April 24, 2024

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Talk Radio Giant Tells Hosts to Stop ‘Stolen Elections’ Rhetoric

12 min read
Mark Levin, a Trump-supporting radio host, has tweeted about a &ldquo;massive fraud perpetrated against the president.&rdquo; <a href="https://twitter.com/marklevinshow/status/1345350325839015936"><br /></a>
Credit…Erik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

Cumulus Media, a talk radio company with a roster of popular right-wing personalities including Dan Bongino, Mark Levin and Ben Shapiro, has ordered its employees at 416 stations nationwide to steer clear of endorsing misinformation about election fraud or using language that promotes violent protest.

Brian Philips, an executive vice president of Cumulus, issued the directive in a stern memo on Wednesday after a pro-Trump mob breached the halls of Congress. Addressed to employees working in the company’s programming and talent divisions, including those at its syndication arm, Westwood One, the memo included an introduction in bold typeface, with many words capitalized for emphasis.

“We need to help induce national calm NOW,” it began.

“Cumulus and Westwood One will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended,” the memo continued. “The election has resolved, there are no alternate acceptable ‘paths.’ Please inform your staffs that we have ZERO TOLERANCE for any suggestion otherwise. If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately. There will be no dog-whistle talk about ‘stolen elections,’ ‘civil wars’ or any other language that infers violent public disobedience is warranted, ever.”

The memo, which was first reported by Inside Music Media, underlined a statement at the end of the paragraph: “Through all of our communication channels, including social, we will work to urge restoration of PEACE AND ORDER.”

Cumulus did not respond to requests for comment. The company owns and operates 416 radio stations across 86 markets, including WMAL in Washington, WNBM in New York and KABC in Los Angeles.

In 2020, right-wing radio was a hotbed of baseless election fraud speculation, with hosts spouting some of the same debunked arguments later repeated by the mob that stormed the Capitol and have been echoed by Trump supporters threatening armed protests outside state government buildings in the days to come.

Mr. Levin has tweeted about a “massive fraud perpetrated against the president” and promoted the Jan. 6 demonstration in the days leading up to it. On the Wednesday episode of his radio show, Mr. Levin, who also hosts a Fox News program on Sunday nights, criticized those who stormed the Capitol, but defended “people who are peacefully protesting” against “a stolen election” — a characterization that has been repeatedly debunked as false.

Mr. Bongino, a former Secret Service agent and a current Fox News contributor, was also an investor in Parler, a social media app popular with Trump supporters. In an appearance on Fox News on Monday, Mr. Bongino fulminated against the suspension of Parler by major technology companies, referring to “the communists at Apple and Amazon and Google.”

Mr. Bongino, who hosts a podcast and has a popular Facebook page, has raised questions about what he has called “irregularities” in the 2020 election. On an episode of his podcast in November, he said, referring to the election, “Ladies and gentlemen, these claims that there are no evidence of fraud are utterly absurd.” On the day after the storming of the Capitol, he said he would not let go of his belief that “we had an election with unbelievably suspect behavior, and we better damn well fix it.” On Monday’s episode of his radio show, Mr. Bongino said that “principles about what happened in the election, the constitutionality, are in dispute and should be.”

Efforts to contact Mr. Bongino and Mr. Levin were unsuccessful. Mr. Shapiro, who said in an email on Monday that he had neither heard from Cumulus executives nor received a memo about coverage of election results, declared in October that he planned to vote for Mr. Trump but has also repeatedly stressed that the president has not produced evidence of voting fraud.

Brian Rosenwald, the author of “Talk Radio’s America” and a scholar in residence at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that talk radio has been “a massive force on the right” since the late 1980s, when Rush Limbaugh, a backer of the president’s baseless election-fraud claims, was ascendant, and was a key to Mr. Trump’s political rise.

“Base voters wanted someone who sounded like their favorite hosts, and Trump was just using the talk radio playbook,” Mr. Rosenwald said. “A lot of the anger on the right that is channeled into Trump was something hosts were picking up in their audiences and voicing long before Trump came along.”

Ray Appleton, a talk radio host in Fresno, Calif., was suspended by the Cumulus-owned central California station KMJ after saying on his Thursday show that “certain news editors should be hanged, maybe,” The Fresno Bee reported.

The Cumulus memo is part of a wave of censure from corporate America, one that has included banks and blue-chip businesses distancing themselves from the president and his allies, and social media companies throwing agitators off their platforms.

“Cumulus has a big, broad set of interests — they have advertisers, sports contracts, nonconservative podcasts, dealings with the F.C.C. over station licensing,” Mr. Rosenwald said. “They understand that if you get involved in something that risks instigating violence, there’s a serious danger to the bottom line.”

Sarah Sobieraj, a sociology professor at Tufts University, said that recent events offered an opportunity to rethink how “hyper-ideological spaces” are used to spread information.

“We may have seen the business model that relied on making people feel angry and afraid to drive attention reach its breaking point,” she said. “Media folks far and wide are probably asking the same questions: Could we be alienating members of the audience, losing investors and advertisers? We can’t just keep amping up.”

A woman wore a QAnon hat at a Trump rally in September. Amazon said it would remove QAnon merchandise from its website.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Amazon said on Monday that it was removing products promoting QAnon, a baseless conspiracy, from its website, after QAnon supporters were prominent in the riot at the Capitol last week.

The move followed Amazon’s decision to boot Parler, a right-wing social network, from its web servers and cloud services.

About 60 percent of the products sold on Amazon are offered by third-party merchants, who list items on the site and often use the company’s advertising and delivery services. Flags, shirts, hats and other merchandise, as well as self-published books promoting QAnon, still showed up on a search on Monday afternoon, many with favorable customer reviews and indications that they were shipped to customers from Amazon’s warehouses. Amazon said removing items could take several days.

Amazon’s policies prohibit products that “promote, incite, or glorify hate or violence toward any person or group,” though it has faced criticism for not swiftly enforcing its own rules. If sellers try to evade detection systems, they could risk losing the ability to sell on the site entirely.

More than 57,000 potentially ineligible borrowers collected $3.6 billion from the government’s flagship small-business relief program last year, the Small Business Administration’s inspector general said Monday.

The inspector general’s office matched the list of Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients to the Treasury Department’s Do Not Pay list and found that just over 1 percent of the program’s five million borrowers raised red flags.

The Treasury system tracks parties that are not eligible for federal payments, including dead people, those who have defaulted on federal debts and companies barred from receiving federal contracts.

The report echoed earlier warnings from lawmakers and government watchdogs that the $523 billion program’s emphasis on speed opened the door to criminals and scammers. The government instructed banks, which issued the loans, to approve and fund applications in as little as a day, and it eliminated most of the safeguards that normally accompany loans — including otherwise routine checks to confirm an applicant’s identity and eligibility.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said in October that it had identified more than $4 billion in potentially improper loans, and some bankers believe the final total will be much higher.

The stimulus bill passed last month included $284 billion to restart the Paycheck Protection Program, and the S.B.A. began accepting applications on Monday from a small group of lenders.

This time, every application sent to the agency will be checked against the Do Not Pay database, Jovita Carranza, the agency’s administrator, said in a written response included in the inspector general’s report.

The Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement Monday with an app developer accused of using images users had uploaded for safekeeping to build facial recognition databases.

The company, Everalbum, for years operated a photo-storage app called Ever. The commission, in its first case focused exclusively on facial recognition technology, said in a complaint that the company had used photos stored in the Ever app to develop facial recognition technology that it sold to clients for “security, access control and facilitating payments.” The company also enabled facial recognition in the Ever app without asking users first, the agency said in its complaint.

The developer shut down the app last year.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the company will agree to delete photos from users who deactivated their accounts. It will also delete facial recognition models that were developed using images from the app.

The settlement is a step to rein in the world of facial recognition companies. Critics of the technology say it can violate consumer privacy and be used improperly by law enforcement.

Ford Motor said on Monday that it would stop making cars and trucks in Brazil, closing two plants immediately and a third later in the year as part of a reorganization of its ailing South American operations.

The company has struggled on the continent for years, and it said the coronavirus pandemic had increased “persistent industry idle capacity and slow sales that have resulted in years of significant losses.”

Ford said the decision will result in a $4.1 billion charge on its financial statements, about $2.5 billion in 2020 and $1.6 billion this year.

“We know these are very difficult, but necessary, actions to create a healthy and sustainable business,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s president and chief executive. “We are moving to a lean, asset-light business model by ceasing production in Brazil.”

The company is closing its plants in Camaçari and Taubaté right away and will close the Troller factory in Horizonte in the last three months of the year. Ford will continue selling cars and trucks in Brazil; those vehicles will be imported from Argentina, Uruguay and elsewhere.

Ford’s decision will hurt an already ailing Brazilian economy, which the International Monetary Fund expects to contract by 5.8 percent this year. The country struggled with a surge in coronavirus cases last year and has recently seen another big increase.

Andrew Silow-Carroll will remain the editor in chief of The Jewish Week.
Credit…American Jewish Press Association

Like many news publications, The Jewish Week was pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic. Now it has a new owner.

The brand of the 46-year-old outlet, which serves New York’s large Jewish population, now belongs to 70 Faces Media, a nonprofit publisher of several Jewish-interest sites and a wire service, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The Jewish Week and 70 Faces Media announced the arrangement on Monday.

In July, The Jewish Week laid off staff and suspended its print edition in the wake of heavy advertising losses caused, in part, by the pandemic. Its purchase by another news outlet is another instance of consolidation in the local news industry.

The Jewish Week recently raised money from donors to cover pay owed to freelancers, said Kai Falkenberg, president of The Jewish Week’s board.

There are no plans to revive the print edition of Jewish Week, which had a circulation of 40,000 in 2019, said Ami Eden, the 70 Faces chief executive and executive editor. The Jewish Week’s editor in chief, Andrew Silow-Carroll, a former top editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, will continue to run The Jewish Week.

“Jewish media is experiencing the same absolute crisis that other local news has, and it’s been exacerbated during the pandemic,” said Philissa Cramer, editor in chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “To imagine local Jewish communities without robust coverage is a shame, and I’d like to be part of a solution that can imagine a sustainable pathway.”

Other 70 Faces Media sites include Kveller, for parents; Alma, for young people; and The Nosher, which covers food.

A World Wrestling Entertainment event in Riyadh in 2019. George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, who spent more than a decade at WWE, announced the formation of a new investment firm.
Credit…Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

George Barrios and Michelle Wilson — the former co-presidents of World Wrestling Entertainment who abruptly left the company a year ago — are announcing a new project: Isos Capital Management, an investment firm focused on media, entertainment and sports. The DealBook newsletter was the first to report the new venture.

Mr. Barrios and Ms. Wilson are veterans of the sports and entertainment business, including more than a decade at spent WWE. “We feel really proud of everything that was accomplished during our tenure, so we’re excited about the next chapter with Isos,” Ms. Wilson said. After WWE, they both considered several opportunities — including chief executive roles — but decided instead to continue working together.

The new fund will look at companies at all stages of development, with a focus on new technologies that keep fans and subscribers engaged. “There are spaces — whether it’s video gaming, e-sports, sports betting — that will drive fan engagement, and that digital transformation will really become the vehicle to make that happen,” Ms. Wilson said. She and Mr. Barrios declined to comment on other details about the fund.

As money has poured into the industry and deal-making has picked up, the fund’s founders believe their experience and contacts set them apart; at WWE, they led the company’s aggressive international push and signed content deals with USA Network and Fox Sports, among others. The company’s media division has helped counteract declining performance in its live performance unit in recent years.

“Capital is important, but it’s fungible,” Mr. Barrios said. “What Michelle and I bring is expertise, credibility and a global network.”

  • Stocks on Wall Street and in Europe fell on Monday, a day of consolidation after the markets began the year with a rally to record highs.

  • The S&P 500 and the Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.7 percent, and the FTSE 100 in Britain dropped 1.1 percent.

  • Twitter tumbled more than 6 percent, recovering from a drop of nearly twice that earlier in the day, after the social media company on Friday permanently banned President Trump, who had more than 88 million followers, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.” Shares in Facebook, which on Thursday said it would block Mr. Trump on its platforms for at least the rest of his term, fell 4 percent.

  • Boeing fell 1.5 percent following Saturday’s crash in Indonesia of a 737-500 series passenger carrying 62 people. The Sriwijaya Air flight fell into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta.

  • Last week, U.S. stock markets pushed higher after Democrats won two Senate seats in Georgia, clinching control of the upper house of Congress and increasing investors’ expectations of more fiscal spending. The markets continued to rise even after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Wednesday. Democrats, pointing to Mr. Trump’s inciting of the mob, have taken steps to remove Mr. Trump from the presidency.

  • Bitcoin fell to about $33,000 on Monday, down more than 20 percent from a record high of $41,962 reached on Friday. The cryptocurrency has surged substantially in recent weeks; just a month ago its price was below $20,000.

Nothing has stopped the stock market’s momentum over the last year: not the pandemic, not record unemployment and not the Capitol riot.

But don’t take that as a sign that the market is envisioning a calm and prosperous six months ahead, writes The New York Times’s Jeff Sommer. Instead, the rally simply reflects the greed of bullish investors. Here’s what’s fueling the high hopes:

  • Interest rates remain extraordinarily low, and the Federal Reserve and other central banks have said they are determined to keep short-term rates low. When rates are low, stocks and other risky assets are comparatively attractive.

  • The pandemic is the main cause of global economic troubles and it will eventually end. With vaccinations underway, Wall Street hopes that growth in most regions and sectors will surge later this year, along with rising corporate profits.

  • With Democrats sweeping the two contested Senate seats in Georgia, the chances of at least some further economic stimulus have increased. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will most likely be able to deliver more aid to people in need and to local governments, which is expected to increase economic growth.

  • Truly sweeping legislative changes will be difficult, if not impossible, given the Democratic Party’s razor-thin margin in the Senate and reduced majority in the House. Some increased spending is likely, but this slim grip on power implies that big tax increases on wealthy investors and rich corporations may not happen soon.

  • The election may have delivered something close to a Goldilocks alignment for the stock market. Mr. Biden’s cabinet picks so far suggest that he will govern as a centrist, and the market historically has fared well under Democratic presidents who do not have sweeping control of Congress. The possibility that the Biden administration will usher in a more efficient and inclusive government, with more spending and only moderate changes otherwise, is seen as a sweet outcome for stocks.

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