2020: The Year of Conspiracies
“If the purpose of the news is to deliver facts, are conspiracy theories even worth mentioning?”
The world is flat, the deep state, pedophiles, cannibals, terrorists, how the hell did we get here?
In a year marked by the unprecedented, several major news outlets have found themselves
having to dedicate time to conspiracy theories and debunking them. They’re wild, disturbing,
distracting, meant to draw attention away from whatever was on your mind previously. In lieu of
reporting relevant information, it has become necessary, even essential to address these
theories. What is the role of news media in this era?
Over the past few months, for every headline, a conspiracy comes with it. The wildfires, the
COVID pandemic, nationwide protests, there seems to be a conspiracy behind everything and
outlets are trying to keep up. The rate of dissemination of these conspiracies has not slowed
despite the efforts of the news media to dispel them.
It doesn’t help that the White House parrots these theories on Fox News. It’s no secret that the
president supports the network and often uses it as a platform to promote himself and his party.
When a major news network allows people to make unsubstantiated claims you know there’s
If the purpose of the news is to deliver facts, are these conspiracy theories even worth
One of the conspiracies mentioned in an article by CNN is linked to Q-Anon, a theory of chain of
theories that poses the existence of a “Deep State” that is run by celebrities and politicians who
worship satan, drink blood, and are involved in a child sex-trafficking ring. The conspiracy paints
Trump as an outsider whose actions are part of an effort to defeat the blood-drinking
Most of you reading this are probably thinking, “how could anyone believe this crap?” and
indeed most people don’t, but the bits and pieces that people do believe leave us scratching our
heads. Where does this come from and why does the right find it so attractive?
People are problem-solving machines. When something in the world doesn’t make sense to
them they seek an explanation. 2020 defies logic and explanation. People are scared. They’re
experiencing job and food insecurity, protests are happening in every major city. They’ve had
the rug pulled out from under them, so it makes sense that the most vulnerable amongst us will
turn to whatever crazy theory they can find to explain what we’re going through.
The common thread here is that these conspiracies, rather than facts, rely on emotion. Conspiracy theories validate ideas that people feel are true but haven’t seen any evidence to support them, visceral fears about the unknown. Fears about the things normal people don’t understand. Q-Anon gives a voice to these fears.
Publications like Forbes and USA Today, politically neutral in their reporting, have published
articles that discuss Q-Anon and the people who believe in it. The rate of dissemination of these
conspiracies has hastened thanks to social media. Is there any way to combat this plague? The
way the news reports on these theories might be doing more harm than good.
One of the central drivers to these conspiracies is that mainstream news media cannot be
trusted, hence they are involved in the cover-up and will therefore dismiss theories related to
Q-Anon as untrue. Believers instead turn to Facebook and Youtube to get their “truth”. Mark
Zuckerberg resisting calls to regulate and slow the spread of misinformation on his platform, is
just as guilty as the ones who spread it.
“Experts who follow disinformation say nothing will change until Facebook and YouTube shift
their business model away from the algorithms that reward conspiracies.” (Time Magazine)
We can’t rely on the government to put pressure on social media companies when the president
refers to these conspiracy theorists as “people who love their country”. To discern what’s real,
average citizens will have to count on themselves.
There are some signs that the effects of conspiracy theories are bleeding into real life. As the
wildfires spread in Oregon theories about how they started to spread too. The Jackson County
Oregon sheriff’s department has had to pushback against claims that the wildfires were started
by Antifa arsonists and that a number of them were in custody. Local officials have had to plead
that the public refer to official channels for updates on the wildfires.
In Spokane Washington, a reporter named Daniel Walters tried to get to the bottom of why state
representative Jenny Graham posted on her social media links to articles claiming that missing
children were being kept in dungeons by demons. When he asked this representative about
them he was bombarded with expletive-filled messages. Even though Mr. Walters checked up
on his sources and kept his journalistic integrity, he was met with backlash.
It’s one thing for private citizens to spread false information to their friends and family, elected
officials however have a much broader audience and should be held to a higher standard.
Democracy cannot succeed without an informed electorate. If this problem can’t be solved by
good reporting and government oversight what can we do?
Fortunately, the popularity of Q-Anon is still on the fringes, most Americans haven’t even heard
“But despite QAnon’s spread, about three-quarters of U.S. adults (76%) say they have heard or
read nothing at all about it, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in February
and March. Around a quarter (23%) say they have heard or read a lot or a little, with 3% saying
they’ve heard or read a lot. The data was gathered as part of the Center’s Election News
Pathways project.” (pewresearch.org)
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver offered some helpful suggestions; look to voices people
trust, dig deeper to find the sources of information spread on Facebook, and use common
sense. These theorists live in a “non-reality” and will refute any factual argument, actually talking
to these people, their evidence for these beliefs are flimsy at best. They act evasively with
comments like “do your research” or “look it up”.
As a writer myself, I rely on the suspension of disbelief. To immerse the reader into the world of
a story, we insert a bit of reality into the world so part of it remains grounded. The force, magic,
superheroes, the point is not to take these things literally, they add a bit of fantasy and wonder
to keep your attention while the writers get their point of view across.
Not only is “Q” a bad writer, but their methods are completely unethical. Using deceptive tactics,
headlines, fonts, videos, photoshop, deep-fakes, and devices used to make fake things look
real, they prey on people who can’t tell the difference. Q whoever they are wants to divide us.
They want us at each other’s throats for views, likes, and worst of all profit.
News media shouldn’t be based on emotion, but perhaps news outlets should display how facts
are a benefit to humanity. Facts are what connect us. Without provable, universal facts the
world would look very different. We still use calculations a thousand years old to reach
breakthroughs in science today. Archimedes, Pythagoras, Copernicus despite the popular
beliefs of the times they lived, produced methods and equations that let humanity reach the
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Telling The Audience What You Think They Want to Hear Won’t Help You Grow
“Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.”
It’s OK to not always tell your audience what you think they want to hear.
I have been writing that phrase down at the top of my notepad before I start my show for the last two weeks. Something tells me I will need it for at least another 12 months.
In the last week alone there have been two major topics that have divided News Talk audiences across the country: The debt-ceiling debate and the brewing Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis feud.
And as I’ve listened to talented hosts and perused the social media landscape, I’ve noticed a hesitancy that I usually would not expect.
Granted, for the last two years it’s been relatively easy when talking about the national political scene: Joe Biden is a disaster. Whether it’s economic policy, border policy or foreign policy, most Americans don’t believe the guy is doing a good job. The News Talk audience, generally speaking, thinks he’s doing a terrible job.
That’s shooting fish in a barrel. But now comes the hard(er) work.
Starting with the debt-ceiling drama, there was a big divide amongst Republicans in the House of Representatives. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, however dozens of Republicans, many of the most conservative members of the House, voted against the bill, saying it did not do enough to cut spending
As a result, it seemed many hosts, who assume their audience blindly aligns with everything the most-conservative members of the House say, were hesitant to point out the obvious: Explain what better deal you were getting when you only had a small majority in the House, and no control over the Senate or the White House?
It was a question I never got a good answer to on my show.
Republicans already picked up a win getting Biden to the negotiating table after he spent months saying he wanted a clean debt-ceiling raise with no spending cuts attached. Speaker Kevin McCarthy won, got some concessions, and slowly began turning the tide towards hopefully Senate and White House victories in 2024, when then the real work can begin on getting spending under control. This was a victory.
And while no one with any levels of fiscal sanity believes our government’s spending isn’t wildly out of control, that is a separate conversation from whether or not this was a good or smart deal.
Then, there’s the Trump vs. DeSantis feud. Some have staked their claim with one candidate over the other. Some are trying to toe the line and avoid all conflict. Neither approach makes sense to me.
The obvious approach seems to me to analyze the candidate’s based on what they do and say on a given day. There will be good and bad days for Trump. DeSantis will have his up and down moments. I can guarantee this because they’re flawed human beings like the rest of us.Like every election season, it will ebb and flow, and eventually someone will come out on top.
Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.
If you compare this to sports talk radio, a national host talking about the NFL Playoffs doesn’t have to have a preferred team, but he or she has to have something to say that’s interesting, compelling, honest, thought-provoking and entertaining.
If they don’t do this, they’ll become wallpaper in a world of too many media options.
If you have the trust of your audience, you’re real, honest, engaging and thoughtful, you won’t lose your audience. You’ll keep them engaged and you’ll grow it.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
Why Did Newsmax Allow Rep. Matt Gaetz to Host An Unchallenged TV Program?
“A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies.”
Representing your constituents in Congress used to be a mark of honor. It was a position that came with pride and respect. At least that’s what I’ve heard from older relatives who lived in an America that was supposedly more united. Today, depending on the individual, the position doesn’t usually come with too much regard if any at all. Congress has an all-time low approval rating and many representatives go into the job plotting their next money-making move in the process.
The cable news circuit has slowly but surely built a bench of potential hosts from current and former Congressmen. Former Congressman Jason Chaffetz is a Fox News commentator, Trey Gowdy is a host on Fox News, Joe Scarborough is MSNBC’s morning show anchor and most recently Rep. Matt Gaetz anchored his own hour for Newsmax. As much as some members of Congress roast young Gen Zers for their tenacity when it comes to TikTok, these men are just as eager for the wrong kind of attention and spotlight.
A former Congressman on television can provide perspective that gives context to current issues the country faces. On Scarborough’s morning show, he often harkens back to past negotiations and talks he had with fellow lawmakers. At times, he even uses those connections to find out the inside scoop about something that’s happening in the moment. Current Congressmen who appear on shows as guests also get to talk directly to their constituents hopefully alongside a host that is willing to challenge them on the issues of the day and not simply allow them to lead the audience astray.
For Newsmax to allow Rep. Gaetz to host a show though, is a disgrace to a medium of television that already like Congress doesn’t have much acclaim. With that being said, even for cable news, this is a major low and it should never happen on either side of the aisle. Politicians are elected to serve but are also forced to make tough decisions. These choices are answerable to the American people. When a Congressman is allowed to spew their thoughts uncensored, it takes attention away from the issues that really matter.
A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies. Unless Gaetz had a co-host that was a journalist questioning his takes, how does an unchallenged show truly serve the public – an oath he agreed to partake in when he took on his role as a Congressman.
Gaetz’s appearance is also a waste of tax dollars. The people of Florida who elected him into office expect Gaetz to be working with fellow lawmakers to make their lives better. They expect him to be doing research or reading up on bills that can bring the change he’s promised to his voters. Instead, he used the resources of hard-working Floridians to moonlight into his next career and spew misinformation that can prove harmful to the public.
If we allow more serving Congressmen to host their own cable talk shows on such a widely distributed platform, will we reach a day when lawmakers exclusively negotiate bills on television? Will Congressmen be more worried about ratings than results? We’ve already seen what happens when a President reigns over a populous and only rules based on what he sees on television. We’ve also seen the political implications that come with such unjustly behavior. Cable news networks will suffer the moral consequences of their actions while politicians who dare to try this act again will eventually face the demise of their legacy in the voting booth. Be careful.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
Sales Productivity Protects You From Hedge Fund Uncertainty
“The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable. The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.”
Almost 30 years ago, Radio station ownership limits were lifted, and Wall Street saw an opportunity. But the hedge funds didn’t understand the business and created mayhem in a still vital industry.
I worked in New York City for over 6 years. I had the opportunity to spend time around the brain trust of Wall Street. These Masters of the Universe saw the weakness of the radio industry and thought that they had all the answers.
Well, they didn’t.
I will give you some history from my perspective. My first 16 years were spent working for family run operations. Both of these companies were managed by third generation operators who put people and community first. These were highly successful operations with large staffs.
I am not looking back with rose colored glasses. No organization is perfect or without unique challenges. But people were first in these broadcast companies. Both of my first employers had top consultants to give strong outside the organization feedback. Both companies had General Managers that catered to both the programming and sales departments.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the biggest overhaul of telecommunications law in 62 years. It was widely thought that this would bring radio into modern times. Consolidation has been a landmark of American Business, so, Wall Street’s Hedge Funds saw an opening. Radio station owners sold for insane profits. Longtime owners were able to sell stations for multiples of up to 30 times meaning that if an owner had a station earning 1 million dollars, they could sell it for 30 million dollars. Quite a return (Most stations didn’t go that high but multiples of 18-25 were very common during this period).
Wall Street looked at radio like the pickle industry. Except there was an issue. Radio did not have hundreds of workers in each location. You couldn’t move all operations to a central hub and save HUGE money, that would justify strong ROI. So, radio ended up with several large owners (by the way, I am not criticizing iHeart, Audacy, Cumulus and the other large owners).
When larger companies developed, they went public selling stock to individual shareholders and institutional investors. The market states that companies show a certain amount of revenue growth per year. Let’s say that number is 10%. Radio is interesting, we are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. You cannot just build new radio stations. So, companies were forced to merge or expand to meet revenue goals. Wall Street encouraged and even demanded it.
Here was the problem – radio companies acquired an unsupportable amount of debt that could never be paid back. The Hedge Funds just moved cash around and demanded companies cut staff and consolidate management. It was a blood bath. Any of us who entered this business in the 90’s saw this. Great broadcasters, salespeople, managers were forced out because of unsustainable debt and micromanaging Hedge Funds.
On the local level, new clusters were forced to protect the biggest biller in the group. This was not set to grow revenue; it was to protect the revenue and keep the spreadsheets looking right. I know of stations that were more successful brands in ratings in a cluster than the cash cow but if you were the Program Director who was consistently beating the cash cow, your job was in jeopardy. This was a reverse hunger games caused by debt, fear and shortsightedness.
So, here we are.
The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable.
The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.
Even though a couple of the bigger companies have gone bankrupt, they’re not bankruptcy situations where assets were liquidated creating a market-based value of these properties. It was essentially a negotiation to lower the debt, and did not move these companies to become cash positive operations again.
Why do the Hedge Funds not cut their losses and move on? Now that is a great question. Hedge funds handle billions of dollars. They bundle bad deals with great deals and so their investors don’t seem to have a problem if they see enough of a profit at the end of the month, quarter or year. People remember the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Hedge Funds were bundling bad mortgages with good ones. Soon the bad overcame the market. Thus, a crash. The homes never went away. The value of real estate fell dramatically in many places.
Are people still listening to us? 80% of Americans do. Not the 93% of a decade or so ago (Pew Research). This is much better than local TV where only 63% of Americans watch local TV News.
But what is the future?
It is entirely up to Hedge Fund involvement. Will Hedge Funds cut their losses and move on? If that occurs, will local broadcasters rise again?
What can YOU do?
It is all about the billing. If you are billing a lot more than you cost, the company will need you, and indispensability is what corporate leaders will see. Make yourself available for Sales. If you are the morning talent, be dressed well enough for a sales call. Make yourself available a few times each week to meet clients. Let salespeople know about the products and services that you use. Radio personalities are influencers. They have huge audiences that listen every day. Don’t forget your advantage. We cannot control the Hedge Funds, corporate debt or a fast-changing marketplace.
This was not an exhaustive history, but it illustrates our challenges. Radio programming departments are filled with creative people who just want to entertain. Be aware of our weaknesses and strengths. The Market Manager and sales manager are under huge pressure. Be that person who understands their concerns.
Peter Wilkinson Thiele is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He currently serves as the program director, and morning host of Newstalk KZRG in Joplin, MO. Additionally, Peter has held programming roles in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville and Hunstville. He has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. You can reach him on Twitter at @PeterThiele.
September 29, 2020 at 3:46 pm
You make very valid points here, Kyle. The truth is that many trusted media outlets have allowed themselves to be played. Your suggestion to stick to facts and not give voice to wild conspiracy theories is one that would be very worth their consideration.