Monthly Archives: November 2010

Did Rice fear the KTRU sale would fail like the Baylor Medical School Merger?

Why did Rice keep the KTRU sale so secret? This secrecy has been one of the most frustrating parts of the sale saga and been a specific target of ire from KTRU supporters.

If there was a concern about KTRU’s profitability or contribution to the university, then the administration should have discussed it. If Aribtron rankings were below an acceptable letter, then KTRU should have been alerted and given a chance to grow the audience. If a sale was inevitable, then KTRU should have been given time to build a proper Internet and non-broadcast operation. Instead, Rice kept all plans of the KTRU sale silent — a plan first established long before what Rice originally claimed instigated the sale.

Rice and UH seemed to go to extreme ends to keep the sale secret. Starting back in March, UH Chancellor Renu Khator questioned when the universities could go public with their acquisition plans. However, UH VP of university advancement Michael Rierson urged: “Total silence pls”.

In April, an e-mail to UH officials from the sale facilitators at Public Radio Capital warned that drawing out the negotiations risked “the likelihood of one of the ‘campus constituencies’ causes a problem for Rice, which could disrupt the transaction.”

And all throughout the negotiations both schools attempted to keep any direct mention of KTRU out of any public documents, replacing the call letters “KTRU” with those of the hypothetical station “KUHX.”

Indeed, there was no mention of KTRU at all in the public agenda for the UH board, even in potential violation of Texas’ Open Meetings Act.

And when the local media finally found out about the, what did Rice and UH do? They put an embargo on the story in a desperate attempt to keep the plan secret until after a UH Regents meeting. As the Rice Thresher explained:

Richard Bonnin, Director of Media Relations at UH, corresponded on Aug. 16 with B.J. Almond, Director of News and Media Relations at Rice, regarding an embargo with Kever. Under this agreement, the two universities would provide information for Kever’s article so long as she postponed its publication until the purchase’s approval in the Aug. 17 public meeting of the UH Board of Regents’ Finance and Administration Committee.

 

This is one of the many e-mails explaining the embargo and hopes for secrecy

 

 

 

 

But why would Rice want to keep it secret? Why would Rice not want students, alumni, and Houstonians in general to be able to comment to the UH regents before their meeting, as Linda Thane discusses in her e-mail? Wouldn’t Rice and UH want the board to be able to make a fully informed decision, complete with community input?

 

Alas, no. Rice seemingly had its fill of that.

 

 

After the long conversations, the rhetoric, and the town hall meetings that were the norm under the Call to Conversation, the Vision for the Second Century, and the failed Baylor College of Medicine purchase, why would Rice suddenly change its track? The answer is rather simple. Rice didn’t maintain secrecy in spite of its previous experiences. Rice maintained secrecy because of them.

 

The beginning of the end for KTRU was February 2010. Apparently, Rice had removed KTRU from the market, only to later put it back in early 2010 with the help of Rice’s broker Greg Guy of Patrick Communications and Public Radio Capital’s Director of Acquisitions Erik Langner.

This guy was Rice's broker for selling KTRU

 

 

With KTRU back on the market, Rice actively tried to rush the sale as quickly as possible. The reason? They had learned their lessons from the failed Baylor College of Medicine purchase and did not want to be distracted again.

Apparently, Rice’s strategic objectives had become distracted by the hospital deal. The long, drawn out discussion had gotten in the way of a quick KTRU sale. So this time around, rather than let anything hamper the $10 million deal, Rice was just going to rush through.

Perhaps Rice no longer had a taste for public discussion after the protests to the BCM merger. To quote the Thresher’s coverage:

Vardi, a Computer Science professor, believes the atmosphere of open discussion encouraged by faculty and students in the past year allowed those involved to make better-informed decisions.

 

Indeed, the faculty and student uproar on the sale did contribute the plan’s failure to some degree. And it is not too difficult to understand that Rice would not want that to happen again.

 

But if the BCM deal had gone through, would Rice be too busy facilitating that merger to sell KTRU? Or maybe Rice would have no reason to want to rush it, and could have initiated a public discussion.

Seeing Rice discuss the KTRU sale in this context raises questions about the long-term effects that the failed BCM merger will have on the school’s management style. As the Houston Press pointed out when it announced President Leebron as its “Educational Turkey of the Year,” if Rice had just let the discussion happen, then KTRU supporters would not have a position nearly as sympathetic.

Now all you have to do is make sure you and your administration pull off the deal in the worst way possible, so you look bad, your students and alumni are pissed, and everyone involved, including the city’s main newspaper, looks bad.

If Rice had merely discussed the deal in public. KTRU supporters would not just have been allowed some grand catharsis and chance to explain themselves, but also an opportunity to publicly plan the future of KTRU. They could have negotiated for proceeds from the sale to fund a strong online presence and ground operation to promote music in Houston. But instead, KTRU just got screwed and Rice ended up looking bad.

I contacted the FCC and my representative about the KTRU sale. Did you?

Today I finally sent an e-mail to the FCC commissioners encouraging them to block the license transfer and KTRU sale. Friends of KTRU provides a good form letter that you definitely should copy and send if you live within the KTRU broadcast area:

Dear Commissioners:

I am writing in protest of the proposed license transfer of 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM (and its 91.5 FM translator) from Rice University to the University of Houston System (UHS).  (File Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY).  This proposal is very definitely not in the public interest.

UHS already owns and operates a 100,000 watt radio station in the Houston area, KUHF 88.7 FM, which broadcasts both classical music and news programs, mostly from National Public Radio (NPR).  Under the proposal, KUHF would become a 24-hour NPR station, and KTRU’s programming on 91.7 FM would be replaced by another UHS station, KUHC, with a 24-hour classical music format.  Should this proposal be allowed to go forward, it would be an unfortunate example of increasing media consolidation, as well as of the squelching of local voices.

KTRU was created by the students of Rice University, and has been staffed and programmed entirely by student and community volunteers for the duration of its four decades on Houston’s airwaves.  It adheres to an educational programming philosophy, and accomplishes its mission by showcasing underexposed music: artists and genres that other radio stations neglect to broadcast, either due to commercial concerns, rigid programming formats, or ignorance of the very existence of such music.  Thus, since by definition KTRU’s programming cannot be found elsewhere on Houston radio, its exit from the FM dial would leave a gaping hole in the cultural landscape of the fourth largest city in the United States.

KTRU features a number of genre-specific specialty shows that shine a light on a wide assortment of classical, jazz, rock, indie-rock, folk, electronic, experimental, reggae, hip-hop, blues, African, Indian, and other world musics.  KTRU provides the only radio outlet for the music of many of Houston’s ethnic minorities.  The balance of KTRU’s programming is comprised of its unique eclectic free-form shifts, which in the space of an hour can feature music from all these mentioned genres and more, inevitably causing listeners to adopt a more open-minded approach to musical appreciation.  In all cases, the local volunteer DJ is in charge of what gets played on air, subject to minimally constrictive playlist requirements in the case of free-form shifts.  Were KTRU to disappear from the dial, it would be a major blow to diversity on the radio, as well as to radio listeners in general.

The proposed transfer would allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community.  Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.

KTRU, on the other hand, is 100% non-syndicated locally produced programming.  It provides local artists unprecedented exposure through frequent live in-studio performances and entire programs dedicated to musicians and performers within the local community who otherwise would have little or no access to mass media.  KTRU plays an important and irreplaceable role by increasing awareness of, as well as directly participating in, the Houston music and arts scene through organizing concerts, producing and distributing compilations of live recordings, providing DJ talent for arts events, and curating stages at major local music festivals.  As many of KTRU’s volunteer DJs are positioned within facets of Houston’s cultural community, KTRU is uniquely positioned to both respond and contribute to the vibrancy of the city on a local level, and to promote Houston and its cultural output on a national level through the college radio community.

Rice and UHS formulated and implemented this proposal in secret, with no input allowed from or notice given to the students, faculty, or alumni of either university, or community members, or the station itself.  UHS seems mostly interested in the prestige of owning two radio stations, as part of its quest to attain “Tier One” university status in Texas.  Rice apparently sees the proposal only in financial terms, wanting to dump a “declining asset” before it becomes worthless.  I don’t agree that a FM radio license is a “declining asset.”  I believe FM radio still plays a vital role in our culture, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

KTRU is truly a unique gem and an important part of the local community, and it would be to Houston’s great detriment to lose its voice.  The public interest would be best served by KTRU’s continued existence on Houston’s FM dial.  I humbly request that you stop the proposed license transfer.  Thank you for your consideration.

However, I wrote my own letter. Admittedly, I took a bit from the KTRU form letter and added my own bits. Specifically, I tried to emphasize that if there ever were a circumstance that could be treated as unique under the law, this is it.

Dear Commissioners:
My name is Evan Mintz. I am a regular Houston radio listener and I am writing in protest of the proposed license transfer of 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM (and its 91.5 FM translator) from Rice University to the University of Houston System (UHS). (Files Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY). This proposal is not in my interest, the interest of Houston, or in the public interest.
UHS already owns and operates a 100,000 watt radio station in the Houston area, KUHF 88.7 FM, which broadcasts both classical music and news programs, mostly from National Public Radio (NPR). Under the proposal, KUHF would become a 24-hour NPR station, and KTRU’s programming on 91.7 FM would be replaced by another UHS station, KUHC, with a 24-hour classical music format. On the other hand, KTRU provides an outlet for unique and local content that cannot be found anywhere else on public airwaves. Should this proposal be allowed to go forward, it would be an unfortunate example of increasing media consolidation, as well as of the squelching of local and unique voices.
While the court stated in Citizens Committee to Keep Progressive Rock v. FCC 156 App DC 16, that a majority of format changes do not diminish the diversity available, this license transfer is one of the rare circumstances where the commission should intervene. From the children’s show to MK Ultra, electronica, jazz and genetic memory, KTRU plays music that simply is not available otherwise on the public airwaves. While the commission certainly cannot guarantee that every broadcast need or interest be perfectly met on a fixed frequency 24 hours per day, as the court stated in Lakewood Broadcasting Service v FCC, 156 App DC 9, KTRU is often the only source not just for specific songs, but entire genres of music. In the fourth largest city in the United States, it is important that the commission preserve this unique source on the airwaves.
If the proposed transfer were actually to go through, it would merely allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community. Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.
If there can be any circumstance where a station is truly unique, this is it. The commission should stand up for the preservation of public interest in local and unique music. If KTRU falls, it will be the end of local and unique music on the Houston public airwaves.

 

However, I also wrote a letter to the U.S. Representative for Rice’s district: Rep. John Culberson (TX-07). Admittedly, my letter was not completely academically honest. In an attempt to appeal to Culberson’s vote to block Federal funding to NPR after the Juan Williams firing, I argued that while his vote there failed, he could succeed by blocking the transfer at hand.
This past October, National Public Radio fired news analyst Juan Williams after he made a controversial statement about Muslims on Fox News’s “the O’Reilly Factor.” In the resulting scandal and hubbub, many Republican representatives, including your Texas colleague Sen. John Cornyn, questioned NPR’s public funding. As Senator Cornyn tweeted: “Why should taxpayers subsidize NPR?” By November, Republican members of Congress attempted to roll back federal funding to NPR. However, this plan was defeated, despite your vote, in a 239-171 vote.
This should not be the end for your efforts. Currently, the University of Houston is attempting to purchase the license for the 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM. This transfer would allow the current KUHF 88.7 FM station to become a 24-hour NPR station. Such a transfer would grant a louder bullhorn to national, syndicated NPR content and silence those who live in your district.
The proposed transfer would merely allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community. Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.
On the other hand, KTRU was created by the students of Rice University, and has been staffed and programmed entirely by student and community volunteers for the duration of its four decades on Houston’s airwaves. It is, is 100% non-syndicated locally produced programming. It provides local, Texas artists unprecedented exposure through frequent live in-studio performances and entire programs dedicated to musicians and performers within the Houston community who otherwise would have little or no access to mass media.
As many of KTRU’s volunteer DJs are positioned within facets of Houston’s cultural community, KTRU is uniquely positioned to both respond and contribute to the vibrancy of the city on a local level, and to promote Houston and its cultural output on a national level.
With this proposed transfer, NPR seeks to silence Houstonians.
I ask that you take up the fight against NPR for your Houston constituents and act to help block this license transfer (File Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY).
Thank you very much.
However, KTRU also provides its own form letter to send to various representatives and officials.
KTRU’s letter is much more of an informational communication, encouraging politicos to simply get involved, ask questions, and bring attention to the matter.
Anyways, I am anticipating the legal decision and hopefully the appeal that will result from the FCC decision.
But even if the sale goes through, I would hope that the legal process would be burdensome enough to encourage Rice to simply bribe KTRU supporters by providing $1-2 million from the sale proceeds as seed money to establish a proper and high quality KTRU online and real world presence.

 

Thanksgiving: Frying a turkey and kissing a bulldog

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. My family celebrated in two ways. First, I fried a turkey. Now, usually when people think of frying a turkey, they think of this:

Or this:

Or any of these.

However, our fried turkey looked more like this:

Last Thanksgiving, my mommy ordered an electric turkey frier. This is only the second time we have used it, but so far it has been a wonderful investment. Instead of overflowing oil resulting in redneck fires, we merely have little oil splashes that result in me going “ouchies!” And this year I also injected the turkey with a delicious cajun marinade and then covered it in spices. It ended up looking like this:

Delicious and spicy fried turkey!

But speaking of Butterballs, post-Thanksgiving dinner was filled with Vicktortime with Vicktor de la Panda ben Joseph h’Cohen. Most notably, Nicky tried to give Vicktor mouth-to-mouth by breathing in his nose. Vicktor was not entertained:

But we were very entertained! So Nicky made up for it by kissing Vicktor:

So let us all give thanks for Da’Nicky and Vicktor.

Rice and UH were using Facebook to research KTRU’s station manager

“Who is Nick Schlossman?”

This one question is a nice little microcosm of the problems surrounding the KTRU sale. Schlossman filed the KTRU Open Record Request (disclosure: which I first drafted) with the University of Houston. UH forwarded this info to Rice University VP of Public Affairs Linda Thrane, to let her know that soon the UH-Rice communications concerning the KTRU sale would be opened to the public.

Her response: Who is Nicholas Schlossman?

UH Director of Media Relations provided what little info he could garnish from an unfriended Facebook page.

Perhaps if the Rice administrators had any connections with their students and campus, they would know who Schlossman was. They would know that he was a student at Jones College. They would know that he was a Rice Thresher copy editor. And most importantly, they would know that he was the KTRU Station Manager for two consecutive years. From Spring 2007 until Spring 2009, Schlossman was THE station manager for 91.7 FM KTRU Rice Radio.

Judging by Texas Watchdog and my own work, Rice initiated selling KTRU before Spring 2009. It is a testament to Rice’s failure of due diligence that it contemplated selling the station without even knowing who the station manager was. (pdf: Rice didnt know ktru station manager)

Rice VP of Public Relations did not know who the KTRU station manager was.

Certainly if Rice had spent some serious amount of time studying KTRU, they would have known who the station manager was. If Rice had actually determined whether the sale of the station would result in the positive outweighing the negative, then it would have at some point learned who Schlossman was.

After all, the station manager dictated how the station operated, what the station played, and overall station policy. If Rice thought that KTRU could be better used, then certainly it should have considered meeting with the station manager, if not talk to him directly. But instead, in the wake of the public outrage surrounding the KTRU sale, the man actually in control of the station was a complete mystery to Rice’s Vice President of Public Relations.

Maybe Rice simply didn’t care about station manger because it is a student position. Maybe Rice thought the station manager was irrelevant because the administrators honestly didn’t care about KTRU’s content. But in the end, Rice should have at least known the station manager as part of due diligence.

Until now, I assumed that Rice had files and communications explaining its justification of and rationality behind the KTRU sale. Unfortunately, I thought, these files would be hidden to records requests because Rice is a private university. However, this little revelation, this ignorance, this “Who is Nick Schlossman,” makes one doubt whether Rice properly researched and justified the KTRU sale.

If Rice is going to sell one of its most public and most well-known assets, it should know every little thing about it. But instead, Rice seems like one of those poor schmucks who sells an autographed baseball, thinking that Babe Ruth is a girl.

I assumed that Rice had some sort of plan that it didn’t want to release because it would reveal financial information, or demonstrate that Rice wanted to sell KTRU long before the public date, or show utter disregard for students. But in the end, maybe Rice just never did its research.

Rice University should hold itself to the same strict academic standards required of its students. If it cannot justify this sale, then the sale should not go through. And right now, Rice does not even know the base KTRU facts, so it resorts to the University of Houston doing Facebook research.

Rice didn't know its basic facts in the KTRU sale

When did Rice first try to sell KTRU?

The blanket tax vote helped cause the sale?

After the Houston Press first reported the KTRU sale (via a leak from a KUHF staffer), President David Leebron offered a litany of arguments explaining why the sale was necessary. One of his arguments, in very diplomatic terms, was that the two votes rejecting an increase in the KTRU blanket tax demonstrated that students did not care about the station, and thus helping initiate the sale. As the President stated in his e-mail explanation to the Rice community:

It is not irrelevant in this context that the students have voted down KTRU blanket tax increases.  These votes have indeed indicated the need to expand our resources for student opportunities in other areas.

One can offer the rebuttal that the blanket tax votes did not reflect an opinion that KTRU should be sold, but rather that it merely did not need any more money. This could even be interpreted as showing that students believed KTRU was already doing a magnificent job, and did not require a funding bump to be a an impressive station.

Furthermore, the second of the two votes garnered 55 percent of student vote, demonstrating a majority of student support. However, blanket tax increases require a supermajority.

But those arguments aside, Rice did state that the votes indicated a need to “expand resources,” meaning sell KTRU. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

But I use a logical fallacy for a reason. Did the votes actually cause the sale?

The blanket tax vote only encouraged an ongoing sale?

After he sent out that first KTRU sale e-mail, President Leebron changed his language. In a Thresher interview, he stated that the votes did not cause or influence the sale, but merely reaffirmed an already ongoing sale process:

“Leebron said that rather than informing the decision to sell the station, however, this merely confirmed the impressions of the individuals dealing with the sale.”

In an e-mail to the public, Rice blames the students’ votes as one of the originating causes of the sale. In an interview with the students, Rice states that the sale was already ongoing when the votes were happening.

So which is it? Did the votes confirm previous suspicions or did they inform new ones? Why the change in rhetoric?

With the release of the Open Records Requests by Texas Watchdog and KTRU, one would think that sale opponents (and other interested parties) would be able to pinpoint when Rice first contemplated selling KTRU. But it is more difficult than you would think.

Rice initiated the sale before both votes?

According to Texas Watchdog, Rice contemplated selling KTRU in 2008, before the first vote:

“E-mails show the purchase of KTRU and its transmitter had been considered at least since early 2009. Rice had wanted to put the radio station up for sale in 2008, but it was delayed, according to the missives.”

By Texas Watchdog’s reporting, Rice’s first attempts to sell the radio station came before the KTRU votes. This would mean that one of Rice’s first justifications for selling KTRU, in the form of President Leebron’s mass e-mail, was inherently misleading. The votes did not influence the sale. The sale was already happening and most likely would continue. Would Rice have changed course if the votes had passed?

One could argue that if Rice had been straightforward about its KTRU schemes, then students would have recognized the importance of the vote. With these hypothetical circumstances, Rice could point to the votes as a true referendum on KTRU. But, under this timeline, Rice kept the sale plans secret from students.

Rice initiated the sale after the first vote?

However, the earliest e-mail that I can find in either the KTRU or Texas Watchdog files only dates to May 29, 2009.

PRC, which was paid by Rice to facilitate the sale, confirming the confidentiality agreement

This date still places the sale between the 2009 KTRU vote and the 2010 KTRU vote. If this records the first serious attempt of Rice selling KTRU, then Rice’s first explanation is perhaps justifiable. The failed first vote encouraged the sale.

However, given the amount of time it takes to arrange the sale of a radio station, how university bureaucracy works, Texas Watchdog’s own conclusions, and President Leebron’s explanation in the Thresher interview, one can fairly assume that Rice began the sale process before both blanket tax votes.

Rice is not subject to Open Record Requests

Then why did Rice blame the votes in that first e-mail? Was it attempting to blame the students? Was Rice just throwing out every argument it could think of to justify the sale? Why the change in rhetoric?

Rice knows when it first contemplated selling KTRU, but you most likely will not. The open record requests from KTRU and Texas Watchdog can only reach records held by the University of Houston, because it is a public university. Rice is a private university, and its own records and communications can be kept private. Plans to sell KTRU may have been going on for years.

Throughout KTRU Outdoor Shows and Battles of the Bands, awards and celebrations and concerts, the offices of the Allen Center may have already been riddled with schemes to sell KTRU in complete secrecy.

And among those records and e-mails are probably the real reasons why Rice is selling KTRU. At least I hope so. It would be very sad if Rice were selling KTRU without a proper vetting and cost-benefit analysis. But so far, none has been made available to the public.

Rice should take the higher ground and release all of its information about the KTRU sale. If the sale is truly justified, then the facts should speak for themselves. Let Rice justify this sale, just as Rice students must justify their arguments in classes. If the university cannot do that, then this course of events will be tainted through Rice’s history as one of its lowest hours, unable to even meet the same standards it holds for its students.

Growing opposition to the KTRU sale OR Know Your FCC Commissioners

 

Rachelle Chong: The Newest Face of the Save KTRU Movement?

Over the past week, there has been a spike in attention to the KTRU sale. This newfound spirit in opposition to the sale corresponds with Texas Watchdog’s release of their Open Records Request info. (KTRU has its own Open Records Request, which I wrote the first draft of.)

The info that Texas Watchdog was able to get from the University of Houston has revealed many interesting tidbits, such as the fact that it was a KTRU staffer who leaked the story, that Rice considered lying to KTRU to get info about the station, that UH and Rice actively kept KTRU references out of public meeting minutes, that there was outspoken questioning of the sale on the UH finance and administration committee that was not covered by any media outlet, that Rice had been planning a sale since about 2 years ago, and so forth.

I hope to comment on some of this later in the week.

However, one of the more interesting developments in the KTRU saga has been a newfound voice of support for keeping KTRU on the airwaves: Rachelle Chong

A former FCC commissioner cares!

Now, what makes her Tweet more important than, say, me, Evan tweeting? Well, you see Ms. Chong has some experience with the FCC — in that she was an FCC commissioner.

President Bill Clinton appointed Chong to the Federal Communications Commission, where she was the first Asian American to serve as an FCC commissioner. She is currently a Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates private utilities in California, including telecommunications.

The fact that someone with direct experience serving as an FCC commissioner shows that KTRU has a chance. Someone whose job it was to regulate license transfers expressly opposes the KTRU sale. She can be outspoken on the matter because she no longer sits on the commission. However, there is no reason to believe that current members, with similar legal training and background, do not have the same view as her towards the KTRU sale — they probably just know better than to comment on a pending matter.

In fact, the biographies of current members give reason to hope.

Julius Genchowski has the sort of background that may be sympathetic to the KTRU sale

Current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Julius Genachowski, for example, was an Editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator. This sort of personal involvement in student media hints that he has the background to appreciate the unique broadcasting ability that KTRU has to offer, and may encourage him to take a second look at the transfer.

Copps has explicitly questioned consolidation at the expense of localism. This is good for KTRU.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps doesn’t have student media experience — at least not listed on his Wikipedia entry. However, he does have a strong opposition to media consolidation. In fact, he has explicitly raised the spectre of “public interest” when it comes to media transfer and consolidation.

“What public interest, what new competition, is enabled by encouraging the newspaper monopoly and the broadcasting oligopoly to combine? This decision further allows the already massive television networks to buy up even more local TV stations, so that they control up to an unbelievable 80 or 90 percent of the national television audience.

Where are the blessings of localism, diversity and competition here? I see centralization, not localism; I see uniformity, not diversity; I see monopoly and oligopoly, not competition.”

Phrases like “public interest” and “blessings of localism” are the sort of key words that will be the spearhead of a pro-KTRU legal argument. With a well-written motion to deny, Copps may see the KTRU sale as a line in the sand, a place where he could stop a purely local and unique station from becoming one of syndicated news reports and rehashed classical that gets played anyways. Maybe you should write a few letters of support for KTRU to demonstrate to Mr. Copps just how important this is. And you can do that by clicking this link right here that these words are part of.

Robert McDowell is a Republican with a soft spot for the arts.

Robert McDowell may not seem like the sort of FCC commissioner who would be sympathetic to KTRU. After all, he has spent time scaring up the ghosts of a return of the Fairness Doctrine, and that sort of paranoid attitude towards media regulation does not make him seem like the sort of guy who would stop a license transfer.

However, McDowell’s testimony in his nomination hearing before Senate painted a picture of a much more balanced thinker.

But the most interesting part of McDowell’s personal history is his former position as Chariman of the Board of the McLean Project for the Arts. The MPA has the self-proclaimed mission of:

“exhibit[ing] the work of emerging and established artists from the mid-Atlantic region; [promoting] public awareness and understanding of the concepts of contemporary art; and [offering] instruction and education in the visual arts.”

Compare this to the KTRU Mission:

“The mission of KTRU as a student organization and a 50,000 watt radio station is to educate the station membership, the greater Houston community, and the students of Rice University through its progressive and eclectic programming in the spirit of the station’s non-commercial, educational license. Musically, KTRU programming will endeavor to solely feature genres and/or artists who are unexposed, or unavailable on, the Houston commercial radio dial.”

Both organizations share a dedication to public education about the arts, and bring attention to emerging and established local artists. McDowell’s experience with the MPA may give him the background and understanding necessary to sympathize with KTRU’s legal appeals and encourage him to recognize that at times, the FCC does need to operate a stronger hand on license transfers. Indeed, it is not a Democratic or Republican position, but a position of promoting local arts for the public interest.

Mignon Clyburn has experience on a family-founded newspaper, the sort of experience that creates a gut reaction against media consolidation.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is used to regulating utilities. She previously served as the chair of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Washington Action Committee and is also a former chair of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. However, most importantly, she spent 14 years as the publisher and general manager of The Coastal Times.

The Coastal Times had a circulation of only about 5,500 (smaller than the Rice Thresher), but her experience on the paper has given her a great respect for the First Amendment, and an attitude that is much more willing than past “prudish” FCC members to stand up for speech.

Meredith Baker (daughter-in-law of James Baker III) attended the University of Houston for law school and opposes regulation even when the goal is fostering competition. She will likely be the greatest opponent to saving KTRU.

Meredith Baker went to UH Law and opposes Net Neutrality, a sign that she is deeply opposed to any sort of FCC interference. Screw that.

 

So there are your FCC commissioners. Things may seem tough and the KTRU sale may appear inevitable. However, a quick look at your actual FCC commissioners demonstrates that the situation is not as bleak as one may think. Several members have backgrounds in local media, and some have even explicitly questioned the trend of media consolidation at the expense of local programming and uniqueness. You can help them remember the importance of local media programming and the true meaning of public interest by writing the FCC and signing onto the KTRU letter. Your voice is especially important if you live within the KTRU broadcast zone. So speak up. All you have to do to save KTRU (or at least force Rice to appeal to the D.C. Circuit) is count to three.

One

Two

Three commissioners.

And KTRU is saved.

The Anti-Defamation League, American Jews, and John Bolton’s Mustache

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League held a conference at Cardozo featuring famed mustache-haver John Bolton. I am not entirely sure why Bolton was there. He is not Jewish. According to Wikipedia, he is a Lutheran. But beyond this, he does not seem to have any actual experience concerning Judaism.

This is how most people see John Bolton

This is how the Anti-Defamation League sees John Bolton

Even ignoring my concern that ADL focuses too much on Israel rather than overarching Judaism, it seems a bit odd that the ADL would invite such a divisive political figure. I could explain why this would be a bad thing, but why say when you can show: (pdf: bolton ADL cardozo fight)

Leaving out Bolton’s actual policy positions, one cannot deny that he is a divisive political figure and a living totem of the controversial cowboy style diplomacy of the Bush administration. Touting Bolton as an ADL ally sends a message to liberal Jews (aka, most Jews) that the ADL is not a the organization for them. At Cardozo, this message was put into action when someone in the audience chewed out a young woman for expressing her difficulty reconciling liberal leanings with the conservative agents supporting Israel.

I guess you could say she was defamed to a certain extent. Irony!

Right now, the ADL is riding on its history and reputation. But scandals like this, and ADL chief Abe Foxman’s own controversial moments, risk damaging this important organization beyond repair. If the ADL keeps up like this, it will lose a generation of American Jews. And that is the actual problem (pdf: Mintz ADL column):

America is slowly losing its Jewish population. If the ADL actually cared about Judaism, it would work to create an atmosphere in the United States where young Jews feel proud of their heritage. However, pride is not exactly what one feels when the ADL condemns Borat, or Jewish settlers throw stones at IDF soldiers for protecting Palestinians. If the ADL wants to help protect Jewry in the long run, it should focus on projects that help make more Jews and keep current Jews Jewish, rather than play up divisive political projects.

Certainly Israel faces threats. But Israel has done a good job standing for itself. The ADL should perhaps worry about Jewish problems at home — the problems facing the American Jews at the ADL’s own panels.

Flashback Friday: Cardozo sex and Rice masturbation

In this month’s Cardozo Jurist, [edit: let's just say her name is Shmara Shmliss and she doesn't want her name to show up in a google search] who wrote a column about how the stress and pressure of law school inherently leads to sexytime thoughts and a desire to hook up. I always argue that Libraries are supersexy, but because they are filled with books, and books have knowledge and knowledge is power and power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Also, libraries are filled with smart, youthful students. And sexy librarians!

In reality, librarians are almost never sexy librarians.

Anyways, her column reminded me a good deal of something that I had written for the Rice Thresher. (pdf: Mintz thresher column)

Here are the columns.

The Lost Columns: Jews, Gays, and Paladino

The Cardozo Jurist came out yesterday. I originally wrote a column following my normal trend of addressing gay rights within the Jewish community. However, after talking with other people about it, I came to the conclusion that I’ve driven the topic into the ground. Because I have never done that before.

Furthermore, the tone of the column was just a bit too over the top. Because I have never done that before, either.

Anyways, here is the Lost Column. I’ll post the one that was actually published later.

Today is election day. As a Texan, it is hypocritical of me to criticize other states’ political systems. It is also fun and easy — the New York gubernatorial race doubleplus so.

It was only a few election cycles ago when a Cuomo was the alternative to “the homo” and Carl Paladino was a registered Democrat. Of course, barring a sudden state-wide revelation that rent is too damn high, one of the two is governor-elect by now. However, the end of the election does not mean that campaign discussion has to end as well. Notably, Paladino’s tea party rhetoric about gay marriage in an address to Orthodox Jewish leaders deserves continued discussion, especially at a Jewish institution like Cardozo.

Upon first glance, Paladino’s speech does not seem too far from expected Republican talking points: “I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t.”

Paladino even wisely omitted from his speech one especially nasty bit in his prepared text: “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual.”

However, this idea that certain demographics can be targeted within our society as less valid or less successful than the overarching uberculture is a dangerous concept, especially for the Jewish community. In New York, Judaism may seem like a well integrated, or maybe even dominant, ingredient in our pressure cooker of a nation. But for those whose world does not end at New Jersey, things can be quite different.

Back in 2007, Ann Coulter revealed in a CNBC interview an attitude towards Judaism that one does not often hear out loud: Jews need to be “perfected” into Christians. From her perspective, much like gays, Judaism is not an equally valid or successful option.

It is easy to dismiss Ann Coulter as a washed-up pundit begging for attention. But Coulter’s rhetoric is echoed in secret throughout the nation. This past month, U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert [what is the proper style here?] explained in a Newsmax magazine column that the government functions best when it is run by Christians. According to him, Christians are “the one[s] God has ordained to run the country.” Apparently other people, Jews included, are not an equally valid and successful option.

The Jewish community may be comfortable in our self-imposed urban ghettos. We can feel praised as talking heads throw around the term “Judeo-Christian” as if it meant something. And the enemy of my enemy is my friend has kept ties close during the War on Terror. But every time a pundit rants about the War on Christmas or the nation’s Christian foundations, it is a glimpse at just how thin the protective bubble is around non-Christian religion and culture. This may not be obvious at Cardozo, but it is in the rest of America. And when the courts are done explaining that Islam is actually a religion, and gay baiting no longer gets out the vote, Judaism will still be a minority, no matter how many times someone uses the phrase “Judeo-Christian morality.”

The problem is not just antisemitism or homophobia, but rather the idea that demographics can be targeted and attacked as less valid or successful than the dominating norms,  with no support but bigotry. The Jewish community must draw a line at attitudes like Paladino’s, even after election season has finished. The same moral influence that has pushed Ann Coulter and Rick Sanchez off the air should stand with anyone who wants to attack minority groups to score points. And right now that stand is with the gay community. After all, we shared the same ovens.

 

I went to the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and all I got was this rambling blog entry

Summary!

This past weekend I attended the Comedy Central Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. For a gathering of 200,000 Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert fans, there was a severe lack of drugs.

Despite previous expectations, stereotypes about Stewart and Colbert’s targeted audience, and claims rally just being “liberals hooking up,” the crowd was distinctly older and more diverse than I had anticipated. During a jaunt on the Metro the day before the rally, we encountered a family – Ma, Pa and kids –  who had traveled to DC from central Pennsylvania. And as we checked out the sites on the mall the day before, it was difficult to count the impressive number of older couples and families wearing Stewart/Colbert paraphernalia.

In the end it was not some grand youth rally, nor some liberal love-in, nor some giant hookup fest (at least not at the rally itself, maybe at the bars that Saturday night). So then, what was it?

In the end, the rally accomplished two major goals. First, it rebutted irrational fears of Muslims. Secondly, it demonstrated that two comedians with little actual message could get more people to show up than pundit with an established, forceful message.

Now, the musical numbers were fine. And the juxtaposition of Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam playing Peace Train, followed by Ozzy Ozborne singing Crazy Train, followed by the O’Jays singing Love Train was a lot of fun. I half expected either GirlTalk to show up and start mixing, or the Coors Light Train to come through.

And we did see some funny signs and neat costumes. And the cute Indian girls next to us shared their box of donuts.

Lots of people took pictures of this sign.

In fact, there were some pretty impressive costumes.

Zoiby want balloon!

We all still have Zoidberg!

Zimbabwe!

Although she did put the miss in misdemeanor, I think that most of her crimes were actually felonies.

But amongst the signs and posters and costumes and such, Jon Stewart had some criticisms of the media and Stephen Colbert played his character. There was some commentary about the state of the nation and media when Stewart handed out his medals for acting reasonably, and Colbert handed his for fear (One of Colbert’s was an award to media entities that wouldn’t let its members come to the rally. Because no one was there to accept it, he gave it to a little girl. She was adorable).

But a continuing theme throughout the rally was one mocking and rebutting anti-Muslim sentiments. It was not obvious, nor explicitly stated. But it was there. Whether is was the applause when Father Guido Sarducci came to Islam in his list of religions, or when Kareem Abdul Jabbar showed up to teach Stephen an important lesson about judging groups by an actions of a few members, or when Yusuf Islam came out on stage to sing, there was a continuous thread of non-threatening Muslims at the rally. In fact, right next to where I was standing was an obviously Muslim family. And several of the signs at the rally were along the theme of: “Where are the moderate Muslims? Holding this sign!”

It was a good thing.

Of course, in a crowd of more than 200,000, it is difficult to ascertain just how much of the population there was Muslims, but there definitely seemed to be a concerted movement of “We Are Normal Muslims, Please Stop Being Scared of Us.”

But beyond the pro-moderate Muslims, the message that Jon Stewart attempted to send with the message is that political debates should not be fought in numbers or name calling, but actual arguments and fact-based debates. He tried to express this in his final speech. But besides getting Keith Olbermann to change his format, I do not think it will have a direct effect. Stewart got lucky once when he took people by surprise with his earnestness and honesty. But Fox News is not Crossfire. Nevertheless, I think that Stewart will get his desired result in some form, though not as a direct result of his appeal.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was attended by around 215,000 people.

I was there!

This rally came after, and in a mocking reaction to, Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor, which attracted around 87,000 people.

I'm glad someone did this

In a Democratic system, the authority to govern is derived from popular support. If one side can get more people to support it, then it will be assumed correct.

What Jon Stewart has done is raise the bar. At the beginning of his rally he joked about how the success of events like his are judged entirely by size.

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”): I think you know that the success or failure of a rally is judged by only two criteria; the intellectual coherence of the content and its correlation to the engagement -I’m just kidding. It’s color and size. We all know it’s color and size.

And while he would prefer that such events be judged otherwise, size and content are an easy solution. However, with his massive turnout Stewart has created an instant rebuttal. Whenever anyone holds a general rally to their cause, such as the tea party events over the past year or so, now the instant response can be: “But did you have more than 200,000 people? Because two comedians were able to get more than 200,000 to show up for their non-cause. Certainly if your cause has public support, you could at least match some basic cable comedians.”

Of course, this could be a bad thing as well. What applies to Tea Parties and Beck could also apply to unions and the NAACP. Perhaps this rally will cast a cloud over legitimate Democratic or liberal efforts to create a rallying call.

But at least with populism out, it does force people to find other avenues to support their causes, and Stewart’s ideal of reasonable argument is an alternative. Then again, we have had name-calling and partisan politics in the U.S. since Federalist v. Anti-Federalists. And Stewart seems to think that a 24-hour media could act as a proper check, but as Fox has shown, there are way better ways to make money.

There is also the concern that such an elimination of populist outlets, or at least reducing their power, is anti-democratic (small d). If the number of people supporting a cause is not a proper measure of the support it should be given in our society, then what is?

The answer, probably, is representation in government. Our system is established to filter the argle bargle of mob mentality into the high Senate, the low House, the protected Judiciary, and the electorally collegiate Executive. No matter how many people you can gather into a single place, that does not make policy. It is what our Constitution says, and it is the end message of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear: 200,000 people? That’s fine. Now get them to convince people to vote, or sway their representatives, or propose policy. Stewart doesn’t really intend to do much of that, besides shame people. And he already does that way better on his show, demonstrating the political and media FAILs of the day. But what policy can Tea Baggers propose? Perhaps repealing the 17th amendment, or privatizing something or other. But as Republicans have demonstrated during this election cycle, they don’t really know where they are going to cut in order to balance the budget.

And as we go into the next Congress, people will start to realize just what Stewart and Colbert’s rally has demonstrated. Gathering a bunch of people doesn’t make policy. It makes a gathering of a bunch of people. And it was a gathering that was fun for the people at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and probably will be seen as a letdown for the Tea Party once they realize that everything hasn’t changed.