This week, my Facebook page has been lighting up with petitions
to pressure Clear Channel into firing Rush Limbaugh for spreading lies and hatred. Also, people are outraged over MSNBC's firing of Martin Bashir
. If you're one of these people, I have a question for you: What did you expect? And I don't just mean, what did you expect in these cases. Why would you expect solid information and agreeable personnel choices from commercial networks in the first place?
Consider the relationship you're in when you listen to Clear-Channel stations or watch MSNBC or Fox. These are for-profit companies, in business to sell time slots to advertisers. They are not
in business to inform you. To the contrary, informing you is a cost
to them of doing their real
business. Their financial incentive, then, is to minimize this cost, just as they would minimize any other. Indeed, it's not just their financial incentive, it's their fiduciary duty. Investors may well be able to sue your information providers' CEOs if they spent too much money on informing you*. These are for-profit companies, and you are not their customer. You are their merchandise.
If that's a problem for you, there are better relationships to have with your information provider. For example, you could get your information from a nonprofit of which you are a member. That's what NPR and PBS offer you. Or you could get it from for-profit companies of which you are a customer. That's what the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other traditional newspapers offer. Although these models have their flaws too, they both beat the crap out of being a for-profit corporation's merchandize.
So why bother petitioning networks? In news as elsewhere in life, you tend to get what you pay for. You're not paying anything to Fox, MSNBC, or Clear Channel, so your rational expectation is to get no information at all. If you value solid information, find news providers you can have a grown-up relationship with, and pay them. In the long run, that's the only way to change something.
* I am not an expert in corporate law, so take this bit with a grain of salt.