The song “Call Me Irresponsible” was written in 1962 by Jimmy Van Husen and Sammy Cahn for Judy Garland to sing at a CBS dinner to celebrate her upcoming variety show and to poke fun at herself for being flaky. Later that year Frank Sinatra recorded it for his “Sinatra’s Sinatra” album and it became one of Old Blue Eyes’ biggest hits.
I claim to “write about the media – the good, the bad, and the irresponsibly ugly.” But being ugly and irresponsible depends on what you stand for and where you sit.
I was proud to have worked at CBS in the glory days of CBS News in the late 1960s and early 1970s and for NBC in the middle and late 1970s when Julian Goodman, former head of NBC News, was Chairman of NBC, then owned by RCA. I believed that broadcasting was about serving a community’s and the public “interest, convenience, and necessity” – it was a public trust first and profits are what allowed a broadcasting company to survive, thrive, and serve. When I was the general manager of radio stations, I believed that entertainment programming (primarily music) was a confectionary topping that made the medicine of news and editorials palatable – yes, we did editorials in those days and even endorsed candidates for local office (CBS and NBC were too timid to let the general managers endorse candidates for national office).
Starting in the late 1980s I was proud to teach for 10 years at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the country’s first journalism school. I taught management, sales, and media economics courses that emphasized the concept that the goal of management and sales was to deliver revenue and profits in order to sustain the media’s mission as a public trust and serve as a vitally important vehicle for informing the polity so it could make good decisions about its government and its leaders – to protect our democracy, in other words.
Thus, for the media to be responsible, it meant that it must keep the public reliably informed about important issues, in my public-trust view.
But in the 1980s, the media industry was invaded by MBAs who were taught in America’s graduate business schools that they were primarily responsible to media owners, stockholders, to maximize their wealth – to maximize shareholder value. Agency theory and free market theory posted that managers were surrogates for stockholders, and that self-interest, as opposed to public interest, was proper because it lead to market efficiency.
These theories led to deregulation of the media, manager greed, disastrous mergers, conglomeration, unconscionably astronomical media executive pay, and celebrity news – to news as porn.
Thus, for the media to be responsible, it means that it must maximize the wealth of media executives and faceless institutional investors – the public be dammed – in the maximize-shareholder-value view. Or, as Marie Antoinette was incorrectly attributed as saying, “let them eat cake.” Or, as CBS CEO Les Moonves might say, “Let them watch ‘Survivor.’”
So, who’s irresponsible, the public-trust-first (PTF) people or the maximize-shareholder-value-first (MSVF) people? You know who’s right, but the MSVF people are winning and will continue to win as long as you watch television – the biggest offender.
Turn off your TVs and click on ads on The Huffington Post or JackMyers.com, ad-supported websites where this blog appears, so that advertisers will know that in order to reach a very smart, well-educated, group of gorgeous people with high incomes, they have to buy advertising on sites that appeal to us.