Today's Seattle Times runs a lengthy article on media consolidation from a left-wing brother and sister tag team, Amy and David Goodman, which is a cornucopia of half-truths and dissembling, accompanied by a bunch of cheap shots at the bush administration and even a plug for Amy Goodman's prgram. Let's take a look.
George Bush must have been delighted to learn from a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that 56 percent of Americans still think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the start of the war, while six in 10 said they believe Iraq provided direct support to the al-Qaida terrorist network — notions that have long since been thoroughly debunked by everyone from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to both of Bush's handpicked weapons inspectors, Charles Duelfer and David Kay.
Americans believe these lies not because they are stupid, but because they are good media consumers. Our media have become an echo chamber for those in power. Rather than challenge the fraudulent claims of the Bush administration, we've had a media acting as a conveyor belt for the government's lies.
This actually has two separate issues: Iraq's WMD's (or lack thereof) and Iraq's support of al-Qaida. On the first, while it is true that no significant caches of WMD's have been found, it is true that some WMD's HAVE been discovered, and that there is evidence to support the claim that they were transported elsewhere (most likely to Syria). No major news source has claimed that large caches of WMD's were found, and none have failed to note that US intelligence sources were incorrect in their assessment of Iraq's weapons programs.
Similarly, while there is no indication that the Hussein regime and al-Qaida were working together, it is equally incontestable that Iraq was a sponsor of terrorism, even while it was under sanctions. The Hussein government was paying $10,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and providing refuge for terrorists such as Abu Abbas (the lovely gentleman responsible for the hijacking of the Achille Lauro and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer).
It's telling that the Goodmans provide no cite for any of their claims, because it simply doesn't exist. I have no doubt that any substantiation would have been loudly trumpeted by the left.
As the Pentagon has learned, deploying the American media is more powerful than any bomb. The explosive effect is amplified as a few pro-war, pro-government media moguls consolidate their grip over the majority of news outlets. Media monopoly and militarism go hand in hand.
The only pro-war media mogul of whom I am aware would be Rupert Murdoch. Lower down the food chain, there is a diversity of opinion, but the most influential newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times), broadcast news (ABC, NBC, CBS) and newsmagazines (Time and Newsweek have lined up against the Bush administration, before, during, and after the war. Only Fox News, which reaches a smaller proportion of the country than any broadcast network or CNN, has run a consistently pro-war position.
At the time of the first Persian Gulf War, CBS was owned by Westinghouse and NBC by General Electric. Two of the major nuclear weapons manufacturers owned two of the major networks. Westinghouse and GE made most of the parts for many of the weapons in the Persian Gulf War. It was no surprise, then, that much of the coverage on those networks looked like a military hardware show.
Here's one of those irrelevant assetions thrown in to imply a sinister angle. Westinghouse and General Electric both made nuclear weapons, therefore they were for the Gulf War, in which no nuclear weapons were used.
Considering the left's compare-and-contrast between world support for the first Gulf War and the second, I really don't think the Goodmans want to travel down this path. The UN and just about every country on Earth (except Jordan and Sudan) supported the first Gulf War, so maybe the mostly positive coverage was due to something other than a profit motive. As to the "hardware show" assertion, the Gulf War was the first use of many new types of weapons; it's not surprising that the networks provided coverage of the high-tech aircraft and weapons systems. (If they had not showed them, I'm confident the Goodmans would be decrying the shroud of secrecy descending upon our military expenditures; they want it both ways).
(skipping over some whining about the networks not showing people getting blown up by bombs)
The media organizations in charge of vetting our images of war have become fewer and bigger — and the news more uniform and gung ho. Six huge corporations now control the major U.S. media: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post, Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 TV stations), General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Universal Pictures and 28 TV stations), Time Warner (AOL, CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines), Disney (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 72 radio stations), Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and 183 U.S. radio stations), and Bertelsmann (Random House and its more than 120 imprints worldwide, and Gruner + Jahr and its more than 110 magazines in 10 countries).
While the number of broadcast TV and radio stations is finite, there is no limit to the number of cable channels available, and radio is still mostly an ad-hoc collection of stations, with the exception of NPR. Notice that the three major broadcast networks are owned by three different companies, and the two largest cable news stations are owned by two other companies, and the concept of media consolidation becomes a little less relevant. Factor in that none of the TV stations owned by the corporations produce their own content (except for local news), and their ownership becomes irrelevant (the content of an independently owned ABC-affiliated station is going to be almost identical to that of an Disney-owned ABC affiliate).
Even within corporations, a monolithic adherence to one set of values is not necessarily a given. Just one of the HarperCollins imprints, Regan Books, published both Sean Hannity's Deliver Us From Evil AND Michael Moore's Stupid White Men; they are not pushing an ideology other than the desire to make money.
As Phil Donahue, the former host of MSNBC's highest-rated show who was fired by the network in February 2003 for bringing on anti-war voices, told "Democracy Now!," "We have more [TV] outlets now, but most of them sell the Bowflex machine. The rest of them are Jesus and jewelry. There really isn't diversity in the media anymore. Dissent? Forget about it."
Talk about condescention; Donahue's sneering dismissal of his competition might explain why his show was cancelled; while it was (at one time) the highest-rated show on the low-rated MSNBC (sort of like being the tallest person at a midget convention), by the time it was axed, it had 1/6th the audience of Connie Chung on CNN and 1/10th the share of Bill O'Reilly's FNC show (both direct competitors, and both cable channels like MSNBC), and it was a drag on the ratings for the channel. (Here is a link to a Drudge Report archive with the Nielsens for August 2002, showing how poorly Donahue's out-of-touch bloviating fared with Bill O'Reilly's equally grating bloviating and Connie Chung's innocuous chatter.)
The lack of diversity in ownership helps explain the lack of diversity in the news. When George W. Bush first came to power, the media watchers Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) looked at who appeared on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC. Ninety-two percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.
Hmmmm. A new Republican administration comes to office, and it's the first time in 46 years that they controlled the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. Since we are reminded time and time again by the irate left that the Republicans are the party of white men, it's not surprising that discussions about the new administration are coming from white male Republicans.
None of this, however, has anything to do with media concentration. Again, there are only three broadcast networks, and they are going to concentrate their questions on people who are relevant, and in the eaely days of the Bush administration, it was mostly white males. FWIW, media faves Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy, as well as Al Gore and Bill Clinton, are all white males too. How many clips were of those four media whores?
In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, there was even less diversity of opinion on the airwaves. During the critical two weeks before and after Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations where he made his case for war, FAIR found that just three out of 393 sources — fewer than 1 percent — were affiliated with anti-war activism.
Three out of almost 400 interviews. And that was on the "respectable" evening news shows of CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS.
The reason there were so few interviews with anti-war groups is because the networks were reluctant to air interviews with bona-fide socialist fronts such as ANSWER, whose organizers are actual apologists for communists such the the butchers of Tianenmen Square, Kim Jong Il, Josef Stalin (the Wokers World Party arose from a split in the Socialist Workers Party, with the WWP people backing Stalin's 1956 invasion of Hungary), and Saddam Hussein. Since the bulk of the people marching were virulently anti-American, it's not surprising that the American-based networks shied away from airing diatribes from those who openly support tyranny and barbarism. Their ratings have been slowly declining for years; they would have fallen off a cliff if they started airing some of the more militant screaming from the anti-war left.
Even with that said, the big news networks were not as pro-war as the Goodmans assert; this special report from the (openly conservative) Media Research Center shows that the media were certainly not cheerleaders for the war, particularly ABC and Peter Jennings.
In the spring of 2003, Michael Powell tried to hand over the airwaves and newspapers to fewer and fewer tycoons by further loosening restrictions on how many media outlets a single company could own. Powell tried to scrap 30-year-old rules that limited the reach of any television network to no more than 35 percent of the national population, and limits on cross-ownership that, for example, prevented newspapers from buying television or radio stations in the same city. The new rules would have allowed a broadcast network to buy up stations that together reached 45 percent of the national population.
The attack on the existing media-ownership rules came from predictable corners: Both Viacom, which owns CBS, and Rupert Murdoch's conservative FOX News Channel were already in violation, and would be forced to sell off stations to come into compliance with the 35-percent limit. The rule change would enable Murdoch to control the airwaves of entire cities. That would be fine with Bush and the Powells, since Murdoch is one of their biggest boosters.
Again, since programming doesn't vary regardless of ownership, it's hard to see how owning stations reaching less than half of the country is going to doom our way of life. Remember, we are talking about potential reach, not compulsory viewing. If Fox buys up a couple more channels, it's still going to own the fourth-most watched channel in a given market.
By the way, Fox Network owns the channels, not Fox News Channel. They are owned by the same company, but they are NOT the same thing. No matter how many channels News Corporation buys, they will not be FNC channels. The distinction is important.
The Goodmans have been fairly even-handed up until this point, but this is where the whole piece goes off the rails. They point out Fox's "conservative" bias while failing to label Viacom, whose CEO's contributions to the Republicans total one $2000 check to Orrin Hatch (out of $90,000 in total donations since 2000), and manage to work in their first attack on Michael Powell by linking Powell, Bush, and Murdoch. From here on out, it's all-out war on the Bush administration and its appointees.
Murdoch declared in February 2003 that George W. Bush "will either go down in history as a very great president or he'll crash and burn. I'm optimistic it will be the former by a ratio of 2 to 1." Murdoch leaves nothing to chance: His FOX News Channel is doing all it can to help.
Yes, FNC is conservative, but all the broadcast news channels and CNN are anti-Bush (Rathergate is the ultimate case in point, although not the only one). This is the strongest case for media diversity, but it runs contrary to the intent of the Goodmans. The liberal news media still have the lion's share of the market, but they are all bleating about Fox News Channel and Rupert Murdoch, the Prince of Darkness.
It looked like Powell, backed by the Bush White House and with Republican control of Congress, would have no trouble ramming through these historic rule changes. The broadcast industry left nothing to chance: Between 1998 and 2004, broadcasters spent a boggling $249 million lobbying the federal government, including spending $27 million on federal candidates and lawmakers.
Yes, yes. They spent all that money (a significant chunk to Democrats, by the way), while their opponents spent not a cent opposing their efforts. The Supreme Court has ruled that money is equivalent to speech, so unless one is advocating eliminating the first amendment, campaign contirubutions will continue.
You would think that FCC deregulation, affecting millions of Americans, would get major play in the media. But the national networks knew that if people found out about how one media mogul could own nearly everything you watch, hear and read in a city, there would be revolt. The solution for them was simple: They just didn't cover the issue for a year. The only thing the networks did was to join together — and you thought they were competitors? — in a brief filed with the FCC to call for media deregulation.
A google search of "media deregulation" (with quotes) yields 16,400 hits, so it's not exactly a big secret. The search "Prometheus Radio Project" (referenced in the original piece) yields an additional 17,500 hits. The possible variations are almost limitless, yielding plenty of other hits.
The major media conglomerates are among the most powerful on the planet. The onrush of digital convergence and broadband access in the workplaces and homes of America will radically change the way we work, play and communicate. Fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) from the regional Bells, Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony, bundled services from cable companies, and increased capacity in satellite and wireless technologies will transform the platforms on which we communicate.
And these technologies will result in more and more independent voices being heard, rather than fewer. Despite the consolidation of media, there is a counterpoint to the mainstream media in the internet. Whether one leans left or right, there is always someone who shares your views on the internet, and if there isn't, you can always start your own blog or website to make your views known.
Who owns these platforms, what is delivered over them and, fundamentally, in whose interest they work are critical issues before us now. Given the wealth of the media companies and their shrewd donations into our political process, the advocates for the public interest are in far too short a supply.
And who determines the "public interest"? Self-appointed advocates such as the Goodmans? What about Focus on the Family? They have the same footing as the people at Democracy Now! and Mother Jones. What about the big corporations that provide all the jobs and provide the means of dissemination; maybe their view is the one that serves the public interest.
This whole debate smacks of "Astroturfing", a false grass roots movement. It's especially apparent from here in Seattle, where the Seattle Times has been flogging the issue over and over again. I covered two previous columns, by Alex Alben and Bill Clinton; I'm sure that they have trotted it out elsewhere. It's a pet issue for the editorial board of the Times.
The program hosted by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, is produced by and aired on Pacifica Radio, the notorious extreme-left (and virulently anti-semetic network run by the crazies out of Berkeley. Mother Jones magazine, for which David Goodman writes, is a "Social Justice" magazine which survives on grants from a foundation run by Bill Moyers. (And the left argues hat the Washington Times doesn't make much money, therefore it must be a propaganda outlet...)