The first GOP debate was a record-breaking cable event

On Thursday night, Fox News Channel hosted a Republican presidential primary debate with 10 of the 17 Republican candidates. At 24 million viewers, it became the most viewed non-ESPN program in cable history. Hell, even I tuned in for part of it (after watching the more interesting Canadian leadership debate) — the first time I’ve ever intentionally watched Fox News. Possibly even the first time I’ve watched Fox News and wasn’t also stuck in a train/bus terminal or airport.

The debate beat out last year’s record-breaker for a non-sports event, an episode of The Walking Dead, by a margin of 6.6 million viewers. The previous record-holder for a cable news event was Larry King’s 1993 moderation of a CNN debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot on NAFTA’s proposed ratification in Congress. Even that audience was 7 million smaller.

This debate had more than 20 million more viewers than the first Republican debate in 2011. Analysts credited — who else but the reality TV star? — Donald Trump’s anticipated presence for generating widespread awareness of exactly when the debate would be, so that more people didn’t miss it. Sadly, the clown car that is the 2016 Republican presidential field has officially become one of America’s top reality TV programs, it seems. A reality show like The Bachelorette only pulls in 8 million viewers at the most these days.

However, in general, Broadcast TV often still generates much larger audience numbers than cable on a fairly regular basis, although there too sports events continue to be the mega-draw. Still, the Thursday night debate exceeded the average viewership of the past decade’s most popular non-sports network show, NCIS, for both the most recent season and any other season, including its peak in 2012 at 21.34 million viewers.

Another interesting comparison point is against series finales on network TV. So for whatever it’s worth, in absolute numbers, this debate’s audience was between the finale viewership counts for St. Elsewhere (22.5m in 1988) and Full House (24.3m in 1995) — 19th and 18th respectively on the list of all-time highs for network TV series finales. However, it has been more than a decade since any network TV series finale exceeded the viewership of Thursday night’s debate. For example, the debate audience was nearly twice the audience of the much-anticipated 2014 finale of How I Met Your Mother.

Remarkably, the “JV debate” earlier in the day was still one of Fox News Channel’s highest-rated primary debates in history, although 18 million fewer people tuned in and there was barely even a live audience.

February 11, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 116


Topics: Mike Pence’s failed state media outlet, Nigeria elections postponement, UK elections early predictions. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: February 10th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Is Indiana’s short-lived state media outlet a harbinger of even more challenges for local journalism?
– What does the postponement of Nigeria’s elections mean for the country’s democracy?
– UK: What could a Labour-SNP coalition mean for Britain? What effect will the centrality of UKIP’s talking points have on the campaign?

Episode 116 (52 min)
AFD 116

Related links
Segment 1

AFD: Pence’s Pravda
Indianapolis Star: Pence starts state-run news outlet to compete with media
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel: Indiana Governor Mike Pence scraps plan for state-run news website

Segment 2

AFD: Nigeria military forces elections to be postponed
BBC: Nigeria election: Five questions about delay


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Launch failure: The rapid sputter of Alarab News Channel

There is something darkly humorous about this. They spent years putting Alarab News Channel together, staffing people all over the world, getting ten years of funding lined up (from a Saudi prince with close ties to Bahrain’s monarchy), and hyping it. It went off the air in less than a day.

In an interview before the debut of Al Arab, the general manager [and veteran reporter], Jamal Khashoggi, said the channel would seek to steer a middle path.

“We are going to be neutral; we are not going to take sides,” he said. “We are going to bring in all sides in any conflict because right now we have a conflict in almost every Arab country.”


Bahrain may not have been the best choice for a “middle path” free speech channel.

Pence’s Pravda

If you had told me a year ago — or even yesterday — that a conservative Republican governor would launch a taxpayer-funded government media outlet, I would have laughed in your face. But that’s exactly what Republican Governor (and former Chairperson of the U.S. House Republican Conference) Mike Pence of Indiana has just announced. This is supremely mystifying.

Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news service that will provide pre-written news stories to Indiana news outlets, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star.

Pence is planning to launch “Just IN” in late February, a website and news service that will feature stories written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.

“At times, Just IN will break news — publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such ‘exclusive’ coverage remain under discussion,” according to a question-and-answer sheet distributed last week to communications directors for state agencies.

Update: On January 29, 2015, Gov. Pence’s administration announced they were canceling plans for the project.

Many White Americans still clueless on Ferguson, finds Pew poll

Not surprising, but still very disturbing results from a Pew poll on the Ferguson situation.

47% of White Americans think “race is getting too much attention” in a story of nearly exclusively White police forces openly oppressing and attacking a two-thirds Black community after shooting down an unarmed Black kid without any known probable cause at the time.

Meanwhile, only one third of White Americans believe the “police response has gone too far.” You know, the response where police are firing dangerous nerve gas and bullet-alternatives (which have killed people in other cases) into crowds with children in them.

But in defense of the clueless masses, the mainstream news media reports keep uncritically repeating the fanciful law enforcement claims that they were under siege by “Molotov cocktails” no one has seen and “coordinated” attacks on their command center, which doesn’t seem grounded in reality. So, even if some people still wouldn’t have a problem with the police response when given the real facts of the situation, a larger proportion don’t have access to those facts in the first place to make an accurate assessment.

Kremlin finds its James O’Keefe for Ukraine

Buzzfeed ran a very detailed takedown on a British freelance vlogger named Graham Phillips, who is stringing (temp-reporting) regularly for Russian state media, especially RT, all of which answer (to varying degrees) to the Kremlin in Moscow.

The best way I can describe him is that he’s like a British James O’Keefe but for Russian media instead of Breitbart. Just walks into places with a camera, gets people to make up stuff, and “reports” it. (Not to mention a shared, if rather more literal in Phillips’s case, affinity for prostitution.)

Here’s just one of many great pull quotes from the Buzzfeed exposé:

He seems unaware — either through gleeful disregard or rookie ignorance — of basic journalistic ethics, objectivity, or production values. He acts as if he has no concerns for his own personal safety, running across fields toward Ukrainian army installations, interviewing rebels as bullets fly overhead, and baiting militia manning rebel checkpoints.

In addition to his otherwise very weird background, there’s some indication that his current hostility toward the new government in Kiev may be motivated entirely by a recent breakup with a Ukrainian girlfriend who happened to support the protest movement. So now he just wanders around Eastern Ukraine posting crazy 30-90 second videos “interviewing” locals with no fact-checking, which racks up millions of views in sympathetic (Russian) circles.

Another great pull:

He says that he has no particular connection to or affinity for Russia, though he uses language of “fascists” and the “Kiev junta” that often matches Russian talking points word for word.

“There’s this idea that I have this dark line to the Kremlin but it’s really not the case,” he said. “They’ve got this terminology that they use but also that matches my own. That is how I feel,” he added. When pressed on how exactly he developed his political beliefs, Phillips is evasive, but says that they are based on observations from his time spent living in Ukraine. He has only visited Russia “a couple times” on holiday. “It’s very nice,” he said.

Beyond his frequent sales of video clips to Russian media, he is also selling to U.S. web publications such as POLITICO and Newsweek. All told, he’s made $20,000 in less than two months off the videos, with more during the Crimea invasion.

Which is stupid for everyone, including the Russian media, because his clips are so riddled with errors that even RT has had to retract some of them. And that is impressive.

John Oliver interviews NSA’s Keith Alexander

John Oliver’s first interview on his new show: the head of the NSA. Oliver is already brilliant, just as he was when he guest-hosted The Daily Show last summer. This video is well worth your time.

I really almost choked from laughing when Oliver went off about the deeply misguided “needle in the haystack” metaphor.
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