Blake Fleetwood has a curious article at the Huffington Post that quotes Bill Clinton saying that…
“…the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is even more right wing and irrational than most of the commentators on Fox News.”
That’s the not the curious part. The article continues with Clinton relating an incident wherein the business of a supporter of his was being dogged by the Journal’s editorial board. The supporter arranged a meeting with the board to present his case, but the board told him that they didn’t care to hear it. They told him that they were only going after him because he was a supporter of Clinton. Clinton told him to send a check to Bob Dole, which the supporter did, and the attacks from the Journal stopped.
That’s a story that is both shocking and predictable at the same time. Anybody who’s familiar with the Journal’s editorial bias wouldn’t be surprised by that sordid tale. But anybody who cares about journalistic ethics would still be appalled. The power that is wielded by influential media organs like the Journal is substantial, and that power is magnified in the broadcast media world. Clinton has something to say about that too…
“With regard to media consolidation, the rules were relaxed too much.”
That’s undeniably true. Unfortunately, Clinton doesn’t acknowledge that it was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which he signed into law, that produced the relaxation of which he now complains. Common Cause documented the legislation, and its impact, in a 2005 study:
The Fallout From the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (pdf)
- Lifted the limit on how many radio stations one company could own. The cap had been set at 40 stations. It made possible the creation of radio giants like Clear Channel, with more than 1,200 stations, and led to a substantial drop in the number of minority station owners, homogenization of play lists, and less local news.
- Lifted from 12 the number of local TV stations any one corporation could own, and expanded the limit on audience reach. One company had been allowed to own stations that reached up to a quarter of U.S. TV households. The Act raised that national cap to 35 percent. These changes spurred huge media mergers and greatly increased media concentration. Together, just five companies – Viacom, the parent of CBS, Disney, owner of ABC, News Corp, NBC and AOL, owner of Time Warner, now control 75 percent of all prime-time viewing.
- The Act deregulated cable rates. Between 1996 and 2003, those rates have skyrocketed, increasing by nearly 50 percent.
- The Act permitted the FCC to ease cable-broadcast cross-ownership rules. As cable systems increased the number of channels, the broadcast networks aggressively expanded their ownership of cable networks with the largest audiences. Ninety percent of the top 50 cable stations are owned by the same parent companies that own the broadcast networks, challenging the notion that cable is any real source of competition.
- The Act gave broadcasters, for free, valuable digital TV licenses that could have brought in up to $70 billion to the federal treasury if they had been auctioned off. Broadcasters, who claimed they deserved these free licenses because they serve the public, have largely ignored their public interest obligations, failing to provide substantive local news and public affairs reporting and coverage of congressional, local and state elections.
- The Act reduced broadcasters’ accountability to the public by extending the term of a broadcast license from five to eight years, and made it more difficult for citizens to challenge those license renewals.
I’m glad to see that the former president finally recognizes the harm he’s done by caving in to Republicans in Congress and putting his signature on that bill, although he didn’t actually take any responsibility for it. By way of restitution, he may want to advise his wife come out strongly in favor of rolling back the media consolidation that he unleashed. A brief statement to that effect would help to repair the damage and advance the issue. She might might want to use this statement by John Edwards as a model for her own:
“It’s time for all Democrats, including those running for president, to stand up and speak out against this [News Corp./Dow Jones] merger and other forms of media consolidation.”
So far, Edwards is the only candidate to address this issue, and he deserves enormous credit for exhibiting such courage. The media is a potentially devastating enemy – just ask Howard Dean. However, Hillary Clinton has the greatest moral obligation to take a stand given what her husband saddled us with. The question is, can we expect her to do so after having accepted $20,000, so far, from Murdoch and his associates, who are still promising to raise more money for her campaign?
Update: Paul Hogarth at Beyond Chron attended a session with Hillary Clinton at the YearlyKos conference and asked her what her position is now on the Telcom bill. “I don’t know,” she said, “ask Al Gore.” That’s a fairly pathetic attempt at displaced blame. Gore does bear some responsibility for the legislative development of the bill, but it was Clinton who signed it. And Gore has redeemed himself by becoming a vocal opponent of consolidation and an advocate of media reform.
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