives? If they don’t like our culture of freedom of expression, tough luck. Stay home and ruin your own societies. The welfare states of Europe, particularly northern Europe, are among the most sublime achievements of human history. Let’s defend them, damn it, even if it puts us in some rather smelly company.

Let’s defend speech, no matter how smelly, wherever it occurs.

Whistleblowing in the dark

I think the Supreme Court’s ruling today against government whistleblowers — deciding that they have no First Amendment protection for their complaints if those complaints are part of their jobs — will result in more anonymous leaks of information not through the press but through the many means of anonymity that the internet provides. That is, Deep Throat would blog.

Jack Balkin and Marty Lederman each explain this decision well at Balkinization. Says Lederman:

Today, the Court took that very signifiant step, holding that “when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” This apparently means that employees may be disciplined for their official capacity speech, without any First Amendment scrutiny, and without regard to whether it touches on matters of “public concern” — a very significant doctrinal development.

So you won’t see people blowing the whistle through the press because the government may well take reporters to court and jail and find out their identity. As Jack explains, you won’t see them going through channels because that loses them their First Amendment protection. You won’t see them compaining publicly because they’ll lose their jobs.

Who loses? We the people, on two counts: Our government is less accountable and our First Amendment has a new boundary.

The Stern-CBS suit

The Wall St. Journal reports that Sirius will pay CBS $2 million to settle the suit against Howard Stern — but Stern gets the rights to broadcast all his archives, which come cheap. CBS had wanted huge shares of sub revenue for those rights and then wanted huge chunks of Stern’s stock and all it got was $2 million, which probably didn’t cover the legal expenses. Spinsters will spin away but I say Stern won.

The indecency fraud

Jonathan Rintels writes a rousing attack on the indecency fraud committed by Congress, the FCC, and their coconspirators at the so-called Parents Television Council, et al, in the wake of the Senate’s late-night passage of its indecent indecency bill.

So, this is a great victory for America’s parents, right? Hardly.

Those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of complaints we all keep hearing about – they’re, well, forgive me, I know it’s too easy, but I can’t resist – they’re bullshit. They’re a fraud.

The FCC received approximately 6,500 complaints about an episode of CBS’s hit show “Without a Trace,” which featured a brief scene of a teen sex orgy. With so many offended Americans complaining, no wonder the FCC imposed a $3.6 million fine on CBS and its affiliates, even though the “Trace” scene was hardly remarkable to anyone who has ever watched music videos or soap operas.

But a Wall Street Journal review of the numbers found that of those 6,500 complaints, all but three appeared to originate as computer-generated form letters.

The PTC claims credit for submitting thousands of complaints to the FCC about the April 7, 2003 episode of Fox’s “Married by America” that the Commission ultimately fined $1.2 million. But blogger Jeff Jarvis, former TV Guide critic, used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that “all but two came from the so-called Parents Television Council’s automated kvetch-machine.”

According to an investigation done by the conservative Progress and Freedom Foundation [pdf], when the PTC emails its list-serve to complain about a show, a single click on its email complaint form can generate six or more “complaints” since the FCC counts separately each complaint to each Commissioner’s office and other FCC offices. Making these numbers even more phony, there is no requirement that the complainer’s children or even the complainer himself actually view the offending show, let alone be offended by it. It’s the PTC/FCC version of click-fraud.

Both the WSJ investigation and mine show that there are just three prudes in America — plus 100 in the Senate.