Labor Day weekend leftovers

I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure you’ve had a busy week, between getting used to having your kids in school or planning what to do on this long holiday weekend.

Sorry for the folks in “sunny Florida” with plans ruined while dealing with Tropical Storm Gordon. (But you’re welcome for this souvenir to help you remember the occasion.)

amx_loop

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, besides taking my Google IT Support Professional Certificate class on Coursera, so I haven’t been able to share them on this blog like I should. I say “should” because they follow-up on issues I’ve raised here and you deserve a resolution to what you read here. Often, I put information on social media (my Twitter feed @feedbaylenny is on this page), or in the comments section of blog posts, but it’s only right to follow through in the format you saw it, and update the original. Unfortunately, most media don’t do so.

There may be a lot but it’ll go by quickly.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

I’ll start with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai being cleared by his agency’s own inspector general. Reuters reported the Donald Trump appointee was under investigation to determine whether he was unfairly biased in favor of the Sinclair Broadcast Group–Tribune Media merger. Just weeks before the deal was announced, Pai raised suspicion by bringing back a rule – the UHF discount – that would’ve helped the largest U.S. television broadcast group stay within national ownership limits. But the inspector general said in his report there was

“no evidence, nor even the suggestion, of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism toward Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger.”

Of course, the deal never happened since the FCC eventually questioned Sinclair’s candor over necessary sale of some stations. Tribune backed out and sued Sinclair for $1 billion for alleged breach of contract. According to Reuters, Tribune said Sinclair

 “mishandled efforts to get the transaction approved by taking too long and being too aggressive in its dealings with regulators.”

feature Tribune gavel Sinclair

Now, Sinclair is countersuing.

“In Delaware Court of Chancery, Sinclair rejected Tribune’s allegations and suggested the companies had been very close to winning U.S. Department of Justice approval.”

It accused Tribune of pursuing a

“deliberate effort to exploit and capitalize on an unfavorable and unexpected reaction from the FCC to capture a windfall.” Tribune called Sinclair’s counterclaim “entirely meritless” and “an attempt to distract from its own significant legal exposure.”

Do you have access to the internet? Of course you do, since you’re reading this. (OK, maybe you’re reading a friend’s printout of this post.) Regardless, in December, the FCC under Ajit Pai repealed many net neutrality rules passed in 2015 during the Obama administration. Think of it as price up or speed down. Those internet service providers (ISPs) you love to hate, according to Variety, had been banned from

“blocking or throttling traffic, or from selling ‘fast lanes’ so websites and other types of content can gain speedier access to consumers.”

person on computer typing facebookBut luckily, denying all Americans equal access to a free and open internet got very controversial. Friday, California lawmakers passed a bill what Variety called “the strongest government-mandated protections in the country” and it’s now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown hasn’t said whether he’ll sign it. But the FCC ’s repeal forbids states from passing their own net neutrality rules. If Gov. Brown signs California’s bill, this could go to court. Pai, a former Verizon lawyer (think Fios), claims net neutrality stifled investment and burdened ISPs with regulation. Since June, ISPs have been able to make changes as long as they’re disclosed. So far, Reuters reports major providers have made no changes in internet access.

fcc logoHere’s more controversy from the FCC, and something I hadn’t written about before. This time, the agency is accused of lying to its watchdog, Congress, and it involves a TV comedian. More than a year ago, during the height of the net neutrality debate, the FCC claimed its “comment filing system was subjected to a cyberattack,” according to The Verge. On May 7, 2017, our old friend John Oliver, who I’ve shown on this blog several times, asked Last Week Tonight “viewers to leave pro-net neutrality comments on the commission’s ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ proceeding.” Oliver encouraged them

“to flood the FCC’s website with the use of memorable links like gofccyourself.com and justtellmeifimrelatedtoanazi.com. That night, the FCC’s filing system crashed.”

LANGUAGE: Viewer discretion advised.

The next morning, senior officials concluded, according to emails uncovered by the inspector general, “some external folks attempted to send high traffic in an attempt to tie-up the server.” Of course, the site was shut down by a surge of valid complaints. Several people disputed the unsubstantiated fabricated traffic claim in emails, but the DDoS theory was passed on to commissioners, like Pai, who told members of Congress (Fake News Alert!) what happened that evening was “classified as a non-traditional DDoS attack.” Now, the agency’s inspector general is reporting

“there was no distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, and this relaying of false information to Congress prompted a deeper investigation into whether senior officials at the FCC had broken the law.”

Turns out, an Oliver producer gave the FCC a “heads up” days before running the episode but it never responded, and the commission knew Oliver’s show had the power to move enough viewers to crash their system! According to that busy inspector general’s report, “We learned very quickly there was no analysis supporting the conclusion” that it was a DDoS attack. That’s when FCC officials started being investigated for allegedly breaking the law by providing false information to Congress. But the Justice Department decided not to prosecute.

We knew Facebook has been on the hot seat with Americans angry about how it handled 50 million users’ people’s data, as far back as March, but President Trump was more concerned about Amazon. Then, days later, I reported, “‘Vice President Mike Pence is concerned about Facebook and Google,’ according to a source. He argues those companies are dangerously powerful, and is worried about their influence on media coverage, as well as their control of the advertising industry and users’ personal info.” It looks like the Pence position is winning. Trump spent the week tweeting about fake news and according to Axios, attacked Google “for allegedly silencing conservative voices.”

Ars Technica reported that on Wednesday, Trump tweeted this

“video that claimed, incorrectly, that Google did not feature his first speech to Congress as president.”

(Hit the play button.)

It also reported Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote a formal letter to the Federal Trade Commission, released Thursday, asking it to “reconsider the competitive effects of Google’s conduct in search and digital advertising.” But it wasn’t just Google for Trump.

Politico quoted him as saying,

“I think what Google and what others are doing, if you look at what is going on with Twitter and if you look at what’s going on in Facebook, they better be careful because you can’t do that to people. …I think that Google and Twitter and Facebook, they are really treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful.”

nbc nightly news lester holtAnd as you just read, the president also claimed NBC Nightly News anchor “Lester Holt got caught fudging” his tape on Russia, but the peacock network fought back and posted the video of Trump’s extended, unedited interview with Holt last year.

No wonder he hates the media!

Of course, I won’t completely defend the news media from allegations of dumbing down and doing anything for profit in too many cases. But I’d love to see some of these disagreements fought out in open court. I don’t care who sues who. I just want the evidence presented so the truth becomes obvious to everyone.

2013-08-17 Leonard Cohen wikipedia Kings Garden Odense Denmark
Wikipedia: Cohen at King’s Garden, Odense, Denmark, Aug. 17, 2013

Also, I want to know why all Lenny Cohen searches show Leonard Cohen the musician instead of me!

As for the big tech companies, Yahoo! Finance reports,

“Wednesday morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee will question Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on their responses to foreign disinformation campaigns. The committee also invited Google CEO Sundar Pichai, but he declined to testify — another Google representative will testify in his place.

“Wednesday afternoon, the House Energy & Commerce Committee will quiz Dorsey on Twitter’s ‘algorithms and content monitoring.’”

NBC News has reported Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced changes to the platform’s news feed product since the data issue March, with “more posts from friends and family” and “less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.” Now, NBC continues,

“The goal was to make Facebook more social with fewer commercial and product posts. Publishers ranging from big businesses to mommy bloggers are forced to post more content that they create personally, rather than sharing products or affiliate links.

“With these changes, some small publishers claim to see a massive downside.”

What I want to know is why in July, Zuckerberg decided Facebook would not ban Holocaust deniers! Fortune reported,

“Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, said he found Holocaust deniers ‘deeply offensive.’ Then he said, ‘but at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong—I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong. It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.’”

So Holocaust deniers are simply uninformed? Are you kidding me, Mark? I would’ve hoped Sandberg, who grew up in North Miami Beach, whose brother David was my high school class valedictorian, would’ve set him straight. The Times of Israel reports Sandberg “said in an interview last year that, as a tech company, Facebook hires engineers — not reporters and journalists.” Personally, I find this would be one fight losing my job over. There has to be a line somewhere. Go far enough and you’re “just following orders” and we know what made that phrase so well known.

Zuckerberg later clarified in an email,

“I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.” Then, he “reiterated a distinction he tried to draw in the interview: Posts that advocate violence will be taken down, but those that peddle misinformation will stay but ‘would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed.’”

Sounds like he has lost the vast majority of his mind!

Also coming up this shortened Labor Day week, Morning Brew reports Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will “introduce a bill requiring major employers—like Amazon, Walmart, and McDonald’s—to cover the cost of government assistance programs its workers rely on…programs like food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, and more.” For years, there has been criticism years about the way Amazon pays and treats workers at its warehouses. According to The Washington Post, the Democratic Socialist said his goal

“is to force corporations to pay a living wage and curb about $150 billion in taxpayer dollars that go to funding federal assistance programs for low-wage workers each year. The bill … would impose a 100 percent tax on government benefits received by workers at companies with 500 or more employees. For example, if an Amazon employee receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300.”

Keep in mind, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos (another who spent years in Miami) also owns The Washington Post!

Two last things: The cemetery near Detroit finally fixed my grandfather’s grave. In June, it took hours to find the marker since it was buried under inches of dirt. Now, it has been raised and leveled.

oakview cemetery

bar mitzvah shirt

And this weekend is the 3?th anniversary of my bar mitzvah. The party had an animal theme, of course, and all the kids got t-shirts like this. (Yes, I’m keeping the specific year as evergreen as the narrator says on that Philadelphia show The Goldbergs on purpose, even though there are readers who were there!)

So that’s about it. All the original pages I found have been updated.

Before I go, I also have to thank every one of you for more than 16,800 page views on this site! The numbers have risen exponentially recently, and I wonder why. Please let me know if there’s anything I should be doing more here.

Leave your comments in the section below, and don’t miss out. If you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work.

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Sanctions against Sinclair? Sounds justified

It’s either coincidence, karma or a higher power when things come together in ways previously thought impossible.

This weekend, Jewish people around the world read the Torah portion Shofetim (שֹׁפְטִים, or “Judges,” comprising Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9).

The best-known line in it is the third, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף, Deut. 16:20).

Shofetim also happens to be the Torah portion from my bar mitzvah and it’s interesting that it’s coming up this week because an article in Axios yesterday said,

Sinclair Broadcasting’s failed effort to buy Tribune Media may soon become more than just a costly embarrassment. It could result in the company ultimately losing its broadcast licenses.”

Isn’t that what I suggested should happen, weeks ago, back on July 27?

And two days earlier, how

“It looks like one of the seven deadly sins – greediness – may have killed the (merger) deal!”?

Yesterday, Axios wrote,

“The conservative broadcaster has been accused of lying to the FCC, and of acting in bad faith with Tribune.”

There’s not much a huge corporation can do to anger the Federal Communications Commission these days – if it follows the rules, which get eased all the time – but lying is its one big crime.

Back on Jan. 27, I wrote the FCC was going to allow the deal but

“force Sinclair to sell off a bunch of stations because it’ll be (way, way, way) too big.”

And that was the crux of the problem: ownership limits and which stations would be sold off. Oh, and would the companies buying really be associated with Sinclair and let Sinclair control the stations?

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

In mid-July, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement:

“Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair-Tribune transaction. … The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law. … When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues.”

That was a huge surprise and the turning point in the drawn-out deal.

On July 24, the newspaper in Sinclair’s hometown, The Baltimore Sun, wrote what finally did the deal in:

“FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, an appointee of President Donald J. Trump who has been viewed as friendly to Sinclair and such a merger, raised ‘serious concerns’ Monday about whether the deal would serve the public interest.”

Ah, the public interest! It’s always nice to hear about that, since we’re talking about use of the public airwaves.

I quoted TVNewsCheck’s Harry A. Jessell on the seriousness of what Sinclair had actually been doing pretty quietly doing for years:

“Its mishandling of its merger application has badly stained its permanent FCC record in a way that could greatly complicate its future regulatory dealings. … And a liar is what the FCC has accused Sinclair of being by obfuscating the fact it would continue to control three major market stations that it told the FCC it would spin off to other broadcasters to comply with ownership limits.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair’s reach. Large enough?

“You see, the FCC acts on the honor system. It presumes that you are obeying all the rules and expects you to confess any infractions. It’s the principal way the FCC polices those it regulates. That’s why lying – the ever-polite FCC calls it “misrepresentation” or “lack of candor” – is taken seriously and is the FCC equivalent of a capital crime. … As the lawyers pointed out to me this week, once indicted for misrepresentation as Sinclair has now been, it sticks because it goes to the broadcaster’s basic character qualifications to be a licensee. It cannot buy or sell a station or even renew a license until it resolves the character question. Sinclair’s best move now is to walk away from the merger and promise, no, swear on a stack of Bibles, that it will never, ever mislead the FCC again.

“Sinclair has no one but itself to blame for this fiasco. It pushed too hard to keep as many of the Tribune stations as it could and somewhere along the line lost sight of the larger goal – get the transfer through the FCC and get to closing. … (David Smith) kept going back to the FCC (and the Justice Department) demanding more and more. Ironically, he will likely end up with nothing, except maybe a new set of regulatory hassles.”

feature Tribune gavel Sinclair

Tribune called off the deal and sued Sinclair for $1 billion.

— UPDATE: Sinclair counter-suing Tribune, accusing its onetime takeover target of a “deliberate effort to exploit and capitalize on an unfavorable and unexpected reaction from the FCC to capture a windfall.” —

Of course, Sinclair denied everything and said in a statement,

“We have been completely transparent about every aspect of the proposed transaction.”

fcc commissioners 2018One thing Sinclair failed to do after telling the FCC it was withdrawing the deal was asking the administrative law judge, who FCC commissioners unanimously recommended look into Sinclair’s representations during the Tribune negotiations, to end his planned hearing. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau said it had no problem if the hearing was terminated.

But Broadcasting & Cable reported “The FCC docket was still open” as of Monday and got confirmation from an FCC spokesperson,

“Although Sinclair’s pleading states that the applications ‘have been withdrawn’ and are to be dismissed with prejudice, it fails to specifically seek such relief from the Chief Administrative Law Judge.”

B&C added,

“That’s because the licenses are now before him, rather than the FCC staffers who had been vetting them before the hearing designation.”

tv airwavesThis is a world of bigger and bigger broadcasting companies – in part because of competition from cable, satellite and the internet – but as I’ve said about a million times, the broadcasters have special responsibilities since they use the public airways. And they need a tougher FCC to keep them, and the newer companies, in line.

On the other hand, Axios quoted Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters as saying,

“Scale matters when we are competing against massive pay TV conglomerates, Facebook, Apple and Netflix. If you want a healthy broadcast business that keeps the Super Bowl on free TV, that encourages local investigative journalism and allows stations to go 24-7 live with California wildfire coverage, broadcasters can’t be the only media barred from getting bigger.”

The FCC is still determining whether to raise the limits on TV station ownership above 39 percent. Most experts told Axios they

“believe that cap will be lifted above 50 percent, but they don’t know what the exact limit will be, or when it will be passed and implemented.”

RKO General 1962Anyway, the FCC has taken away broadcast licenses before. I wrote about the RKO General situation all over the country, and also allegations of impropriety in the granting of a Boston television license.

According to experts Axios spoke to, Sinclair’s first batch of licenses comes up for renewal in June 2020. (Look for more activist challenges then.)

They also

“describe Sinclair as a ‘hard headed’ company that rarely engages with D.C. and which recently lost its top lobbyist.”

That description should come as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog.

So for now, there’s no deal, but a lawsuit, between Sinclair and Tribune.

Sinclair’s alleged misrepresentations to the FCC

“can be reviewed by an administrative law judge during a license renewal hearing, were the FCC to recommend such a hearing (which may be likely, given FCC’s concerns and Sinclair’s many outside critics),”

according to Axios.

The judge could revoke Sinclair’s licenses outright, which would teach the industry and its investors a big, important lesson. But a telecom lawyer Axios spoke to said,

“A more likely scenario … is that the FCC would reach a settlement whereby Sinclair is required to divest stations.”

My opinion: Crush them or cut them down to size, but at least do something.

One last note is that Sinclair is going to have trouble finding another merger partner due to its potential license renewal issues, but also because Tribune’s lawsuit accused the company of being “belligerent.” It’s what happens when you’re too big.Tribune Broadcasting Company

Now to the Tribune side, where there is less justice.

Reuters reported the company is going to pay big

“bonuses to executives who worked for more than 15 months on its failed merger.”

You’d think they’d be in line for bonuses after a successful merger!

How big are these bonuses? Reuters reported the company said,

“16 percent of target annual bonuses, which had been conditioned on completion of the Sinclair merger.” (I underlined. –Lenny)

money dollars centsAre you hearing this, shareholders?

This is what it adds up to. Three top executives – chief financial officer Chandler Bigelow, president of broadcast media Larry Wert, and general counsel and chief strategy officer Edward Lazarus – will be getting

“between $102,000 and $160,000. Other executives will get bonuses based on a similar percentage of their targeted annual bonuses.”

Why?

“In recognition of the substantial efforts and time that each of them devoted to the company’s anticipated merger with Sinclair and their contributions to maintain and grow the company’s business,”

according to the company.

That’s if the company was actually spending money to “maintain and grow” the business which is doubtful because companies in the process of being bought are cheap, not replacing employees or equipment so the financial sheets look better.

And what about all the employees who were encouraged to work under harder conditions and so much uncertainty for so long?

That’s the world, these days, kids.

Reuters also mentioned,

“Last week, Tribune Media Chief Executive Officer Peter Kern told investors it (was) ‘open to all opportunities’ in terms of industry consolidation or remaining independent. He noted on an investor call there was ‘tons of activity out there.’

“Kern said he would continue to run the company until Tribune reached a ‘permanent state.’”

Keep in mind, last Monday, Tribune announced it

“reached a comprehensive agreement with Fox Broadcasting Company to renew the existing Fox affiliations of eight Tribune Media television stations, including KCPQ-TV (Seattle), KDVR-TV (Denver), WJW-TV (Cleveland), KTVI-TV (St. Louis), WDAF-TV (Kansas City), KSTU-TV (Salt Lake City), WITI-TV (Milwaukee), WGHP-TV (Greensboro, NC). Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.”

disney abc logo

But knowing Fox is selling most of its assets to Disney/ABC and looking for more stations to buy, especially those in NFL football team markets, I’d consider Tribune a seller rather than a buyer.

TVNewsCheck’s Jessell agrees, pointing out,

“Recall that just prior to the announcement of the Sinclair deal, Fox tried to swoop in and buy Tribune out from underneath Sinclair. It coveted some of Tribune’s stations and it feared Sinclair becoming too big an affiliate group for it to push around.”

Fox TV stations

I’d also consider telling the FCC not to let Fox buy any of those eight stations, except Seattle, because it owned them at one point and sold them when it made sense for the company. In other words, it showed no commitment to the communities or their people. Companies shouldn’t be allowed to sell unneeded stations and then buy them back when they feel they’ll make more money.

standard media

Besides Fox, which could face ownership limits, Jessell pointed to Soo Kim’s new Standard Media, which was going to buy nine Tribune stations in seven cities, and Nexstar as potential buyers.

Jessell also mentions there are a lot more stations on the market now than two years ago.

cox media group

Cox is looking for someone to buy its 14 stations, Gray is buying Raycom and has to spin off nine stations, and Cordillera will be leaving the industry once it sells its 11 stations.

So complicated!

But some more from Jessell on Sinclair:

“Not in the entire history of broadcasting, with the possible of RKO, has a major company so thoroughly managed to trap itself in such a regulatory and legal morass. …

“If Executive Chairman David Smith did not control the board, he would be thrown out for directing this debacle and hobbling the company at a critical time for it and the industry. It will be interesting to see who is made the scapegoat. …

“Sinclair can continue to churn out cash, but, from a strategic standpoint in broadcasting, is indefinitely sidelined. Until it resolves the alleged character issues at the FCC, it cannot buy a broadcast license. It can’t even renew one.

“Sinclair’s challenge today is to start digging out — and it’s going to be costly. First it must settle with Tribune. And then it has to return to the good graces of the FCC.” …

Also, “The Sinclair independent shareholders (could) file a lawsuit against Smith and his team for gross mismanagement.” …

And, “Indeed, Sinclair did everything wrong, allowing arrogance and self-righteousness to overcome its good sense at every turn.”

I think a lot of justice is what’s needed here, and soon.

Please leave your comments in the section below, and don’t miss out. If you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work.