GANG OF 3: 4 of diamonds
do these signs mean?)
June 30, 2003, a 3-2 party line vote, Republican Federal
Communications Commission Commissioners voted to relax
media ownership rules, effectively allowing broadcasters
to own a significantly greater proportion of both local
and national media outlets. The decision was taken in
the public interest.
largest media companies, such as Viacom/CBS, Disney/ABC,
NBC, Time Warner (formerly AOL Time Warner) and News
Corp./Fox, risk losing control of an issue they
thought they had mastered. The energy behind the revolt
against corporate domination comes from genuine
liberals and genuine conservatives, both of
whom rightly fear the influence of giant corporations
on the media.
of October, 2003, the FCC has received 3 million signatures
opposing its rules. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
has stayed implementation of the new rules, and on September
16, 2003, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution of disapproval,
which overrides the FCC rules. Democrats in the House
are trying to force a similar vote, but the Republican
and DeLay are
currently blocking a vote, demonstrating their commitment
to democracy, George
Bush has threatened a veto, his first, if Congress insists
on overturning the FCC ruling. Why does he care so much?
Two reasons seem most important: George Bush likes a
corporate media interested only in profits because it
assists his re-election and rewards his supporters.
Strengthening their hold on what we see and know strengthens
his hold on office. Unfortunately it also undermines
of public interest
The FCC is supposed to regulate the broadcast media
in accordance with the public interest. The airwaves
are owned by the American people, not big business.
There is a good reason for this. A democracy depends
on a diverse and energetic media, and broadcast media
have become central for most peoples access to
news, and to information vital to them as citizens.
people argue that with satellite broadcasting any number
of outlets can compete, eliminating the need for concern
about diversity or monopoly. This is currently a theoretical
hope, an article of faith rather than a demonstrated
fact. The stakes are way too high to rest the future
of our democracy with major public policy changes based
on the extrapolations of a few theoreticians. The reality
is that the broadcast media are extremely consolidated
around 80% of us get our news from a tiny number
First Amendment protects freedom of the press
the only private business explicitly protected by our
Constitution not to guarantee corporations profits
but to guarantee citizens access to information those
in power might not want them to know. Private business
and service to citizens is well enough served when there
are lots of alternative sources that are more or less
equally available. But when business centralizes into
corporate media, all that counts are profits, not public
service, and we as citizens are progressively denied
easy access to information vital to us as citizens.
example, on March 26, 2003, a Knight Ridder/Princeton
Research poll indicated 44% of those polled believed
most or some of the 9-11 hijackers
were from Iraq. In fact, none were. Only 17% of those
polled knew this. A Pew Research Center/Council of Foreign
relations survey indicated that almost 2/3 of Americans
thought UN inspectors had found evidence Iraq was hiding
weapons of mass destruction. The UN inspectors never
made such a claim. This same survey showed 57% of those
asked believed Hussein assisted the 9-11 terrorists.
There is no evidence that he did. The New York Times
/CBS News Poll of March 7-9 indicated 45% of those who
answered believed Hussein was directly involved in the
attacks on New York and Washington.
months have done little to assist public understanding.
On October 3 an important study was released, analyzing
Americans beliefs about the war in Iraq. According
to the Program on International Policy Attitudes at
the University of Maryland, 60% of Americans believed
at least one of these falsehoods.
U.S. forces have found weapons of mass destruction
is clear evidence Saddam Hussein worked closely with
the Sept. 11 terrorists.
abroad either backed the U.S, led war or were fairly
evenly split between supporting or opposing it.
also correlated these errors with what people watched
to obtain news. They found the following, as displayed
in a graph from Philly.com:
corporate media does a demonstrably horrible job informing
Americans of even the most vital questions of life and
death. How, we might ask, could a commission supposedly
devoted to the public welfare of the American people
seek to further entrench their control over our understanding?
enough, during the rule review, the broadcast industry
reportedly had 71 private meetings with FCC commissioners
and their top staff. The Republican Commissioners held
only one meeting open to the public. In keeping with
honor and integrity, George Bush style, FCC employees
accepted some 2500 trips worth $2,800,000 over the past
8 years, all paid for by the communications industry.
Some 330 of these trips were to Las Vegas. There were
also 90 trips to London, which isnt even in the
United States. FCC Chairman Michael Powell received
the most over $80,000 in industry paid for trips.
payoff for George Bush from all this is substantial.
It explains why he threatens Congress with a veto and
the American people with contempt. The corporate media
is not interested in news, it is interested in profit.
Running a good news bureau is expensive, and cuts into
profits. Serving citizens is not as lucrative as serving
consumers. If news can be turned into entertainment,
or infotainment as the term goes, the corporate
media will eat it up. Neat manipulated images can supplant
Bush and his handlers are good at substituting sound
bites and memorable image for genuine information. The
man probably couldnt give a speech if he couldnt
bring in the word children. And so we see
him landed on an aircraft carrier wearing a flight suit:
the AWOL flyboy
parading around as an action figure. Or we see him speaking
outlined against Teddy Roosevelt at Mt. Rushmore, or
even, of all things, giving a talk where, from the perspective
where photographs are taken, it appears Jesus has his
hand on Bushs shoulder.
that particular obscenity, see Newsweek, March
10, 2003, p. 3. The link, http://www.msnbc.com/news/878520.asp
has been removed.)
down what you are told is also pretty cheap to do because
you dont need to think about it or use any judgment.
Being a simple conduit for the administration guarantees
you access. And so, according to a study
described by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)s
Janine Jackson, 76% of all news sources or guests on
NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBSs NewsHour wre current
or former government officials. Only 6% of these
sources expressed skepticism over Bushs proposed
dont need a government controlled media when a
corporate controlled one which, in pursuing profits,
simply serves as a transmission belt for whatever the
government wants us to hear.
In his first public appearance since the FCC passed
new media-ownership rules and its repudiation by the
Senate and courts, Michael Powell attended a hearing
concerned with issues of localism in the media.
reported that During the ownership debate, Powell
suggested that a lot of the complaints he was hearing
about the media that there's too much sex and
violence on TV, and not enough community affairs programming
on the airwaves stemmed from how individual stations
were being run locally, not by who owned them nationally.
Interestingly, he was present at a FCC hearing in Charlotte,
NC, to evaluate how well radio and television are serving
the public. Because the airwaves are publicly held,
broadcasters must serve the public good to get their
North Carolina residents protested the recent behavior
of a Clear Channel DJ Bob Dumas for encouraging violence
against bicyclists. In September, 2003, on Raleigh's
WDCG-FM radio station, Dumas told listeners he
hated to see bicycle riders on the road, laughed at
stories about running cyclists down, and joked about
throwing empty bottles at them. Just a local aberration?
Probably not. Salon reported According
to Bicycle magazine, it was the just the latest in a
string of anti-bicycling rants recently aired on Clear
Channel stations, with others erupting in San Jose,
Cleveland and Houston.
one to let facts get in the way of ideology, Powell
explained that while complaints had been filed, the
FCC usually rules only on issues of indecency. Protect
corporate profits, dumb down the media, coarsen public
opinion, Michael Powell and George Bushs conception
of public service.
Clear Channel just happened to simultaneously
attack the Dixie Chicks
for their temerity of criticizing Bush while in Europe.
Again, Clear Channel said there was no coordinated attack
orchestrated by central headquarters. Given corporations
penchant for lying, there is little reason to believe
them. But even if they are telling the truth, all that
suggests is that the craven jerks they hire as DJs know
central policy well enough to curry favor with those
above them in the hierarchy by attacking Americans who
dare disagree with the government.
the same mentality that attacks bicyclists and the Dixie
Chicks will be able to influence how the more naive
Americans vote. Under the FCCs proposed rules
a single company could influence elections of 98 US
Senators, 382 members of the House, 49 Governors, 49
state legislatures, and who knows how many local races.
And of course control advertising rates for their campaigns,
making a bundle in the process. If it is bad enough
already, the FCCs proposed changes would make
it worse, and allow lying frauds such as George Bush
an even better chance of slipping into power for another
Mort Zuckermans excellent Media-merger ruling