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How Cable News Fuels Polarization

During a TV interview years ago, I said, tongue-only-slightly-in-cheek, that Roger Ailes, the visionary who created and ran Fox News, should send thank-you notes and flowers to the presidents of ABC, NBC and CBS news networks for delivering so many of their viewers to Fox.

Fox was built on alienation. It was the place to go if you didn't like the biases of the old TV networks. But I never bought into the fairy tale that those unhappy viewers, who rightly spotted a liberal slant at the networks, abandoned Dan Rather and the others because they craved "fair and balanced" coverage at Fox.

They went over, I was convinced -- most of them, anyway -- because they wanted a comfortable place where they could sit back, relax and get their own biases validated.

It wasn't so much that they were against bias per se. They were against bias they didn't agree with.

Ailes gave them refuge from the liberal sensibilities that held sway at the networks. Now -- especially in the age of Donald Trump -- MSNBC and CNN are also places that cater to particular tastes in politics and culture. Yes, there are a few hard news broadcasts on cable that at least try to play it straight. But very often I can't tell the difference between a news program and an opinion show. The line separating the two used to be bright red; now it's fuzzy and gray.

The key to understanding how it all works is to grasp one simple concept: Cable TV is not broadcasting, which needs to appeal to a broad audience with varied tastes. It's narrowcasting, which needs to attract a narrow audience with particular tastes.

Forgive me for stating the obvious: If you like Donald Trump you're more likely to watch Fox. If you detest the president, MSNBC is the place for you, as are more than a few programs on CNN.

Kellyanne Conway understandably may be not be a model of objectivity, but she hit CNN's Brian Stelter right between the eyes recently with an objective truth: "Just say we're doing better in the ratings," she told him, "we're getting better ad revenues because we're one of the more anti-Trump than down-the-line outlets, just own it." In other words, bashing Donald Trump has been good for CNN's bottom line. But Stelter had a reply -- unfortunately it was a pathetic one: "We're not anti-Trump, we're pro honesty, we're pro decency." There's a good chance even the brass at CNN got a chuckle out of that one.

A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center didn't exactly break news with this analysis: "When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust. And whether discussing politics online or with friends, they are more likely than others to interact with like-minded individuals."

If you're a car manufacturer it makes sense to survey your potential customers to learn what kind of cars they want. If they want SUVs, it's good business to give them SUVs. If you make shoes and your customers want stilettos, give them stilettos.

But if your product is information, while it may be good business to give your customers what they want, pandering to their tastes comes with a price: it fuels an already toxic polarization in America.

There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution, of course, protecting the rights of car manufacturers or people who make shoes. But the business of information -- especially political information -- being considerably more important to the wellbeing of the republic, is different than any other business. Or least it's supposed to be.


Orrin Hatch promises changes to tax bill to make corporate rate cut permanent

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Monday that Republicans are looking at ways to ensure that their tax bill's business tax cuts can be made permanent under the Senate's rules.

"We're looking at a number of alternatives that will fill the necessary gaps and we have every intention of making the business reforms permanent," the Utah Republican said during his opening remarks as his committee began working on the tax bill.

Hatch was addressing a problem that was apparent when he released the bill last week. The nearly $1.5 trillion tax cut appears to lose revenue beyond the 10th year, running afoul of the rules that allow the GOP to advance the bill while avoiding a Democratic filibuster. If they don't address the problem by changing the bill, Republicans would have to gain 60 votes for the bill or make its provisions temporary.

Hatch hasn't explained how they might alter the bill to ensure that it wouldn't add to the deficits over the long term. He simply assured the committee that he is "working to ensure that the reduced rates and additional reforms" for businesses remain in place and said "there's no real cause for concern at this point."

The plan includes reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and implementing a break for non-corporate businesses that would effectively lower their top rate to 32 percent.

Senate Republicans have some time to find a fix, but not much. Monday's committee session began what is expected to be four straight days of markup. The GOP hopes to pass its tax legislation in the Senate shortly after Thanksgiving.

Senators were set to give opening statements Monday and hear a description of the bill from Thomas Barthold, the chief of staff of the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. In subsequent days, the panel is expected to debate and vote on dozens of amendments, including the GOP fix meant to ensure that the bill is compliant with Senate rules.



Everyone Knew Roy Moore Dated High School Girls, Says Former Colleague

A former prosecutor who worked in Alabama with GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore in the early 1980s told CNN on Saturday that it was “common knowledge” that Moore dated teenagers — and people thought it was weird.  “It was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls. Everyone we knew thought it was weird,” former Etowah County deputy district attorney Teresa Jones told CNN national correspondent Alexander Marquardt. “We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall. But you really wouldn’t say anything to someone like that.”

Marquardt reached out to Jones after a comment she posted in response to a story in the Gadsden Times.

View image on Twitter

When asked on Twitter why girls didn’t step forward at the time, Jones responded: “At that time, in that atmosphere unless the girls came forward with specifics, then no, no charges could have been brought. The Weinstein, Hoffman, etc. revelations have made it far more palatable for women to come forward.” 

Jones spoke out as Moore was vehemently denying an explosive Washington Post story about his alleged history of pursuing teenagers when he was in his 30s. Leigh Corfman told the Post that Moore, 32 at the time, removed her shirt and pants at his home in 1979 when she was just 14, touched her through her bra and guided her hand to his genitals over his underwear.

“I am not guilty of sexual misconduct with anyone,” Moore said during a Veterans Day speech in Gadsden, and called the allegations “hurtful.” He insisted the Post story was politically motivated, aimed at damaging his chances in the Dec. 12 special election for the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama.

“To think that grown women would wait 40 years .... to bring charges is absolutely unbelievable,” Moore said. “There are investigations going on. In the next few days, there will be revelations about the motivations and the content of this article.”

When Fox News host Sean Hannity asked Moore on Friday on his radio program if he remembered dating teenagers when he was in his 30s, Moore responded: “Not generally, no.”

Jones worked as deputy district attorney for Etowah County, Ala., from 1982 to 1985. Moore worked in the same office as deputy district attorney from 1977 to 1982. He would have been approximately 35 to 38 years old during the time he worked with Jones.

Jones is currently a partner at the Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, Jones, Krotec & Westheimer, P.A. law firm based in Sarasota, Florida. The HuffPost has reached out to her for further comment.

It remains to be seen how badly the Post story will hurt Moore. Several Republican politicians have criticized Moore, and three GOP senators —Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.), Bill Cassidy (La.) and Mike Lee (Utah) — have rescinded their support.

Donald Trump has said Moore should drop out of the race — if the allegations are true.