In Harmony with Conflict at A&E: The Myth of Social Responsibility
A&E producer and host Dan Abrams’ public profile has been fueled by conflict. He has built his personal Abrams Media corporate empire with lucrative deals for Live PD and Court Cam, among other programs that showcase aggression and violence, most often involving racial minorities.
Live PD, cancelled in June 2020, was embroiled in controversy after A&E destroyed video footage of the police killing of Javier Ambler in Texas and after the protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Abrams called the cancellation an “overreaction.”
Abrams is no novice when it comes to conflict of all kinds. His personal experience with it extends to criticism of his business activities for engaging in obvious conflicts of interest—while staying in good graces with his corporate bosses.
In reporting and news-program hosting with NBC and later ABC, and particularly as ABC’s chief legal correspondent, Abrams found currency for his private business and entrepreneurial life. He leveraged his media connections, journalistic experience and celebrity status as a program host to create Abrams Media, then blurred the lines between news, reporting, reality television, media advertising and public relations within his “journalistic” production company—to mine profits out of political advertising through news websites.
Abrams’ partner in Abrams Media, Andrew Eisbrouch, COO and general counsel for the company’s websites Mediaite, Law & Crime and others, announced last year that their company would form “a bi-partisan group of mid-sized political publishers” into a coalition—the Digital News Alliance—to “...leverage (their) large combined audiences of politically active readers to provide advertisers with a unique offering that cannot be found elsewhere.”
The publications in the “Alliance” include the politically left-leaning news and politics websites RawStory and AlterNet, Abrams’ Law & Crime and Mediaite websites, and the right-wing Washington Free Beacon and The Daily Caller—the latter owned by its cofounder, marketing guru Neil Patel who bought out former partner Tucker Carlson of Fox News in June 2020.
The Daily Caller, which has been repeatedly castigated for publishing white supremacist writings and false news stories, seems a strange bedfellow for ABC’s chief legal correspondent. But, business is business.
Another among Abrams’ “conflicted” business-work has been Abrams Research, a venture in which he offered to provide public relations practitioners with panels of “working journalists,” paid to test media reaction to events and messages—in order to craft more effective media campaigns. When the venture was panned as a direct conflict of interest by major media outlets including the New York Times, but not ABC News, Abrams defended the practice, much as he has brushed off criticism of Live PD’s controversial tactics in coverage of police conduct around the country.
Meanwhile, Abrams is a significant contributor to A&E and its evolution in character from The History Channel to its “reality-TV” and faux-documentary programming. That turn of fortunes has been led by A&E executives Paul Buccieri, Rob Sharenow and Elaine Frontain Bryant, who green-lighted bigoted and distorted “reality” programs that have now been cancelled and engulfed in controversy. Throughout these programming ventures, truth, accuracy and public responsibility have been mere distractions to these A&E executives.
The meeting of the minds between Abrams Media and A&E’s fact-free docuseries TV, however, continues to set the stage for racial stereotyping, religious intolerance, race-baiting and ethnic fear-mongering.
This cozy, conflicted and destructive media—owned, controlled and distant from any accountability—fuel such social degradation daily, and that is unacceptable. They derive their power from what the public doesn’t know about them—the crass and cynical boardroom decisions that reflect contempt for social responsibility.