Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wellmark, Rape and Murder

July 17, 2007, 6:10, 6:45, 7:45 a.m.

My Fairness Doctrine column in this morning's Gazette, below

Wellmark Naming; Wellmark Reorganization?; Eastern Michigan

The possibility of future, further negotiations with Wellmark is back in the news. The insurance company -- now under attack from the popular movie "Sicko" (along with the "unhealthy insurance industry" generally and Big Pharma) -- wants to buy the name of, and positive association with, the UI College of Public Health. Initially rejected by the faculty, it now appears to be a possible agenda item after President Sally Mason arrives.

(As Michael said in his email this morning, "once you add up what you pay for out-of-pocket in premiums, deductibles, co-pays, overpriced medicines, and treatments that aren't covered . . . we, as Americans, are paying far more than the Canadians or Brits or French are paying in taxes. We just don't call these things taxes, but that's exactly what they are.")

Brian Morelli, "UI Faculty to Rethink Naming; Will Meet Early in the School Year,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 17, 2007, p. A1.

Diane Heldt, "Faculty Shifts on Naming Gift,"
The Gazette, July 17, 2007, p. A1.

Diane Heldt, "Universities Grapple with Corporate Funding,"
The Gazette, July 17, 2007, p. A1.

Not waiting for Sally is UI vice president for medical affairs Jean Robillard, who is putting in place a total reorganization of the billion-dollar-hospital and related UI units with himself in charge two weeks before she arrives. The Press-Citizen asks: Why now?

Editorial, "Why the Hurry with Hospital Reorganization?"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 17, 2007, p. A11.

Brian Morelli, "UI Reorganizes Health System," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 17, 2007, p. A1.

Patrick Muller, "Headine Misses Mark on UIHC," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 17, 2007, p. A11.

One might also ask, what has been Wellmark's role in this reorganization plan? It is inconceivable that it would not have an interest in the matter. (I earlier reported its involvement in the details of Des Moines hospitals; we've heard what is alleged to have been its role in the departure of Dave Skorton; and we've recently seen its display of petulance and a sense of entitlement regarding the naming of the College of Public Health.) Was it involved? Was there some aspect of the prior organization -- or administrative personnel -- that was not to its liking?

While we're getting answers to the questions posed in the Press-Citizen's editorial we might try to find the answers to some of these questions as well.

Meanwhile, as one president arrives another is fired and departs. The controversy at Eastern Michigan University offers more insight into the vast array of ethical problems confronting President Mason -- and every other president of what was formerly a "public university" -- as America's higher education stumbles down the path to privatization and corporatization.

I earlier blogged at length about the hundreds of examples of ethical dilemmas, and conflicts of interest, that will confront President Sally Mason after her arrival -- in an age in which university presidents, like athletic coaches and deans, must increasingly consider the impact of their decisions on fund raising (including the impact of increases, or decreases, in enrollment on the revenue stream called "tuition"). See Nicholas Johnson, "Greed, Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption" in "Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption," June 26, 2007, and Nicholas Johnson, "More on 'The Name Game'" in "Name Game & Other Moral Dilemmas," July 4, 2007.

I asked how far the UI should be willing to go in naming buildings, colleges -- indeed the university itself -- for corporations; never knowing at the time we'd soon be confronting such a decision. I also wrote, "How candid should she be about, or should she even acknowledge at all, a potential scandal that could deal a blow to fund raising?" -- never anticipating there would soon be what could be an example of that ethical dilemma at another university.

That may have been precisely the question confronting the recently-fired president of the University of Eastern Michigan. The facts are not totally clear, and it did seem a bit precipitous for the school's board of regents to fire him before he'd even had an opportunity to present his side of the story. But what is alleged is that following what is now apparently conceded to have been a rape and murder of a female student, he and other administrators took the public position, and told the parents, that there had been no foul play.

After all, it does tend to discourage efforts to increase enrollment -- and that tuition revenue stream -- to have it known that parents' daughters risk rape and murder if they choose to attend your university.

Jeff Karoub, "3 E. Mich. Administrators, Including President, Forced Out," Detroit Free Press, July 17, 2007.

And that's why this blog entry is named, "Wellmark, Rape and Murder." The case studies from the University of Iowa and the University of Eastern Michigan are each but sub-sets of a much larger issue: the ethical dilemmas created, and confronting university administrators, as formerly public universities' missions are transformed from (a) promoting students' education and professors' independent research into (b) more formal relationships as the subsidiaries of corporate America and the adoption of its profit-maximizing practices and acceptance of its funding.

Fairness Doctrine
Nicholas Johnson, "In Media Concentration Age, Fairness Needed More," The Gazette, July 17, 2007, p. A4.

Here is the column as submitted, precisely the 600 words requested, with [bracketed] indications of changes, and additional comments of mine in italics. (Let me make clear that I appreciate The Gazette's willingness to run this response to its attack on the Fairness Doctrine at all, as I also appreciate the little editorial improvements they, or anyone editing any of my writing, provide. But some of the substantive deletions and alterations were such that, in order to clarify what I was trying to say, I thought it useful to present the column as submitted as well as the link to the paper's version.)

Fairness Still Needed
The Gazette has editorially denounced re-introduction of the FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine” as inappropriate regulation (“Beware of ‘Fair’ in Talk on the Air,” July 10). The paper is nonetheless willing to comply with its spirit by letting this former FCC commissioner say a word on its behalf.

[This entire lead paragraph was deleted. The Gazette substituted the following: "Recent arguments by some political leaders to reintroduce the Federal Communication Commission's Fairness Doctrine are not inappropriate, as some critics claim. As a former FCC commissioner, I offer a word on the doctrine's behalf."

I had used that lead because it involved and illustrated a substantive point, central to the piece, as well as being cute: It's not hard to comply with the Fairness Doctrine, and professional journalists do it as a matter of course -- including those at the Gazette in this instance. The fact that the column was also a response, of sorts, to a Gazette editorial -- and providing a citation to that editorial for the benefit of any interested reader -- also seemed relevant to me.]

When radio was but a toddler in the 1920s broadcasters asked for and received government regulation. They wanted licenses to limit the number of their competitors – and signal interference. Iowa’s Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, held radio conferences that led to the Radio Act of 1927 (later re-enacted as the Communications Act of 1934).

As one 1920s congressman presciently observed, “American thought . . . will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations [and] woe be to those who dare to differ with them.” From these concerns came the “equal opportunity” provisions for political campaigns, and the FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine,” ultimately enacted by congress.

Even had there been no industry request, regulation proved to be essential. There are still more people wanting to broadcast than there are frequencies. So station operators aren’t "owners." They’re limited-term licensees with a statutory requirement they serve "the public interest, convenience and necessity." Government involvement in choosing licensees makes their stations a kind of "public forum." As the Supreme Court has said for broadcasters (but not newspapers) the First Amendment requires some provision be made for a range of views. The Fairness Doctrine is one way to do that.

The Fairness Doctrine only required two things professional journalists do anyway: (1) report on controversial issues, and (2) present a range of views. Moreover, controversy builds viewership and increases profits. So what’s the problem? For most broadcasters there wasn’t any.

Procedure was simple. [This sentence was deleted.] Viewers’ serious fairness complaints were forwarded to stations for response. Most were dismissed. Worst “punishment”? Put on additional programming – for which the station picked subjects, formats and spokespersons. No one ever lost a license solely for Fairness Doctrine violations. It wasn’t very intimidating. [This last sentence was deleted.]

No view however outrageous was “censored.” [This sentence was deleted. I thought this point important because critics, including The Gazette in its editorial, argue that the Doctrine has been, and would be, used to "muzzle" or "censor" individuals and views the FCC didn't like. Ironically, not only is this assertion false, but the contrary assertion is true: it is the broadcasters who, according to the Supreme Court, have as a part of their First Amendment right to speak a First Amendment right to censor views they don't like -- limited only, as it once was, by the Fairness Doctrine the Supreme Court approved. ] The Doctrine is not about being “fair.” Neither “balance” nor “equal time” is mentioned. The Supreme Court found it didn’t cause broadcasters to avoid controversy.

The doctrine doesn’t apply to an individual program, like Rush Limbaugh, just licensees. (1) He’s a programmer, not a licensee. (2) Besides, the doctrine doesn’t deal with licensees’ individual programs, only their total, overall programming need comply. The Fairness Doctrine couldn’t touch Rush’s opinions – [let alone cancel his show. -- The Gazette substituted "or his show." Of course, Fairness Doctrine critics argue that the reason advocates want it reinstated is because they want Rush Limbaugh off the air; so I thought reference to the fact the Fairness Doctrine would not enable anyone to "cancel his show" was relevant.]

Are there more information sources today? Yes, but (1) there are far fewer owners, (2) the major networks are still most Americans’ news source, and (3) “the ideas of the marketplace” (advertiser-supported stations) do not make a “marketplace of ideas” or provide much diversity.

[I can express personal views in my blog, and do -- as do millions of others. But 100 times more people will see this column. And millions more will watch a network news program tonight. -- The Gazette deleted this paragraph.]

There are now five or six mega-media firms controlling most of the world’s media. And not just newspapers and television. They also control movies, music, cable, video games and most of the other media in our mediated lives.

Don’t worry, we won’t get a new Fairness Doctrine. Those firms are too politically powerful.

But we should. [There has always been a need for broadcasting’s Fairness Doctrine. But -- This substantive sentence -- albeit my own personal opinion -- was deleted by The Gazette.] with the media concentration in today’s marketplace the need is, if anything, even greater. Without a Fairness Doctrine, as Herbert Hoover and the Congress were wise enough to see 80 years ago, and any observant American can see today, “woe be to us.”
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Former FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and blogs at FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com, where his own Fairness Doctrine permits readers' contrary views.

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3 comments:

STI Hawk said...

Nick, nowhere did I read in your article online or in the Gazette exactly why (at least, a really good reason why)the FD needs to be reinstated? Care to comment on why it needs to be?

E Pismo Clam said...

Re: Wellmark and UI

If the UI goes aheads and names one of its colleges after a corporation, I plan on mailing back in my diploma to end my association as a graduate with the UI. I will also remove the notation of my BA being from the UI on my resume.

John Colloton already has something named after him. Keep the name what it is. Wellmark making the gift based on naming rights just proves it is all about marketing and getting the name out there, NOT about the mission or the quality of the school. Does Dr. Theophulus or whatever his name is think that we are all really that gullible? I guess so.

I don't care if Marvin the Hutt never gives another red cent to the UI. I think we are seeing his motives were based on enriching himself and Wellmark shareholders anyway. Don't let the door hit you on the way out Marv!

Anonymous said...

How righteous of Eastern Michigan University to fire an administrator for interfering in a sex crime case. The ex-President clearly was uninformed that Coach Steve Alford could successfully fly up from New Mexico to intervene on the part of the sex offender with the victim...