After Republicans Came to Power in Georgia, Fox News Moved in to GPB

Fox News has been leasing office space and studio time inside state-run Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Atlanta headquarters since 2004, according to a copy of the lease agreement obtained through an Open Records Request.

The unusual relationship between an NPR/PBS affiliate and the conservative cable news channel coincided with the rise of Republican political control in the state.

In 2002 Sonny Perdue won election as Georgia’s first Republican Gov. since Reconstruction and the party gained control of the State Senate.

(Perdue is now Secretary of Agriculture in the Trump administration.)

In 2004, with the war in Iraq ongoing and a ban on same-sex marriage on Georgia’s ballot, Republicans gained full control of the state legislature. It’s a lock they’ve held since, despite Democratic gains in 2018.

GPB’s oversight body, The Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission, is politically appointed by the Gov. and the network receives nearly half its funding from state appropriations.

I’ve submitted a separate Open Records Request for any emails or documents from state officials regarding the Fox News lease from the 2003–2004 time period. This is to see if politicians played any role in Fox moving in at GPB.

The agency has replied with an estimated timeline of Jan. 31 to return any responsive documents.

I’m posting now in anticipation of this week’s opening of the state legislature, the inauguration of Brian Kemp as Gov., and meetings of GPB’s Commission and Foundation board:

http://www.gpb.org/about/board

Fox News Network was founded by Rupert Murdoch and former Republican campaign strategist Roger Ailes in 1996.

In interviews, anchor Bret Baier has said he opened its Atlanta bureau in 1998 and first operated it out of his home.

Fox was aggressive, even trollish, in its competition with Atlanta-based CNN. In 1999 it began renting a billboard across the street from the older network’s downtown headquarters to boast of Fox’s ratings gains and CNN’s decline.

But the Fox News presence at GPB is lower key. An amendment in the lease agreement bars any outside signage.

The lease was renewed in 2009, 2012, and 2015 and currently has an option running through 2020.

An email seeking comment from Fox News last summer after Brian Kemp made national appearances on the network from Atlanta went unanswered.

To my knowledge, no Georgia Democrat has ever objected to Fox’s presence at GPB.

But then no Georgia Democrat has objected to GPB’s financial losses or exploitative workplace conditions — according to numbers announced at its last board meeting, sixty five percent of GPB’s workforce are classified as part time seasonal.

Questions to all of Georgia’s 2018 Gubernatorial candidates, including the Libertarian, about GPB’s scandals and their own plans for the agency also went unanswered.

In 2011 Fox-fueled protests helped force out NPR CEO Vivian Schiller.

Schiller was heavily criticized for firing commentator Juan Williams who worked at both NPR and Fox.

In his 2013 book Murdoch’s World about the News Corp empire, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik titled a chapter on NPR’s tangle with Fox “A Totebag To a Gun Fight,” based on a Daily Show with Jon Stewart joke about the dispute.

Fox covered the firing of Williams relentlessly and included interviews with Congressman Peter King and former White House adviser Karl Rove calling for cuts to federal funding of public radio. Such calls reportedly frightened member stations and NPR’s board.

Yet Georgia Republicans’ direct interference at GPB has gone unpunished and practically unacknowledged nationally.

That interference included the hiring of the state’s Senate Majority Leader for a $150,000 job upon the urging of Gov. Nathan Deal.

At the same time, secret negotiations between GPB and Georgia State University began that would give the network daytime control of GSU’s iconic and student funded college radio station WRAS.

This meant GPB would be directly competing with Public Broadcasting Atlanta’s WABE which receives no state funding.

The announcement of the GPB-GSU agreement, during finals week and with no student input, sparked an angry backlash and calls for an investigation.

Yet demands that GPB’s CEO Teya Ryan be removed were under-reported and ignored.

(Since GPB’s arrival on WRAS its radio operations have lost millions.)

At a 2017 Commission meeting, Ryan boasted of having brought PBS President Paula Kerger to Georgia and meet with Gov. Deal. She characterized the meeting as discussing public media “in a red state.”

Multiple attempts to get PBS or its board members to comment on Kerger’s meeting with Deal and his interference at GPB were also unsuccessful.

NPR’s Ombudsman refused to comment on an affiliate and the PBS Ombudsman position is vacant.

Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election drew national attention and outside scrutiny of the state’s political class: its incestuous relationships, shameless influence peddling, lack of ethics, and abuses of power.

Brian Kemp’s narrow victory while also serving as the state’s top election official left many openly questioning the legitimacy of his election.

The campaign included national stories of voter suppression, unverifiable voting machines, and a last-minute allegation by Kemp that Democrats were trying to hack the state’s voter database.

Locally, Georgia news coverage is still dominated by legacy media outlets such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio and TV, all owned by Cox Media Group. (Though its TV stations are currently up for sale.)

Statewide candidate debates and nightly coverage of the state legislature are on GPB, which is controlled by those same politicians.

That makes the incestuous relationship between Cox Media Group and GPB so disturbing.

AJC journalists are regular panelists on GPB’s Political Rewind program, where horse race and access journalism prevail, and WSB morning radio anchor Scott Slade will again host GPB’s coverage of the state legislature.

In a display of how lax Cox’ journalistic ethics have become, Slade hosted a series of WSB-produced Facebook videos about Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle nuclear plant expansion. The videos were sponsored by Georgia Power but produced by WSB.

The Plant Vogtle expansion has seen massive cost overruns and is a controversial matter of statewide public policy. The Facebook videos go beyond paid endorsements, which Slade also regularly does, into outright corporate propaganda masquerading as news reports.

Moreover, the AJC’s recent series of articles and editorials on Gov. Deal as he exits read like DPRK “Dear Leader” profiles.

Compared with their continued investigations of Former Atlanta Mayor and bipartisan Deal ally Kasim Reed, out of office for a year, such disparate coverage raises the specter of a double standard at best or that Cox acts to protect and promote Deal at worst.

WSB evening radio host Erick Erickson will be emceeing the Kemp inauguration.

The Cox/GPB relationship stifles independent coverage and leaves GPB without a significant outside watchdog. The political contributions and influence of the multi-billionaire Cox family, the richest in the state, also go un-scrutinized.

The result is a media oligarchy as much a part of the state’s Good Old Boy network as it is a watchdog on it.

Atlanta writer and comedian. Occasional citizen journalist. Diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 40. No relation to Steve.