If you want to pass, better massage the gatekeeper; or: a conservative media loveaffair

New York Magazine’s Michael Wolff links up the Powell FCC’s recent regulatory gift to the broadcast industry (and newspapers) with the pass the mainstream media has given the Bush administration (and Mikey Powell’s daddy) over the question of WMDs that still haven’t shown up in Iraq. Even though, for me, the quid pro quo is too obvious to dismiss, he doesn’t think conspiracy is the right word. Instead,

“Negotiation, however, would be the right one. An appreciation of the whole environment, the careful balancing of interests, the subtleties of the trade (at this point, the ritual denial: “There was no quid pro quo”).”

However, a former chair of the FCC, Reed Hundt, is more than willing to call it out. On the eve of the FCC’s big June 2 decision, Salon published an interview with Hundt that didn’t seem to make any ripples at all, even in media democracy circles, despite Hundt’s surprisingly candid proclimations.

With specific regard to a deal between right-wing political forces and the nation’s major media conglomerats, Hundt says:

“When Newt Gingrich was running the House of Representatives, effective in the fall of 1994, he called all the media owners together in a room down on Capitol Hill, and according to what people who were there told me, he told them he’d give them relaxed rules allowing media concentration in exchange for favorable coverage. Now I wasn’t there, but that’s what they said they understood he meant.”

And, then, we got the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which, specifically, tremendously loosened radio ownership rules, allowing for the creation of the monster we call Clear Channel Communications. Clear Channel was but a fly on the ass of the radio industry, until the Act allowed it to swallow up struggling radio stations at an alarming rate.

In 1998, as it continued to gorge on stations nationwide, Clear Channel also acquired Jacor, which had become home to conservative radio blathermouths Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Jacor, itself, had been on a buying spree before that, acquiring these conservative talkers and amassing 169 radio stations.

And although the Clear Channel-Jacor deal happened almost 2 years after the Act, rumblings about it appeared almost a year earlier, which means that the companies were probably scheming way back before the Act even passed – and while their lobbyists and campaign money were busy working their magic in DC.

Limbaugh, specifically, certainly had some influence in Gingrich’s 1994 election successes (though not as much as he’d like to claim) and the overall advancement of the neo-conservative (and anti-Clinton) agenda. Acquisition by Clear Channel, and access to its enormous stable of additional stations, certainly didn’t hurt that cause, nor Limbaugh’s own pocketbook (and the Jacor guys didn’t do too bad, either).

Without the Telecomm Act of 1996, Jacor would never have been able to raise the capital to acquire 169 stations and Limbaugh and Schlessinger’s programs, and Clear Channel, in turn, would never have had the bucks to swallow them up, either. Without the Telecomm Act Clear Channel would still be a small regional radio owner, and Limbaugh might still be a popular radio host, though without the backing of the 900 lb gorilla’s several hundered AM outlets to solidify his position. (and the Dixie Chicks might still get mainstream country radio play.)

Now, TV and newspaper companies want their share of the pie, and they learned from radio how to get it. The conservatives, by their very nature, are much more likely to heave all sorts of corporate benefits your way, so go easy on them, and hard on their enemies, and you will be rewarded.

It’s not a conspiracy, it’s the core logic of modern American business. The media conglomerates have something the Republican Right wants, and, in turn, the Right’s FCC has something the media conglomerates desparately desire. Why should it be surprising that they’d find a way to work together, even if never explicitly?

The loosening of media ownership rules is a reward for a job well-done.

Again, former FCC Chair Hundt paints the picture clearly:

“Progressives would be better off going to a Ouija board to channel the spirits of Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell, rather than trying to shake the conservative majority at the FCC. There’s no way the three votes there are going to be altered in any way by any kind of popular protest. You can walk the streets of the United States and you will never find a single person who’s in favor of more consolidated media, unless by chance you happened to bump into one of Rupert Murdoch’s children. …

“It’s the culmination of the attack by the right on the media since the independent media challenged and helped topple Richard Nixon. ”

Big media and big political power go hand in hand. Want corporate media reform? It won’t happen until American politics changes, too.

Me, I’d be happy to see them both pretty well obliterated.






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