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2020: The Year of Conspiracies

“If the purpose of the news is to deliver facts, are conspiracy theories even worth mentioning?”

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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
trouble ahead.

If the purpose of the news is to deliver facts, are these conspiracy theories even worth
mentioning?

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
pedophiles.

Woah.

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
of it.

“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
stars.

BNM Writers

Dan Mandis Has Done Every Job Imaginable in Radio

Mandis has been in the news radio business for a long time, which means it presents him the opportunity to wear many hats throughout his career.

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When WWTN personality Dan Mandis was ten years old, he wanted what every other red-blooded young man wanted; to have something to do with professional baseball. 

Only one problem; he sucked as a player.  

“I played little league, but I was terrible,” Mandis said. “They stuck me out in right field. I was Lupus in Bad News Bears.”  

Wow. Lupus? He must have really sucked. But Lupus made a mean martini for coach Buttermaker. Mandis had another baseball dream.  

“I wanted to be Vin Scully,” he said. “He was the greatest play-by-play guy in history, the absolute best. He drew pictures with his words.” His love of baseball hasn’t aged well. Instead of current teams and games, Mandis said he likes to flick on YouTube and watch the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers. 

“If you grew up with baseball, it has a place in your heart,” Mandis said. “I collected baseball cards, and I was the kid who had the transistor glued to his ear listening to games.” 

There are two things I know for sure about Nashville; Minnie Pearl and the drinks are way overpriced.   

“We’re all about the free market,” Mandis said. “People from the north can come down, and we’ll take their money.” He’s been working in Nashville for eight years and just signed for another four years. According to Mandis, Nashville feels comfortable because the city embraces ‘everything that makes this country great.’ Oh, and there’s no state income tax. To avoid the exorbitant drink prices, Mandis suggests you go to a liquor store and pre-game before you go downtown. If you don’t know what that means, ask one of your kids.  

“I hate to sound like I’m pandering, but this state is ripped right out of Americana,” Mandis said. “Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are crime-ridden and have massive homeless issues. Down here, we have southern values.” He admits Nashville has its share of crime but nothing like other cities. The suburbs, he says, are second to none. 

If you find yourself in Nashville and are into presidential history, he says you have to visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. There are lots of wineries and whiskey producers. Mandis sounds like a public service announcement for Tennessee.  

He loves baseball films too, like For Love of the Game and Moneyball. 

“For me, those are comfort movies,” Mandis said. “If it has baseball and a love story, I’m hooked.”  

Mandis likes prequels more than sequels, especially the Star Wars franchise.  

“I prefer Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad. Saul is one of the more intriguing characters in history.” He said movies don’t pack the same punch they used to.  

“I was a terrible student in high school. My passions didn’t really lend themselves to do a lot of reading. With one exception, I’m fascinated by the Civil War and so much of that went on down here. If I could go back in time, I’d be in the crowd for the Gettysburg Address.” 

That seems like a wasted wish. Lincoln’s speech was only two minutes long. 

The south and things southerners love have been a target during the past few years. Mandis said he understands when folks became upset when some of the statues were taken down. “I’m against it,” he said. “If you’re going to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee, that’s a mistake. He’s an important historical figure, and many in the south appreciate his role in the Civil War.” 

Mandis said he wouldn’t think of going up to someone and tell them to tear down their statue because he didn’t agree with them. 

What would he do if he got fired after the next four years? Retire and go off into the sunset? “I work in radio, and I’m a man of modest means,” Mandis said. “My goal in radio has always been to be that morning guy who has been in the market forever.” He’s not looking for syndication, a major market, or hoping to be a top-ten radio personality. That’s not on the radar. “I’ve had a long and pleasant career.” 

You can listen to Mandis daily from 5:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. on Nashville’s Morning News on WWTN.

Working in radio for as long as he has, Mandis has become a deft interviewer. He counts his interview with Steve Perry of Journey as one of his best and favorite.  

“I was allotted 20 minutes to talk with him,” Mandis said. “We ended up talking for about an hour and twenty minutes. He found the first question I asked to be interesting, and it was golden from there.” 

He said it pays to do your research on a subject. “I cared enough to really know about him, prepped for the interview, and I could tell Perry respected that.” Mandis said rock star Perry used to clean Turkey coops for a living.  

Mandis has done it all; worked as a call-screener, board operator, producer, news anchor, a news and traffic reporter, and now host. He also worked with Dr. Laura Schlessinger for many years.   

Mandis said his favorite all-time radio gig was traffic reporting in his hometown of Los Angeles. “I loved it. It goes back to my dream of play-by-play. Back in those days, all the reports were (for the most part) live. In a region the size of Los Angeles, it was a blast to do live reports on big-time radio stations as the traffic situation evolved. Such a blast.” 

“I was an off-air PD, then became a full-time host. I believe that’s unusual, but not sure.” He has amassed a collection of awards, including the Colorado Broadcasting Award for best radio imaging. Mandis was an AP winner for best reporter in Indiana and was nominated for a Marconi last year. “I was robbed,’ he jokes.  

He said his father was a big talk radio fan, listening to KABC in Los Angeles. “Early, I hated it, but tastes change,” Mandis said. “It was always a dream of mine to host a show on KABC in honor of my dad. I kind of did. I guest-hosted Red Eye Radio, and their LA affiliate is KABC. Given my lack of success in getting an opportunity on KABC, that will have to do.” 

“I’ve never really worked in anything but talk radio,” Mandis said. “It’s the greatest and most viable format, in my opinion.” 

If the radio gigs dry up, he’ll always have Lupus’ spot in right field.  

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BNM Writers

Possible Reversal of The 1973 Roe vs. Wade Decision Dominates Network TV Coverage

“Surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2.”

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News of Justice Samuel Alito’s initial draft majority opinion that would have the Supreme Court overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights — immediately spread like wildfire on the evening of May 2nd.

The development, first reported by the website Politico starting within the 9 p.m. ET hour, holds monumental implications for the nation if the Court officially does overturn the law.

Yet, surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2. Compared to the three prior Monday nights (averaging Apr. 11, 18 & 25), MSNBC’s flagship program “Rachel Maddow Show” slipped 4 percent to 1.94 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Its lead-out “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” (1.45 million) was down 7 percent. 826,000 then tuned in to “The 11th Hour” up 3 percent.

Over at CNN, the 9 p.m. hour of “Anderson Cooper 360” (660,000 viewers) ticked up one percent. “Don Lemon Tonight” grew ten percent in the 10 p.m. hour (689,000 viewers) but fell two percent in the 11 p.m. hour (517,000 viewers).

Fox News Channel’s coverage focused on how the leak from the Supreme Court occurred. “Hannity” (2.79 million) stayed even, while the subsequent two lead-out programs on the night jumped up the most (of all cable telecasts) in raw figures — each increased by two million viewers: “The Ingraham Angle” (2.4 million; +9 percent from the 2.2 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25) and “Gutfeld!” (2.15 million; +10 percent from the 1.95 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25).

Cable news averages for May 2-8, 2022:

Total Day (May 2-8 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.484 million viewers; 241,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.631 million viewers; 69,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.478 million viewers; 102,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.183 million viewers; 52,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.132 million viewers; 32,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.132 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.112 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.111 million viewers; 22,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (May 2-7 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 8 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.286 million viewers; 352,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.996 million viewers; 107,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.605 million viewers; 131,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.223 million viewers; 26,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.206 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.149 million viewers; 54,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.142 million viewers; 25,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.059 million viewers; 8,000 adults 25-54
  • NewsNation: 0.052 million viewers; 10,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.449 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.431 million viewers

3. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.371 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.284 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.220 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.188 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.182 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 5/6/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.151 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.047 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.876 million viewers

36. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.941 million viewers

159. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.870 million viewers

161. Stanley Tucci “Piedmont” (CNN, Sun. 5/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.859 million viewers

290. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.567 million viewers

356. The Daily Show (CMDY, Wed. 5/4/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.434 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  CNN, MSNBC, HBO and HLN programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.623 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.553 million adults 25-54

3. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.533 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.503 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.480 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.475 million adults 25-54

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.474 million adults 25-54

8. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.445 million adults 25-54

9. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.444 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.441 million adults 25-54

76. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.231 million adults 25-54

81. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.228 million adults 25-54

96. Don Lemon Tonight (CNN, Mon. 5/2/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.211 million adults 25-54

129. The Daily Show (CMDY, Tue. 5/3/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.167 million adults 25-54

152. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.154 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

What Would a Jeff Warshaw Consortium Takeover of Cumulus Mean?

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

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On April 14, 2022, reports became public that a consortium led by Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw made an unsolicited, $1.2 billion bid (including debt) to acquire Cumulus Media.

Reuters reported that Warshaw planned to take the company private with a bid of $15 to $17 per share. As a result, Cumulus shares which traded in the $10 – $11 range over the past year, jumped to $14.21, a 40% increase and a level not seen since July 2021.

Cumulus management responded to the reports by acknowledging the indication of interest and stated it was “reviewing the letter.”

During Cumulus’s Q1 22 earnings call on May 4, President/CEO Mary Berner announced a $50 million stock buyback program and rejected the Warshaw consortium acquisition bid.

Radio companies have lagged the overall financial markets for over a decade. I have participated in conversations with groups that already own radio stations and others currently outside the industry who have considered buying radio groups.

In 2013 music streaming service Pandora bought an FM station in Rapid City, South Dakota. Upon first hearing that news, some of us thought perhaps they realized how undervalued FM signals were and would invest in the medium. Alas, Pandora thought they had found a backdoor means to lower its music royalty costs but otherwise had little interest in broadcast radio.

As somebody who has been involved in every facet of the radio industry for nearly 40 years, I was interested in far more than just the investment implications of the proposed buyout.

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

To answer that question, I used reviews from the website Glassdoor. Reviewers can rate the company on a one to five bases, with five the best and one the worst.

These reviews have to be taken with a grain of salt as former employees may have an ax to grind, but this caveat holds equally true for all employers.

The company Jeff Warshaw currently runs, Connoisseur Media, receives an average of 2.9 stars (out of five) on Glassdoor. This rating is based on just 32 reviews, so the low sample size is a factor to consider.

Cumulus currently has an average of 3.2 stars on Glassdoor based on over 800 reviews.

These Glassdoor reviews suggest that a new Cumulus led by Warshaw wouldn’t be an improvement over the current management. If it takes a knight on a white horse to make Cumulus a better company to work for, it will have to wait for another day.

To be fair, I don’t know Jeff Warshaw. I have never spoken with him. I would appreciate the opportunity to talk to him at the appropriate time (assuming that his attempted takeover remains ongoing). I also welcome employees of Connoisseur or Cumulus who feel the average reflected on Glassdoor is unfair to contact me (andy@andybloom.com). I will accept comments and input anonymously regardless of whether it is more positive or negative than Glassdoor poses for use in a future column.

While we’re looking at the reviews for Connoisseur and Cumulus, it’s a worthwhile exercise to see how the other major radio broadcast groups fare:

iHeart also rates a 3.2 with over 2,200 reviews.

Audacy receives a 3.5, which is misleading as it’s based on 23 reviews. Entercom had 691 reviews and rates a 3.1.

The best I can find in the industry among the majors is Cox with 4.1. Again, this may be deceiving. Apollo Global Management scores a more modest 3.1.

Hubbard has no reviews. I’m not sure why.

SiriusXM appears to have the highest current score at 3.6.

You’ll find common themes, positive and the negatives are dizzyingly familiar across the companies throughout these reviews.

The main reoccurring negative themes include:

· Low pay

· Long hours

· No chance for advancement

· Doing the work of too many people

· Management pays lip service to feedback but doesn’t do anything

The main reoccurring positive themes include:

· The people

· Fun place to work

· Perks – such as free tickets

· Glad to be working in the industry

I was curious about the differences between the companies employees rated higher and lower to work for. Listening to a couple of recent earnings calls revealed some of the variations. In next week’s column, we will examine some of the differences.

Are the pros and cons listed above familiar to you? I welcome your input and anonymous comments for next week’s follow-up column. Please reach out to me at andy@andybloom.com.

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