Stop Sinclair, Save Local News

June 14, 2018

Sinclair, the owner of more television stations in America than any other operator, is close to approval of a deal to buy a bunch of major market television stations from the once-great newspaper, radio, and TV company, Tribune. If (when) approved, Sinclair will have “penetration” into 72% of homes in the USA, a previously illegal “share-of-voice.” They have found a soul mate in Ajit Pai, the Republican chairman of the regulatory agency, the Federal Communications Commission. Mr. Pai has bent over backward to accommodate this ideological takeover of our community asset, the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s what carries broadcast signals from station towers to our homes (but mostly to cable company “head-ends,” a distinction that has great import as we’ll demonstrate in a second).

A short history of broadcast regulation—it’s not boring or complicated. Observe: recognizing the importance of local news and diversity in the voices that bring it to our living rooms, the federal government long ago set inviolable ownership caps that kept operators from having more than seven stations per ”service,” that is to say AM, FM, and TV. A grand total of twenty-one stations was all anybody could own and no more than one of each per market. There was more regulation still: unless grandfathered in, newspaper owners couldn’t buy local broadcast stations. That’s how serious we were about protecting share-of-voice from being controlled by too few entities.

The regs were appropriate and necessary until the rise of the second generation of broadcasting—the cable revolution—when, suddenly, viewers’ choices went from three or four local stations everywhere outside the top ten to a slate of hundreds of cable channels, delivered by an unregulated wire to the home. When challenged by all this competition, broadcasters set out to change the rules and tried to tilt the playing field back in their direction. They were successful in fits and starts beginning in the early Nineties with duopoly rules that allowed them to own two stations per service in certain big markets.  The Telecommunications Act of 1996 really loosened the rules by raising ownership caps (which were later, for all intents and purposes, abandoned).

Still, recognizing the importance of independent local news sources, the FCC continued to enforce some caps in the world of television. No single operator was allowed access to more than 39% of American households. Industry was dissatisfied with that number and argued that because UHF stations (channels 13 and up) had significantly smaller broadcast areas than their VHF competitors (channels 2-12), there should be a “UHF Discount” that allowed more ownership of these signal-disadvantaged stations. All well and good until the Nineties when the Commission acknowledged the obvious: cable penetration was in the high ninety-percent range and signal strength no longer mattered since, under the “Must-Carry” rules, cable operators had to deliver all licensed television stations in the same market. We thought that ended the UHF Discount, but Chairman Pai, with a little nudge from his friends at Sinclair, capriciously decided to ignore existing policy and reinstated the obsolete UHF Discount specifically to allow Sinclair to buy Tribune and achieve the aforementioned 72% penetration of U.S. HUT.

Okay, I lied, it was boring and arcane, but, history lesson over.

This blatantly political move—there’s no way the Republican-controlled FCC would reinvoke the UHF Discount for a Democratic operator—was meant to give one voice unprecedented control over our mutually owned airwaves. Here are two not-so-subtle examples of Sinclair’s politics. On Memorial Day a few years ago it refused to carry Nightline on its forty-one ABC affiliates because Ted Kopple was going to read the names of our service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reading the names of the fallen just seemed, well, too liberal to Sinclair CEO David. If your eyebrows are now raised in disbelief, welcome to the club. That’s a doozy. Another example happened earlier this year when corporate dictated that its local stations nationwide had to read a Trumped-up (pun intended) editorial statement about fake news. This angered Sinclair’s local journalists and illustrated how easily local news could be controlled by a single entity. It was a clear, and completely ignored warning.

The Road to Unfreedom author, Timothy Snyder, a historian at Yale, makes the important observation that Vladimir Putin’s strategy in Russia has been to eliminate independent local voices in media in favor of his hand-picked oligarchs. Mr. Snyder’s thesis is that when people lose access to trusted independent local news, they grow suspicious about the motivations of the strangers in their living room, specifically, the national, government-parroting media. One need only look at polling numbers on Americans’ current disregard for media to see that it’s already happening here.

In league with a partisan, the FCC is on the verge of allowing, for the first time in history, one owner to control local news from a geographically removed, central office. The cognitive dissonance necessary to make these regulatory moves will induce whiplash. If your argument against ownership caps is that there is such robust competitive environment, what with hundreds of cable competitors on the same playing field as local TV, that you need to let the free market play out, how can you simultaneously argue the UHF discount is once again a necessary hedge against cable?

We’ve entered the third wave of television. First, it was broadcast, and we imposed limits to ensure a broad range of opinions, primarily local, were available to viewers. Then we had cable, which mitigated the power of broadcast by bringing many new voices into the home. Now we have Internet Protocol (IP) which goes over the top of even cable to allow viewers to put essentially anything on the internet on their TV and mobile device screens.

Still, over ninety percent of Americans use over-the-air radio and television every week. We must decide whether the FCC should be in the business of willfully awarding huge amounts of spectrum to any one player and whether the government gets to pick winners and losers in the local news arena.

Advertisements

Enough With The Ads Already

May 29, 2018

by Jon Sinton

Who are the real winners in the current primary season? The winners are, always have been, and always will be local television stations.

Who are the real losers? The viewers.

During the primaries, and again leading up to the general election in November, campaign ads are impossible to avoid. They overwhelm local television like cockroaches on leftovers in a dark kitchen. Mostly, they are misleading attack ads researched to make sure they engage the unengaged with sensational, and often, unreliable, claims. The remainder are institutional ads. Like vanity license plates, some are entertaining, some are dumb, and most go unnoticed.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that $12.7 million was spent on television alone in the weeks before the Georgia gubernatorial primary. The Republicans will have a runoff, so that number is going to rise significantly.

The ads are cynical in nature. They play to our worst instincts by manipulating facts and figures. Mark Twain said, “You can torture statistics until they admit anything,” and political ads are a prime example. He also said, “People, they’re no damned good,” which I guess is a prerequisite for the quip about statistics to be true.

The ads are not intended to grab us by the frontal lobe where critical thinking takes place. They aim exclusively for our reptile “old brain,” the base ganglia where emotion rules. Because it is impossible to impart the nuances of a candidate’s thinking in a thirty-second ad, a sledgehammer is employed. In Georgia, we endured ads by Republican gubernatorial candidates that had them driving ginormous pickups on the lookout for illegal aliens they could personally detain, and another gleefully riding around in a “deportation bus” replete with bars on the windows. All they seek to do is outrage the viewer. Much heat is generated, but very little light.

Fear of loss always beats hope for gain. Insurance advertising taught us this valuable lesson years ago when brightly burning house fires lighted our path to their agents’ offices. Political consultants know that fear outsells hope. Thus, every ad is designed to reinforce our fears, not to enlighten us. In their worlds, all is darkness and foreboding.

For years, a proposal has floated around out there. It entails compelling local broadcasters to give up a defined amount of airtime to provide candidates the opportunity to fully outline their platforms free of charge. It would spell the end of the thirty-second ad and promote the good civics of letting office seekers present themselves and their ideas in detail.

There are a number of problems inherent in this idealistic approach. First and foremost is the loss of the biennial avalanche of cash that political advertising represents. Broadcasters will squeal. They’ll say it undermines free enterprise and their right to run their businesses as they see fit. They will not bother to mention the quid pro quo that landed them their broadcast licenses in the first place: that little-mentioned promise of acting in the public interest. They used to run free public service announcements. They used to air a written pledge, provided by the National Association of Broadcasters (back when that was a service organization, not a lobbying group) to uphold community standards and always act in the public interest. The deal was, we’ll award you this scarce license for the exclusive use of our common resource, the electromagnetic spectrum on which broadcast signals ride, in exchange for you behaving in ways that promote the common good. Seems pretty quaint now, huh?  Any pretense of acting in a civically-minded way disappeared with the deregulation of ownership caps in 1996. That, however, is a completely separate column.

The other thing they’ll scream is that such a policy puts them at a disadvantage to their cable and internet competitors who don’t use the broadcast spectrum and are therefore not subject to government oversight. Tough toenails, licensees. The license exists for reasons other than your monetary enrichment. You want to use our air? Play by our rules. If you really hate it, hand your license in and let someone with a more communitarian bent enjoy your forty- and fifty-percent gross profit margins.

Another problem is that most candidates are profoundly uninteresting and would likely create unwatchable programming if freed from the thirty-second paradigm. They simply could not compete with Ice Road Truckers, Housewives, or Bachelorettes.

Still, it is worth a shot since it might give us a real look at our would-be electeds, giving us viewers a much-needed win.

Jon Sinton is a former FCC licensee, co-founder of ProgressiveVoices.com and Board Chair of Common Cause Georgia

 

 

Two Simple Fixes

October 12, 2017

Two issues contribute to the decline of democracy in the U.S. Fortunately there are simple, common sense solutions for both. That’s unusual in this complicated world, and I hope you’ll share them:

The first concerns the outdated and increasingly unfair Electoral College. Instituted initially as a compromise to get the less populated slave-holding states onboard with a federal government, it was never a good bargain, and is now one that has significantly outlived its usefulness. Twice in the last 16 years, we have elected a president who lost the popular vote. That must never happen again.

A Constitutional amendment as a remedy is a tortuous and slow process that has a very slim chance of success. A simpler solution is the initiative to get states to adopt a law that forces its electors to match the will of the people by casting their votes for the winner of the popular vote in that state. Of course, the less populated states will not go along, but we really only need the swing states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, and Virginia, for instance, to bow to popular will and enforce a real democratic election process.

The second issue is gerrymandering. The redrawing of State and U.S. Congressional districts has historically been “winner-take-all,” and it has never been pretty. Both sides have used the power of redistricting to feather their own nests, but sophisticated, big-data-crunching software changed everything beginning with the 2000 census. (One of the purposes of the census taken at the beginning of each decade is supposed to be the recalculation of populations to ensure that districts are balanced at about 700,000 voters each.)

Before conservative leaders squawk that this is a subversive Democratic plot, please note that in California, where independent redistricting is now a fact of life, it was Nancy Pelosi, the right’s favorite Blue Meanie, who led the opposition, since it was the Dems who had the most to lose. Politicians cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They have vested interests in the outcome.

The nonpartisan government watchdog, Common Cause (full disclosure, I am Chair of Common Cause Georgia) led that effort, as well as the efforts in the other eleven states that have taken the power of redistricting out of the states’ legislatures’ hands. Simply put, we are trying to restore to the people that which is rightfully theirs. Currently, representatives pick their voters. It is time to return to a democratic process where voters pick their reps. Visit CommonCause.org to see more detail and learn where your state falls in this important battle.

We are living through a moment in history that should make it plain to all that freedom isn’t free and democracy isn’t impervious to the devious plans of those who seek political advantage. Granted, staring at our smartphones, watching Netflix, and playing video games is more fun, but if we’ll invest a tiny portion of our time in educating ourselves about these troubling issues and their simple fixes,  we’ll all rest easier.

The Russians Are Coming? No, They’re Already Here.

October 3, 2017
Yesterday in the midst of so much tragedy, I ran across a really disturbing Facebook post that was clearly intended to divide us. I won’t bother with the specifics, for that will distract from my purpose here, and will only serve that poster’s interests, which are diametrically opposed to our interests as Americans. It was in that moment of realization that the poster’s intent and origin became clear to me. It was a Russian troll, and he/she/it (who knows if it was even a human being?) was intent on stirring the shit.
I then realized that I (and you) have likely been arguing with these trolls for months if not years. Reflecting back on my social media life, I can recall specific arguments–ones I generally know better than to engage in–that, predictably, moved no one, and succeeded only in sharpening our edges and raising our temperatures.
That is precisely what they are geared to do. Theirs is a long game. A game of stealth. A hall of mirrors. They select politically hot and controversial topics and take a contrarian position. Mostly, they don’t care which side they argue. Their goal is to divide, it is not to win an argument, only to promote one. They have discovered our Achille’s Heel and are exploiting it in ways both obvious and subtle.
If on this tragic day you want to talk about gun control, they extoll the Second Amendment and question your fealty to the Constitution. If you want to talk about extending and protecting Second Amendment rights, they accuse you of being insensitive. They are not arguments you are going to win, and it is in the engagement that they win.
As my expatriated Russian friends who came West to make a good living and live a decent life know, their home country is a kleptocracy in the hands of a few ruthless billionaires and ideologues. The establishment there is not innovative in a commercial sense. Their only desire is to interfere in our representative government and free speech. But even in the Age of Trump, the USA will not succumb to their anti-democratic ideas.
But while they’ll never succeed in the open market of goods, services or ideas, they have been extremely successful in sewing the seeds of doubts about ourselves and our institutions. It is a kind of cynical Jiu-Jitsu. They use our own weight and our own freedoms against us. Our tradition–and passion–is in the arguing. In the pre-internet days, we relished a good argument with our fellow citizens. It’s an old and worthy American tradition. It is exactly how the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Bill of Rights were hammered out. It was a closed domestic loop, and interlopers were quickly identified and cast out.
While they may not build great cars or smartphones, one thing they have mastered is the social media hit-and-run. They didn’t invent the internet, but they know how to manipulate it. They show up in robotic droves, say things calculated to divide us, and disappear into the ether.
What you decide to do is up to you.
I, for one, am going to stop playing their game. I don’t wish to become paranoid or overly suspicious, but neither do I wish to be slammed to the mat by lending my own weight to their assault. Putin’s stated goal is to upset the balance of power. To destabilize elections (and whole societies if he can) here and in Western Europe by initially giving voice to our worst instincts, then giving voice to the retort. Anything to keep us at each others’ throats while they plant, spread, and promote fake news stories, knowing all the while that our legally sacrosanct–if completely nutty–websites that thrive on clickbait will pick them up and turn them viral. A sexual assault in Idaho that never happened; a child porn ring in DC that doesn’t exist. Child’s play when you know the Daily Stormers, InfoWars, and Breitbarts will play right into your hands.
So, I’m done. I’m no longer in the business–unwittingly or not– of providing aid and comfort to the enemy.
Author’s note: This was written October 2, 2017, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas Massacre.

Tell The Truth

June 27, 2017

A simple question for Republican senators and congressmen: why are you hiding behind empty promises—lies—when you tell the American people they’ll be better off with a plan that throws scores of millions under the healthcare bus? Why say your plan is better for the people it is intended to hurt? Premiums may or may not shrink, but if they do, it will be because they are buying less coverage. Why say that pre-existing conditions will still be covered? All we really know is that pre-existing condition coverage will be left to the states, and that, depending on your state of residence, you may or may not be covered. The only thing that is certain is that it will be expensive.

Look, if you’re dedicated to your ideology, don’t lie to cover it up. Wear it proudly. Put it out there as it is, and let the American people rally behind you if they will.

I know that shooting the messenger never loses its charm, but citing the Congressional Budget Office when they deliver estimates you like and then impugning them when their analyses hurt your cause is more transparent than you think. No one is fooled for long.

Tell the truth: you hate entitlements. You don’t care that the working poor, children, the elderly and the infirm will suffer for your ideological purity. Just say that you don’t believe in an America where the rich take care of the poor. Where Medicaid is an unjust burden on the wealthy and is delivered on a silver platter to the undeserving. Just say it and stop pretending that you’ve created a bill that won’t hurt anyone. Stop saying that your bill is better than Obamacare in coverage and pricing. Just say that ending Medicaid as we know it is a feature, not a bug. Pretending that your “fix” has anything to do with Obamacare (which could and should be fixed) is a blatant falsehood that dishonors you and your offices.

In addition to the CBO, doctors, hospitals, healthcare systems, insurers, and even the famously politically cautious, nonpartisan National Governors Association have all scored your bill. They find it, in the words of Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, “unacceptable.”

Try intellectual honesty for a change. You love to claim that the American people are on your side. Show your cards and let the chips fall where they may.

©Jon Sinton 2017

 

Sleight of Hand?

February 5, 2017

Is the Trump Administration, and Steve Bannon in particular, playing chess while we are all assuming they’re playing checkers? Or put another way, is Bannon a master magician, and are we the victims of sleight-of-hand? The recent immigration ban was so amateurishly conceived and executed that it has left some of us thinking it must be misdirection—a ruse to cover something they don’t want us to notice. Isn’t it possible that by creating such a storm of controversy they led us away from the real story: installing Bannon on the National Security Council’s Principals’ Committee—an unprecedented move elevating a non-military/non-elected official to the most critical foreign policy committee in government, while simultaneously downgrading the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the highest ranking military officer in the country), and the Director of National Intelligence, to occasional participants?

We all need to stay well informed since the administration seems to be smarter than they want us to think they are.

And You See, Here We are

November 13, 2016

Okay, I’m a little depressed. Have been for months—at least since Cleveland, when I talked to his supporters and realized logic and common sense had been supplanted by anger and fear, and that he was probably going to win. It became even clearer to me than when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win.

Of course, his simplistic solutions to our long-term intractable economic problems will not work. These are not “cyclical” changes brought about by Obama’s policies. They are, economically speaking, a “secular,” or fundamental change. The twin forces of globalization and automation have devastated the manufacturing economy. I feel bad for my fellow Buckeyes, and all of the middle-class workers in the Upper Midwest whose prospects, whose very lives, have been decimated by outsourcing and factory closures. But, as the writer Tom Friedman recently pointed out, more jobs will be lost to the micro-chip than to China. Solar is now less expensive on a per-kilowatt-hour basis than coal. The mining industry in Appalachia was devastated long ago, and not by policy, but by innovation. The great Pennsylvania and Ohio steel mills will not reopen unless he really does start a trade war, and that would be a pyrrhic victory.

Technological progress is tricky and irreversible. Its promise is always coated in poison for some group. Still, our march is forward, not backward, even if to our own oblivion. Somehow, we adapt. The Catholic church thought it would be finished if enough people believed Galileo, but somehow it survived not being the center of the universe.

Our President-elect remains manifestly unqualified. He’s the dog that catches the car, then has no idea what to do with it. Nonetheless, even though he will lose the popular vote by 1.5-2 million votes (a bigger loss than Romney’s or McCain’s) he won the Electoral College challenge, and now his success or failure is ours. I hope he is able to recognize the dangerous divisiveness of some of his followers and advisors. Jews, Hispanics, Muslims, women—all have been given good reason to fear. His apologists are blaming the media, but the truth is he said intemperate and divisive things. He embarrassed us in the world, and my worst fear is that he may not know that.

He is no Republican, so it is impossible to know what he’ll actually do, but to the extent that he is their stooge, they may well finish the wrecking job they began long ago with gerrymandering, racially inspired voter suppression, and court packing.
I’m tired of the fight, but I think they’re counting on that, so I’ll go chair the Common Cause Georgia meeting Thursday night, and we’ll keep the Progressive Voices App going.
They say it’s a great victory for the working class, but all I see is the next “What’s the Matter with Kansas” moment. Our brethren in the Midwest have been sold another bill of goods, this time economic instead of social. The working class has in fact been left behind, and they deserve better, and more than a Trump presidency is likely to bring them or the country.
As the sign above my dad’s desk said, “iiligitmi non carborundum.” We must not let the bastards grind us down.

Right Time; Wrong Guy

July 24, 2016

We have come a long way, to be sure, but after two terms of a black man in the White House, a time we naively believed meant that we were suddenly “post-racial,” a time that has been punctuated by the ugliest racism we’ve seen since the Sixties, it is obvious that for as far as we have come, we have a really long way to go.

I produce and syndicate talk radio shows and podcasts, so I spent the week at the RNC in Cleveland. I’ve never seen a more hateful group of people or a major political party so loosely tethered to reality. Early Tuesday morning I was with a right leaning radio host (whom I actually like as a person). The GOP/Trump reality distortion field was so effective, that he railed about the media and Hillary making much ado about nothing concerning Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech. I told him that the only fact in evidence was that she had, wittingly or not, spoken Michelle Obama’s words as if they were hers, and had done so without attribution—the very definition of plagiarism. He protested that what really mattered was that the evil media and Crooked Hillary were to blame. Obviously spouting the campaign line, he, and all the others who attempted to do so, were humiliated later in the week when the Trump associate who had cribbed the lines came forward and apologized.
Every speech was fraught with the darkness Trump hopes to convince us has engulfed our world. Hillary Clinton was vilified by nearly everyone who took the podium, and The Q rocked with chants of “Lock her up.” The head of the New Hampshire Republican party suggested that she should be “Lined up and shot” for treason (which caused the Secret Service to pay him a visit). So much hate. So much fear.
My worst fear is that while we have all known the game is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful, Donald Trump is the first office seeker to express the new found right wing populism effectively enough to win his party’s nomination. I suspect that Trump is exactly the wrong person at exactly the right time. We are kidding ourselves if we think he is unelectable.
As Tony Schwartz, the (real) author of the bestselling Trump book, “The Art of the Deal”, states in the New Yorker, Donald Trump is a narcissist and a sociopath whose gnat-like attention span is only elongated when the topic is him. That so many Americans find him appealing is the fodder for an onslaught of academic papers and books that are forthcoming. Let us hope they will be forensic in nature, and not commentary on a sitting U.S. president. Our country has been waiting for a populist strong enough to break the system. It is most unfortunate—potentially tragic—that Trump is the breakout candidate fulfilling this middle class wish. While it would be enough to say the system is rotting from the inside, and that we need new rules to restrict the power of the incumbent class, we have instead gotten a demagogue willing to use the divisive tools of hate and prejudice.
Right time; wrong guy.

Investigation or Fundraiser?

February 16, 2016

As this election season heats up, we should all seek a better understanding of Congressional inquiries. Let’s turn the prism, and see these hearings in a new light.

The history of the Congressional hearing is mixed. Sometimes, as in the case of Watergate, it was a high quality, public method of exposing truth. It’s wake was long and significant. A president was impeached and resigned before he was tried. Campaign finance rules and oversight ensued.

Sometimes, the Congressional hearing is just political theatre. Inquiries on Capitol Hill got at the facts of the Iran Contra scandal, but precipitated very little actionable reform. Sure, Oliver North went to jail briefly for lying to Congress, but the Reagan Administration was largely untouched and unrepentant (oh, and Ollie North became a hero to the fetishists of the Hard Right, and was enriched by publishers and Fox News, but I digress.)

Sometimes the political theatre has real and damaging results. Take for instance, the McCarthy Era, when one despicable Senator from Wisconsin was able to parlay the “Red Scare” during the Cold War into the wholesale ruination of many lives.

It was only when the Chief Counsel for the United States Army, in defense of a helpless young witness, famously confronted McCarthy with the immortal words, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no decency?” It was the beginning of the end for McCarthy, because the mantle was picked up by Edward R. Murrow of CBS news—this was back when TV news was a trusted institution—and Americans turned on Joe McCarthy, who was thusly forced to slink ignominiously into history.

Today, you can add a new wrinkle to the Congressional hearing. The Republican majority—the one that chairs these committees and has the power to issue subpoenas demanding witnesses appear before them—has a new strategy.

The hearings are raw footage for campaign television commercials. They are the body copy for mailers to the faithful, and fuel for internet-driven conspiracy theories for consumption by the indoctrinated.

At their base, they are show trials intended to keep controversy alive without substantive fact, all in the service of raising the life blood of reelection campaigns—money.

That’s right: they exist not to find truth, but to create compelling commercials, to ruin the reputations of political opponents, to keep the herd’s anger fresh. And, above all else, to fundraise.

Of course Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican, didn’t give Planned Parenthood’s president a chance to actually answer his questions. She was a just prop in his fiction about the selling of baby parts. And of course multiple Benghazi hearings haven’t yielded any new information. As the former Republican counsel to the committee investigating Benghazi admitted publicly last year, they were staged merely to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chance of becoming president.

I’m curious to see how the water crisis in Flint plays out in Congress. The fact that Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, whose appointee ordered the switch that has created an unprecedented public health crisis in a major American city has not been called to testify, is very telling.

Our job as citizens gets harder and harder. Now that we can no longer take Congressional hearings at face value, we have to learn to weigh the organizers’ motives, and decide for ourselves whether the outcome has value.

A War of Words (and Images)

November 19, 2015

The fact that ISIS out-messages us by reaching alienated young people online, and motivates them to acts of unthinkable inhumanity, is unacceptable.

They seem to own social media, and are lauded at every turn for their expertise in recruiting vulnerable young people who have lived a life of deprivation under the thumb of one dictator or another. Easy pickings, I guess. When you have no job and no prospects, most anything that gives you some power in a powerless world looks better than what you have.

I know it’s more fashionable to roll out the drums of war and talk about bombs and boots on the ground, but if our formidable advertising industry turned its sites on young impressionable potential jihadists, they just might be able to inspire a new generation of nation-builders instead of destroyers.

If you think it can’t be done, consider that our marketers repeatedly do the improbable. After all, they taught the world to sing in perfect harmony, got women to smoke a “feminist” cigarette and remade the VW Bug from Hitler’s proletarian-affordable vehicle into an American middle-class icon.

We can certainly turn our messaging–okay, propaganda–skills to the very social media where disenfranchised young Arabs and Muslims live, and fight the slick ISIS presentations with even slicker propaganda. As it is, we’re leaving some of our most potent weapons holstered.

C’mon. We invented the modern advertising game. It’s time we play to win.

Imagine the power of thousands of new teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, technologists and people of all kinds working toward building something they own and can grow, instead of strapping on suicide vests.

Are you telling me that we can’t be more persuasive on social media than the people who are motivating them now?

I don’t believe it.