If it Matters to Oregonians

September 29, 2011 – by Gregory Franklyn

Am I the only one who is noticing how fossil fuel company advertising on TV has changed? In the past most advertising for fossil fuel producers focused on how their product is better for your car, or costs less, or has additives that the other guy’s fuel doesn’t. You still see such ads, but a lot fewer of them. Now what you’re seeing most is commercials trying to convince you that the product is safe for the environment and has so many wonderful benefits for the quality of your life as well as the economy. To hear them talk about it you’d think fossil fuels are the best possible energy option for the future.

EnergyTomorrow.org is one you see several times a day if you watch more than an hour of TV. The beautiful woman with the soothing voice is reminding you that if you have a 401K retirement account, you own interest in oil companies. She also presents modern technology for offshore drilling as both safe and environmentally sound. Plus, since they can now drill in several locations from a single off-shore platform, fossil fuel drilling is now even more appealing to the eye.

She welcomes you to visit the propaganda site paid for by fossil fuel producers for more information about how responsible producers have become over the years. Except, of course, the Gulf Oil Disaster last summer and the oil tanker spill in Sweden a few months ago, and the other one in San Francisco about the same time, to name a few. You won’t be reading about those at Energytomorrow.org.

Exxon-Mobile’s fracking commercials are another. Fraking, for those of you who may still be unfamiliar with the term, is not deviant sexual practice as much as it may sound like one, but a method of extracting natural gas from rock formations underground. The kind of procedure that has been known to cause the water coming out of nearby kitchen faucets to literally burst into flames!

The other type of advertizing you’re seeing a lot more of these days is financial services and insurance ads. Sam Waterston, Jack McCoy from Law & Order, is telling you how TD Ameritrade can help you retire like a king. That cute and snarky little talking baby makes investing with E*Trade seem like child’s play. And, of course, Fidelity’s flashing arrow on that magical green line directing you to your wildest dreams makes the idea of a secure future seem inevitable. All that advertising costs money,,, LOTS of it!

The reason why I mention this is because all of this affects what you see on the evening news, read in a newspaper or magazine and hear on your car radio.

WHAT? What on earth does any of those advertisements have to do with the content of the evening news?

I’m glad you asked. Years ago here in Portland, there was a scandal about the corporation that owns Fred Meyer stores. They’re a big deal here in Portland. Probably the biggest retailer in the region. In other parts of the country you would know these stores as Kroger Foods. Well, it turns out that Fred Meyer is the biggest advertiser in our local newspaper called “The Oregonian”. The Oregonian didn’t report on the scandal, but it broke anyway,,, In the Washington Post! The advertising slogan for The Oregonian was, and still is, “If it matters to Oregon, you’ll find it in The Oregonian”. I began seeing bumper-stickers on cars here in Portland that read, “If it matters to Oregon, You’ll find it in the Washington Post!” Cute joke, but it isn’t really very funny when you think about it.

The point is that advertisers are what drives the news. No advertisers = No News. If the news is an embarrassment or potential business hazard to advertisers, news gets altered or under reported. If it’s good for business, it gets high profile features or over reporting.

A good example is your morning news shows. They’re usually 1 and a half to 3 hours long and along with weather, top stories and traffic reports you will have at least one person whose entire job it is to broadcast live segments from local businesses trying to make the most mundane little boutique sound interesting.

These segments are what are called “loss leaders” and they are done to try and show businesses of all types how much their bottom line can benefit from advertizing on that particular TV Station. The exposure gets them noticed, gets them more business and likely inspires them to do more of it. The first one’s free! The bigger the advertiser, the less likely there will be anything on the news that may adversely affect whatever business they may be involved in.

TV stations live and operate in the same economic world that you do. Things are tight for them too! That’s why many of their staff are actually interns who work for that station for free for an entire year and what they get for it is experience and an item on their resume that they hope will one day turn into an actual paying job in television. It rarely does, but hope springs eternal. I did it for a radio station in Arizona right after I graduated from Broadcasting school. It didn’t take me a year to figure out what was going on, though. It took about a month.

Producing a half hour of television is a lot of work even at the local level. Staffing, even with interns is pretty thin. TV stations rely on pre-packaged video segments that companies and the government send them for free to help fill up all that time they have set aside to sell advertising for. They welcome those free segments with open arms because they take up air time, are usually somewhat interesting, and cost them nothing! You can identify those segments by noticing that there are none of the local reporters or personalities you know who appear in them. They may provide a voice over here and there at most, but that’s it.

The point is that local stations don’t have the time, staff, or money to produce enough segments on their own to fill 3 hours of airtime every morning. It gets even worse when they’re in a “Helicopter War” with a competing station. Helicopters are EXPENSIVE and that money has to come from somewhere. It comes from cutbacks to staff.

Why are you seeing so many advertisements about trading on the stock market, commodities and foreign currencies? The most powerful businesses on earth are investment banking concerns. The idea behind all those ads is to entice more an more people to make the bulk of their income from investing. Which, of course, benefits these firms more than any other businesses.

As manufacturing is more and more being shipped offshore where labor is cheap and environmental regulations are weak or non existent, it makes sense to migrate one’s income to something else. Like investing! Investment banking firms would like nothing more that to have the bulk of the US economy to be an investment economy, providing funding for foreign businesses to make things that will be purchased by the investment class.

The more people who become wealthy investors the lower wages for the remaining working people will become. In an investment economy, as opposed to a manufacturing one, the jobs that will remain in the US are the ones that cannot be migrated to other countries. Businesses like restaurants, lodging, farming, entertainment, grocery stores, retail shops and medicine. With the exception of medicine, all of the jobs in the remaining service industry are traditionally lower paying positions. Basically service jobs satisfying or supporting the needs of the wealthy investor class. Which is why I’m not impressed with statistics about job creation. It would take 3-4 minimum wage jobs to equal one good paying manufacturing job. More jobs don’t mean much to an economy if they do not pay wages that allow disposable income. Service industry jobs generally do not.

Which brings me back to Fossil Fuel Producers who spend BILLIONS of dollars every year  advertising on nearly every one of those 500 channels available to you on your cable system and producing those fill pieces for local stations all over the country. That is a significant chunk of that $4 for every gallon of gas you put in your car to get to work. It also reduces your exposure to news about such things as global warming and the destruction of rainforests in South America. And, because of the video segments they hand out for free, you’re likely to see a lot more stories questioning science principles regarding how bad these things really are. That’s the state of television journalism today. It’s about money and there really isn’t time or resources for anything else!

It also reduces your exposure to things like the occupation of Wall Street that has been going on in New York for nearly two weeks now? Did you know that that protest has sparked similar local protests in well over two dozen cities in America? How about the XL Pipeline protest at the White House a few weeks ago. Did you know there were over a thousand protesters in front of the White House decrying the destructive impact of a “Tar Sands Pipeline” running across the heartland of your country? How much coverage do you think these actions would get if the protesters were “Tea-Baggers” railing against taxing corporate America?

If I were to say, “Benton Harbor Michigan”, to you right now, what would that bring to mind? If I told you that over 17 states so far this year alone, have enacted voting regulations that would make it more difficult, and often impossible, for low income or marginalized populations, like minorities, to cast a vote in an election, would that surprise you?

If it matters to Oregon, I’ll find it on the War and Peace Report at Democracy Now, Indy-Media.org or maybe MSNBC or in The Nation Magazine. I won’t find it on the evening news and I certainly won’t find it on EnergyTomorrow.org or FOX Views!

 

Much Love,

Gregory

 

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