Citizens Disunited

As you know, according to the landmark Citizens United case, political money is a form of protected speech and corporations are people. And because those people happen to be blabbermouths, the Supreme Court’s nutty 2010 ruling has amounted to the Broadcast Stations Not Becoming Completely Irrelevant and Going Out of Business Act.

Every two years the money sluice begins, and in presidential years it’s more like a tidal wave. Last time around, in 2012, it was $2.9 billion, buying up almost all the inventory surrounding the local news, especially in battleground states. You know how many retailers do 75% of their volume in Q4? Well, Citizens United is broadcast Christmas. 

This even though people decreasingly watch TV and those who watch local news are, on average, 104 years old. It turns out that that demographic is really, really dependable at voting. (I’m guessing that Election Day is also very good for Old Country Buffet.)



But maybe not this year. It’s already a bizarre election. One nominee is the Lady Macbeth of national politics who is roundly despised partly because she isn’t in the kitchen baking cookies, and partly because she exudes a sense of entitlement so intense it leaves a silhouette on X-ray film. The other is a spoiled-brat hatemongering ignoramus who can’t recite the alphabet without telling 26 lies.

Another weird thing is that guy will get 50 million votes, which is -- to quote the philosopher -- sad. Incredibly sad. Because it means that it can happen here after all. Among his most ardent supporters, according to recent polls, are evangelicals -- who are ignoring his multiple marriages, sleazy affairs both personal and professional, vastly un-Christian lack of humility, pathological lying, bullying, vulgarity and history of supporting abortion. So what are they attracted to, these holier-than-thou Americans? Could it be the naked racism? Nooooo.

His other big constituency is the people who hate big intrusive government so much they want to elect a dictator. So what are they attracted to, these small-government cultists? Could it be the naked racism? Nooooo. 

And most unexpected of all, he’s gotten the Republican nomination for the presidency spending less money than is sitting in the cupholder of your car. It’s all been on Twitter, and so-called earned media, which means this: if you mimic the spastic body movements and vocal deficit of a disabled reporter, it will be on the news within the hour. It’s the old Al Sharpton/Calvin Klein trick. Keep setting fires, and the media fire trucks will come racing to the scene every single time.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard the news: Syria is a pile of rubble, Zika is headed north, the planet is burning to a cinder, but the big story on Action news: Donald Trump says something assholic again.

And that has done what four Supreme Court Justices and the entire political left could not do: neutralized Citizens United. 

According to Bloomberg news, spending in the general election so far has been $146 million -- down from $373 million at this point four years ago. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 60% less. TV stations will also note that the Trump campaign has signaled its intentions to devote much of its war chest to online advertising…..

(pausing here to let you laugh hard and then regain your composure)

….having plunked down $8.4 million there in July alone. He perhaps has not been informed of 0% click-through rates, banner blindness, slow-loading, ad blockers et al. On the plus side, he’ll be able to finely target the portions of the electorate that polls show are not buying his act: Hispanics, African-Americans, women, Muslims, gun-control advocates, federal judges, the disabled, college-educated whites, Gold Star families, worriers about nuclear annihilation, those with a shred of human decency. 

That should go splendidly for him. I’m mainly out of the ad-criticism racket, but I strongly advise that he stick with the strategy he just took up to cultivate African-Americans: that their lives are so uniformly horrendous “what have you got to lose?” 

So, yeah, the irony is that the novel SCOTUS construct of money “speech” has been entirely usurped by actual speech. Ironic because that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work, and -- as the GOP’s scummy demagogue nominee runs his mouth to keep citizens disunited -- exactly how it isn’t.

11 comments about "Citizens Disunited".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, August 22, 2016 at 11:17 a.m.

    I know that the NYT is avoiding the George Soros email scandal story, so you're forgiven for not reading it. You could Google it.

  2. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, August 22, 2016 at 11:23 a.m.

    And Sean-the-other-bully-Hannity admits he uses his show as a Trumpet Pulpit.  How much is that worth? 

  3. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC, August 22, 2016 at 11:51 a.m.

    Volgograd, formerly Tsaritsyn, 1589–1925, and Stalingrad, 1925–1961, is an important industrial city and the administrative center of Volgograd Oblast, Russia

  4. Laurence Rutter from Rudders & Moorings Yacht Sales, August 22, 2016 at 11:55 a.m.

    Your anti-Trump bias just feeds into the narrative that the media is bought and paid for by the Democrats. It's unfortunate that you  can't write a balanced article. Neither candidate can escape scrutiny in this screwed up campaign but you'd never know it reading your biased articles.

  5. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, August 22, 2016 at 12:33 p.m.

    To Lawrence Rutter:
    Oh, snap you caught me. Henceforth I will leave my opinion and analysis out of my opinion and analysis column.

    To Clint Dixon:  It is difficult to believe you would write what you've written in a public forum.  Well done.  It is now on the record forever.  Your grandchildren will be so proud. 

  6. Irwin Starr from Landings Eagle, August 22, 2016 at 1:12 p.m.

    From the broadcasters point of view there is one, even more interesting aspect to this issue. Unless the political broadcasting rules have changed since my days in broadcast management, political candidates must be granted advertising at the “lowest unit rate” which while somewhat manipulative supposedly remains lower than the top rates on the station. Other groups supporting issues, or supporting the candidates when the purchase is not in the candidate’s name, can be charged the highest rates the station can get for the time. So it is certainly in the interest of broadcasting, and its lobbyists, to see the “Citizens United” decision remain in place. There are, of course, those of us who think, as Bob does, that the decision is bad for the political system.

  7. Ted Faraone from Faraone Communications, August 22, 2016 at 1:32 p.m.

    I think that Garfield is all too correct in his analysis.  It can happen here.  Broadcasters care to a certain extent where the money comes from.  I have seen advertising rejected many times due to offensive content.  However, they are required to accept advertising from legally qualified candidates provided that the commercials meet certain requirements, including that little tagline, "I'm (so and so) and I approved this message."

    Trump benefits from two things.  Every eight to twelve years there is an urge to "throw the bastards out."  This is also true in parliamentary nations such as England, Canada, and Australia.  Then there is the vast ignorance of the American electorate.  Most Americans believe characterizations, not facts.  Trump is really no more than a successful snake-oil salesman.  Reality is his enemy.  So he repeats his shibboleths ad infinitum with the idea that some people will eventually buy them.  By contrast Hillary is a policy wonk whose proposals have an excruciating degree of detail, so much that they can cure insomnia.  

    To me, however, the most interesting sentence in Garfield's column is the riff on the opeining of WPVI's "Action News."  Priceless.

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 22, 2016 at 3:53 p.m.

    Thank you, again. You can express what needs to be said better than most people. May a larger stage be set for you.

  9. Chuck Lantz from, network, August 22, 2016 at 5:08 p.m.

    Mr. Garfield; Thanks for another excellent column.  One point you make that I especially agree with is that Trump's not the scary part. The scary part is how many voters support him and his "ideas."

  10. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC replied, August 22, 2016 at 5:29 p.m.

    Exactly, Chuck. Citizens in a democracy should have a responsibility to do their homework before they vote. Given Mr. Trump's long history of fabricating numbers and 'facts', the non-partisan fact checkers have never been busier. Politicians may color or distort to support their claims. Trump's statements (and his missing tax returns) are in a whole other league of dishonesty, and some people are so anxious to support his racism and divisive statements that they don't seem to care that he's a pathological liar.

  11. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, August 23, 2016 at 11:34 a.m.

    To UDX, 
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, but come on....the CX 7 was discontinued 3 years ago.
    Your hero,

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