It would be easy to say that many in our era want to avoid serious debate on important issues. But far more insightful are examples in the last few decades of what debate actually looks like, and then draw lessons from it that could prove useful to the ongoing need for affordable housing in general, or manufactured homes more specifically. A look at the longest-running ‘debate’ show on television is a helpful place to start that evidence-based examination of public engagement or debate on the issues of the day, to see what lessons they may hold for our profession and public policy.
Left-leaning Wikipedia says the following about the show “Firing Line” hosted by William F. Buckley Jr.
“The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol summarized Buckley’s approach to the show: “Buckley really believes that in order to convince, you have to debate and not just preach, which of course means risking the possibility that someone will beat you in debate.”
Bingo. Quite so.
Why? Because going into respective partisan corners leaves an ongoing divide that by its very nature will continue indefinitely. It is only through engagement or debate that various viewpoints can be weighed and possible lessons learned that may yield a more fruitful approach for the future.
Rephrased, engagement or debate has value in bringing out the truth of a topic. Buckley was of a conservative viewpoint, but often engaged leading leftists.
About the Firing Line show’s format, Wikipedia says that: “it typically featured Buckley interviewing, and exchanging views with, a guest, while seated together in front of a small studio audience. Standing or sitting further away in the studio, an “examiner”, typically a liberal, would ask questions, generally toward the end of the show. Most guests were intellectuals or those in positions of power, being notable in the fields of politics, religion, literature and academia. Their views could either sharply contrast or be in strong agreement with Buckley’s.”
Their description also includes these lines.
“Firing Line is an American public affairs show founded in and hosted by conservative author and columnist William F. Buckley Jr. from 1966 to 1999, and relaunched in 2018 with host Margaret Hoover.
Under Buckley, 1,504 episodes over 33 years made Firing Line the longest-running public affairs show in television history with a single host. The program, which featured many influential public figures in the United States, won an Emmy Award in 1969.”
Contrast that willingness to authentically debate in public with those from a different viewpoint to what exists now. Such openness to engagement is apparently not very strong in the affordable housing field in general, or perhaps in manufactured housing in particular.
Why not? Is there a lack of confidence in the views being stated? As a brief but relevant aside, this platform for about a decade in the business daily (typically nightly) market feature has made the ‘left-right’ headlines a routine feature. We began that with bullet headlines from CNN Business vs Fox Business. When Fox began their drift toward more leftist views, we made the switch to showing CNN Business vs. Newsmax. In a couple of minutes, someone can read the headlines for the day that often ‘move the markets.’ That said, back to the discussion of engagement in and with manufactured housing.
Besides our MHProNews platform, which routinely cites sources from across the divide, far more common in our industry today is what Kristol called “preaching.”
Perhaps more common still is paltering, establishing an echo chamber, and pumping out information that borders on or crosses the line into propaganda. There, no opposing views are shown, much less engaged.
Before going further, let’s step back and look again at the mainstream American media landscape.
For decades, a review of American news outlets tended to lean either left or right.
As Wikipedia’s description of Firing Line aptly reflected, decades ago conservatives already believed then that the mainstream news media tended to skew left.
In fairness, while cities like New York or Washington had their left-leaning New York Times or Washington Post, there were also more right leaning or conservative publishers – as exemplified by the New York Post, the Washington Examiner, Free Beacon, or Washington Times.
On television, the perception from the right was that virtually all the major networks plus later PBS (and on radio, NPR) leaned left.
The one place that conservative views found a more dominating home was with the strong advent of the Rush Limbaugh Show on radio. Says Wikipedia: “Limbaugh’s show was first nationally syndicated in August 1988, on the AM radio band. Limbaugh’s popularity paved the way for other conservative talk radio programming to become commonplace on AM radio. The show increased its audience in the 1990s to the extent that even some FM stations picked it up.”
Talk radio tends to lean right today. But there are exceptions to that general rule more commonly found in major metro markets where progressive or left-leaning talk radio are also found.
Fox News began to change the dynamic in broadcast and cable news from being totally dominated by left-leaning coverage.
Says Wikipedia, Fox News Channel (FNC or Fox) was, “created by Australian-American media mogul Rupert Murdoch to appeal to a conservative audience, hiring former Republican media consultant and CNBC executive Roger Ailes as its founding CEO. It launched on October 7, 1996, to 17 million cable subscribers. Fox News grew during the late 1990s and 2000s to become the dominant subscription news network in the U.S. As of September 2018, approximately 87,118,000 U.S. households (90.8% of television subscribers) received Fox News.”
As a relevant side note, when Fox began to embrace or feature more Democratic views in the 2020 election cycle, smaller cable news rivals such as Newsmax and One America News Network (OAN or OANN) began to draw more attention from the political right.
Mildly like Firing Line in this respect, Fox News (FNC) often featured panels on topics that reflected views from the left and the right with a given show’s host acting as a kind of “moderator.” There was engagement, short ‘debates’ on relevant topics of the day. Those short debate format was part of what made Bill O’Reilly’s show of FNC the hottest ticket on cable news for years. To be clear, that mini-debate occurs on other cable news channels too. While the quality of those debates often paled in comparison to Firing Line, nevertheless, there was something that at least looked like engagement. Sadly, some of that engagement occurred with what amounts to ‘straw man’ debates. A weak opponent i.e. the ‘straw man’ was put up against a stronger one. Once more, that method straw man method is more a tool of manipulation than authentic engagement.
Being willing to debate in public reflects a level of confidence. The reverse may also be true. Ducking or dodging authentic debate is arguably an example of perceived weakness or inability to debunk the thesis of a rival voice.
Several critics of the presidential debates have said that the modern format has not leant itself well to adding to the public’s understanding of important issues. Critics say that the topics themselves and too brief a time allotted for answers or cross-questions to often tricky in-depth issues make the ‘debates’ more superficial and about possibly memorable zingers for later replay by partisans in media. As one example, during the 2012 election cycle, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R) pushed the idea of Lincoln-Douglas style debates to foster a better understanding of issues.
“Lincoln–Douglas debate is one person debating against another person and is primarily focused on competing values,” say Whitman.edu. Wikipedia says: “Lincoln–Douglas debate…is sometimes also called values debate because the format traditionally places a heavy emphasis on logic, ethical values, and philosophy.”
Wikipedia notes that: “Each debater gets thirteen minutes of total speaking time, and three minutes of question time.”
When MHProNews engaged with pro-MHI member Andy Gedo, the entire debate was online. Questions and answers flowed back and forth between Gedo and Kovach. Both parties were largely respectful, generally avoiding ad hominem attacks, or other dodging and distraction tactics. The result produced the only authentic debate about MHI and their dominating brands performance. Gedo thoughtfully agreed with some of our contentions, and then finally politely tossed in the towel.
Debate is necessary for a free people, said Democratic President John F. “Jack” Kennedy. While politicians are known to say things that they may not truly want to embrace, either way, President Kennedy’s point is an important one.
But increasingly, what is being witnessed is that there are inauthentic debates, or a lack of engagement at all. As one example, on October 8, 2013 the Los Angeles Times said— “So letters to the editor ‘that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change … do not get printed.’” Left leaning Mother Jones said of the LA Times letters policy shift on October 21, 2013 that “The Los Angeles Times took a stand against climate misinformation on its letters page.” Fox News said on October 18, 2013 that “LA Times bans letters from climate skeptics.” Like it or not, there are authentic voices – including numbers among the scientific community, CLINTEL comes to mind – that think that man-made global warming, climate change, or whatever someone wants to label it next week is other than what is being routinely being presented by voices typically found on the left.
Dodging authentic debate on that or any other topic is a red flag for thinking people.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a lifelong Democrat who believes in climate change, aptly noted that science is rarely settled. As RFK Jr framed it, as an attorney in trials, he would face one set of experts taking a stance quite at odds with another set of experts on the same issue. From those dueling presentations, and cross examination of experts, the jury has to be persuaded as to which side makes the most sense.
There are numerous reasons to have authentic, Firing Line or Lincoln-Douglas style of engagement and debating. Sharp evidence-based debate yields insights that faux, straw man or no debate can’t hope to match. MHProNews sources across the left-right divide for a range of reasons, that include, but are not limited to, the notions of fairness and authentic insights.
Small Businesses vs. Big Businesses
“Small Businesses Generate 44 Percent of U.S. Economic Activity,” said the SBA on Jan 30, 2019. The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council (SBECouncil.org), citing 2016 data, “said that job creation percentages from “Firms with fewer than 100 workers accounted for 98.2 percent. Firms with fewer than 20 workers made up 89.0 percent.” Put differently, the vast majority of new job creation are coming from smaller firms than bigger ones.
Objective thinkers might reason that because consolidations and mergers often foster job losses, and job creation tends to come from smaller business, that federal and state policies would favor smaller firms more.
But due in part to tax and other policies, small businesses are under assault. More small-business and family-farm friendly changes made during the Trump-Pence Administration have already shifted under the new regime.
The Job Creators Network (JCN) and others have said that there is a Biden-Harris Administration “war” on small business.
These are just some of the areas that directly and indirectly influence affordable housing and manufactured homes that merit engagement and debate in public policy.
Despite campaign and post-installation happy talk about not favoring the donor class – which is often represented by larger businesses and their billionaire oligarchs – the Biden-Harris ‘regime’ is pressing policies that are onerous for smaller firms, and thus favor larger ones.
Who says? That is the de facto position of what Gary Shiffman with Sun Communities (SUI) told investors and analysts. Shiffman gleefully said the current administration’s [Biden] policies were driving a record number to exploring or actually selling.
Note that because some Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) members have taken a stance of not engaging directly with MHProNews. So, as an authentic stand-in, MHProNews publishes their statements and then does an analysis of them. Readers are thus able to see ‘both sides’ of a given discussion in that fashion. People are able to make up their minds based upon evidence, not mere habit or emotional responses.
Additionally, some MHI members still engage with MHProNews, sometimes on the record, as in the cases of company leaders that include Wally Comer with Adventure Homes, or Curt Hodgson with Legacy Housing. Others have done so off the record, apparently fearing retribution by their firm or others.
But these facts speak volumes about the dynamic that has been underway in the Berkshire Hathaway era of manufactured housing.
To be clear, our industry’s woes are not a one-off. To MHI supporter Gedo’s point, cited above, part of the point of this outline above is to reflect the notion that debate in general is being avoided in favor of evading engagement. Additionally, as Federal Reserve senior research economist, James A. Schmitz Jr. and his colleagues have said, there is a pattern of “sabotaging monopoly” practices occurring in a range of professions.
Note that Schmitz, Cochrane, and others are saying that sabotaging monopoly methods attempt to mask the sinister reality. That quote above makes the point. The oligarchs, oligopolies, and monopolists are making it difficult for reality to be discerned. They do so, claim these third-party researchers, in collusion with federal officials.
Once more, while his focus is different than ours (think about Gedo’s point that it is useful to look outside of the industry for examples and insights too), RJK Jr makes a similar point to those research economists when he says that those pushing the COVID19 lockdown and vaccine narratives are benefiting from their own advocacy. RFK Jr also says that they are doing so with federal officials acting as “sock puppets” to corporate interests.
To the point from those on the right who think that they alone are being censored by big tech, that is clearly not so. RFK Jr is a Democrat and he too is being censored. He is on the left. So what is the common point here?
It is this. Whether on the left or right, if you seriously challenge the prevailing narrative with evidence and reasoning, that is what gets you censored.
Who says? Again, it is a voice from the political left. Glenn Greenwald, attorney turned award-winning journalist, has been pressing the case for months that the threat of censorship and authoritarianism is coming from the left. Greenwald doesn’t just make the claim. In each of his reports, he lays out the factual evidence for his position. That is what RFK Jr does too.
Kennedy laid out his case that explains why many in big media won’t take on these powerful forces. It comes down in some degree to advertising dollars. Are for-profit news organizations going to seriously question corporate interests that provide a lot of ad dollars to a given news outlet?
When GEICO or some Berkshire owned brand is advertising with network X, is it likely that they will seriously question the so-called “Oracle of Omaha?”
Keep in mind that part of the award-winning documentary Shadows of Liberty, which is once more largely from the political left, made the point that when CBS News was faced with doing more of an expose by one of their star reporters on how Nike was using foreign labor in sweat shop conditions, what did Nike do? They cut a deal for a big sponsorship presence on a Winter Olympics that CBS Sports was broadcasting that year. What did CBS News do to the embarrassing Asian sweat shop repot after Nike cut their deal? CBS News killed the Nike story that was already prepared for airing.
It is only by looking back, as well as looking around, that the sobering realities of our era emerge. See the hot-linked, evidence and reason based 500 word executive summary in the WND column linked below.
It is simply foolhardy to ignore these trends and claims. While they may not always directly say so, it is often serious voices on the left criticizing left-leaning leaders. That is not to say that they do not criticize nonsense from the right too. Again, as but one of several possible examples, see the following.
During the run-up to the 2020 election, MHProNews spotlighted dozens of mainstream media and academics voices, largely from the left, that made a very similar claim. Namely, that mainstream media was limiting or censoring views that did not fit an official narrative.
Just because it is not currently an official campaign season mean that the concerns they raised are over. Far from it. “America First” Republicans, independents, and Democrats are questioning the wisdom of the Biden-Harris policies that have turned the southern border into a sieve. But once more, Biden and Harris are ‘sock puppets’ for the billionaire class and their big business interests. Who says? Naomi Wolf, Glenn Greenwald, and others on the left. These were not Trump fans, but they spoke what they thought pre-or-post election that led them to conclude that the nation is heading in the wrong way during this new regime. But there are voices on the right that say similarly too.
What Greenwald aptly called a “blinding propaganda” is apparently afoot. What ought to be occurring is engagement on these issues, not just doctrinaire assertions by the would-be ruling class that seeks to control the vast majority of American citizens and businesses by a variety of methods. With respect to MHI, at Berkshire, at Clayton or 21st et al, when MHProNews asks them serious questions that merit serious answers, they are met with silence. It was not so years ago. Perhaps they have nothing useful to say that would support their increasingly obviously flawed and failed claims and programs? So, they duck and dodge rather than engage? Isn’t it increasingly obvious that they are ducking because their claims are threadbare when carefully examined?
New readers should know, and longtime readers should be reminded, that MHI, Clayton and 21st were among our sponsors. We began our more pointed questioning of their policies and claims while they were our platform’s sponsors. We always shared views from MHI and their smaller rival trade group, the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR). We did so with views from MHEC – state association members – and others too. But as a MHEC member himself said, as attrition set in among manufactured housing independents, the ascendency of Clayton control over state associations grew too.
While another MHEC state association member said to MHProNews, it is not the job of an association defending ‘bad actors.’
But isn’t that de facto what MHI has been doing for years? Furthermore, isn’t that what Tim Williams and Elizabeth Birch from the Ohio Manufactured Home Association (OMHA) doing when they tried to defend MHI, Berkshire, and Clayton, 21st and VMF? Indeed, as the example below reflects, when Birch – who her defenders say is a capable and amiable attorney – tried to defend her boss Tim Williams at the OMHA, she oddly did so in a fashion the revealed just how tenuous and weak the MHI claims are. Of course, MHProNews is willing to engage with Berkshire and their surrogates, either directly or indirectly. We are confident in the evidence presented day by day to our readers. They apparently are not, When they try to defend, deflect or whatever, they merely reveal just how vain their claims are.
What Greenwald called a blinding propaganda on the national level has its manufactured housing counterpart. A close look at the masthead of MHInsider reveals the numerous obvious ties to MHI and their leaders. Indeed, the reason the publication exists is precisely because the powers that be that seek to rule manufactured housing needed an alternative to this platform – MHProNews and MHLivingNews.
To keep from having to debate or engage with our factual and evidence-based reports, the powers that be barred MHProNews from attending either the Louisville or Tunica trade shows. That kind of fear of engagement should be reason for objective thinkers to believe that our positions are “over the target”- why else would they bar us? Indeed, isn’t that just a continuation of MHI trying to undermine our reports while we were MHI members?
The problem that the Berkshire Brands, MHI leaders, and their blogging surrogates have is this. That for years, they praised our work. It is hard to walk that public praise back, because our pursuit of facts has not changed. What changed is when years of questions raised by MHProNews – often from MHARR, but also from state execs or MHI member companies, were finally met with leaks of evidence to MHProNews that often originated from within MHI itself. When those were published, MHI’s bosses and proxies tried to limit our engagement, periodically made threats, and otherwise attempt to shut down the opposing views here that were based upon trends (history) and evidence that routinely included a comparison of their own past statement with the current realities.
That factual, historic, and reason-based approach is difficult to beat. As Democratic Senator and thinker Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY-D) said,
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” As Wikipedia says, Moynihan was a Tulsa Oklahoma born that moved to New York and was a “politician, sociologist, and diplomat. A member of the Democratic Party, he represented New York in the United States Senate and served as an adviser to Republican U.S. President Richard Nixon.”
We are living in an era of the big lie being often repeated on steroids. The dark deeds of Buffett, Gates, Clayton, and others are often masked by the fact that they give to charity. But would that charity be needed if not for the market manipulations that cause economic upheavals in the first place?
After years of news reports, fact-checks, and expert analysis, the problems and harm caused to industry independents and consumers alike have been made increasingly clear by MHProNews reports. As has often been mentioned, MHARR led the charge on several of these topics too.
As an factual but almost comical example of how feckless, sycophant, and lightly read our rivals are, MHI backer and MHVillage-Datacomp sister-brand MHInsider – using the Google ads mechanism – are advertising their services on MHProNews. Would they be doing so if they were truly the dominant brand in industry news, tips, and analysis?
The MHInsider is slick-looking. But as prior fact-checks revealed, their own data revealed they had very low readership. Apparently tired of their own facts being pointed against them, MHInsider turned off their viewer-readership function. Their actual readership numbers are now a mystery. But it is hardly a mystery if they have to be hidden, or if they have to rely on MHProNews to get their own ads out.
Several possible takeaways from that could be drawn. One is this. While there are those who dislike what we publish, this is still the runaway most read platform. People want to know what is being published here. By contrast, the powers that be can not muster enough of their own employees to read MHInsider to get their readership to anything like the engagement found here.
There is therefore value to being authentic, at least in terms of readership.
Engagement and Accountability, Additional Information, More MHProNews Analysis and Commentary
The above makes several points.
- There is an evidence-based case to be made that numbers of investors, public officials, and the public at large are being subjected to misleading information on important issues involving affordable housing in America in general, and manufactured homes more specifically.
- When affordable housing is in high demand, investments in this field ought to yield higher returns, especially given the fact that the laws needed to remove artificial barriers already exist.
- To shed light on these problems, MHProNews and our sister site have in recent years increasingly focused on fact- and evidence-based reports that are systematic and enlightening. Some of those are producing significant levels of traffic. One piece of evidence for that is demonstrated by the example in the screen capture below that is linked here. That screen capture also points out that complaints against Clayton Homes is far more common than the firm would like to admit.
With that introduction, numbers of engagement with MHProNews and MHLivingNews result in the way that other engagement occurs online. Namely, via a search on Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, or some other web browser or other online search tool. Just as Warren Buffett thinks long-term, so too does the leadership of MHProNews and MHLivingNews. Knowing how people often seek information online is useful in positioning articles, fact-checks, analysis, and reports that will shed light on subjects that others are seeking.
Federal, media, and other legal research by third parties have often occurred simply because someone did an online search. They found a report, and then read it. Once reading, some pick up the phone and call, or they send an email. As but one example, that is how the Samuel “Sam” Strommen at Knudson Law began. But the CFPB and others have similarly documented items based on engagement with one or both of our industry-leading platforms.
Prior to showing specific examples and images, MHProNews wants to bring an element of this American Affordable Housing and Manufactured Home Accountability Project to this link to about a 500-word Op-Ed with hotlinks. It provides part of this evolving project.
The early feedback on the above has been positive. Because part of what is necessary is to engage the broader public. Despite promises previously made – and reported – by MHI leadership that they would be part of the solution for correcting the record on our industry’s image problems, the reality is arguably different.
That noted, a few screen captures will illustrate the positioning that MHProNews has earned. In many of these searches, our would-be rivals in trade publishing are entirely absent.
Precisely because people are often looking for insights that are not vacuous fluff – which are routinely what several of our wanna-be rivals produce – MHProNews and MHLivingNews are routinely the dominant source for information on thorny issues. With that backdrop, these examples show why we earn millions of unique visits every year. The accountability project will press on, until sufficient public pressure on problematic behavior by industry insiders is brought to a well deserved end.
Notice: A tech glitch caused a loss of data last night on our evening market report graphics. It was hopefully just a one time issue. That nightly-business daily feature will resume. We regret the problem.
Our thanks to you, our sources, and sponsors for making and keeping us the runaway number-one source for authentic “News through the lens of manufactured homes and factory-built housing” © where “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (Affordable housing, manufactured homes, reports, fact-checks, analysis, and commentary. Third-party images or content are provided under fair use guidelines for media.) (See Related Reports, further below. Text/image boxes often are hot-linked to other reports that can be access by clicking on them.)
By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHProNews.com.
Tony earned a journalism scholarship and earned numerous awards in history and in manufactured housing.
For example, he earned the prestigious Lottinville Award in history from the University of Oklahoma, where he studied history and business management. He’s a managing member and co-founder of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com.
This article reflects the LLC’s and/or the writer’s position, and may or may not reflect the views of sponsors or supporters.
Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach
The text/image boxes below are linked to other reports, which can be accessed by clicking on them.