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1/31/02


 

THE PAYOFF

By David Podvin

In 2000, when Karl Rove called General Electric Chairman Jack Welch to guarantee that a Bush Administration would be extremely generous to media conglomerates that were sympathetic to the Texas governor’s presidential campaign, it was a notable moment in history. If only this once, Rove wasn’t lying.

Since taking office, George W. Bush has lavished spectacular taxpayer funded largesse on the corporate media that made excuses for his inadequacies, overlooked his corruption, shielded him from scandal, and escorted him into the White House. It has been a squalid quid pro quo that has gone largely unexamined, because those whose job it is to report on such corruption are too busy benefiting from it.

The payoff began immediately. Two days after he was inaugurated, Bush appointed industry puppet Michael Powell to head the Federal Communications Commission. The media conglomerates were thrilled. The New York Times editorialized about Powell’s virtues, as did the Washington Post. They knew that, as an FCC commissioner, Powell had supported every media mega merger without ever voicing any concern about the consequences to the consumer. They knew that he had stated that the government should not protect the public interest against media conglomerate excesses because he had “no idea what the public interest is”.

They knew that Powell advocated total deregulation of the airwaves, meaning a transfer in ownership from the public to the multinational corporations that currently need licenses in order to broadcast. They knew that he opposed any rules to restrict media monopolies. They knew that the son of Colin Powell was so brazenly unethical that he had failed to recuse himself from considering the anti-trust implications of the AOL/Time Warner deal, despite the fact that his father was on AOL’s board of directors.

Michael Powell claims that he is a capitalist who embraces the free market. In this guise, he has “deregulated” the media industry by eliminating consumer protections regarding consolidations and cross ownership. The changes that he has made will provide a huge financial windfall to General Electric (NBC), Disney (ABC), Viacom (CBS), The New York Times Company, and the Washington Post Company.

And, of course, Powell has been generous to News Corporation (Fox). When Rupert Murdoch needed a waiver to buy additional TV stations in order to provide more Americans with a fair and balanced look at the infallibility of George W. Bush, it was Powell who made it happen.

Free market advocate Michael Powell says that he opposes allowing more competition in the FM radio industry because it would reduce ad revenue for the existing media powerhouses. His staff consists of lobbyists from the major print, broadcasting, and cable companies. He is not a capitalist; he is a manipulator who has gained prestige and power by whoring for the biggest communications companies in the world.

Powell gets extremely favorable media coverage. When profiled on the networks and in the major papers, he comes across looking like a billion dollars. It’s only fair. Michael Powell’s appointment was a multi-billion dollar reward to the media conglomerates that have been so good to George W. Bush.

General Electric has been very, very good to Bush. During the campaign, NBC News hewed to the corporate media line, discarding any facts that did not conform to the theme that Democrat Al Gore was dishonest and Bush was likeable. On election night, Jack Welch was in the NBC News Election Center and instructed Tom Brokaw to call the election for Bush, which Brokaw did. Right after Bush took office, it was NBC News that was chosen to publicize the Bush lie about President Clinton vandalizing the White House. NBC News has strained to avoid investigating improprieties in the current administration, preferring to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative in regard to all things related to Bush.

Six days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Michael Powell announced an FCC ruling that affected corporations having licenses to operate 130 UHF TV stations broadcasting on certain frequencies. The FCC gave the media companies approval to sell those taxpayer-owned licenses and keep the tens of billions of dollars that will be generated by the sales. This will be extraordinarily profitable for GE, among others.

Personalized attention is another benefit of shilling for Bush. On June 18, 2001, Jack Welch called White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to ask for assistance in pressuring the European Union to approve of GE’s proposed merger with Honeywell. The next day, Bush interrupted his tour of Poland to tell reporters, "I am concerned that the Europeans have rejected it." The head of the EU antitrust review committee subsequently complained that he was being coerced by the Bush Administration to see things General Electric’s way.

Walt Disney Company’s ABC News unit spent the 2000 campaign openly supporting Bush. From Good Morning, America to World News Tonight to Nightline and This Week, the ABC coverage was relentlessly anti-Gore. After the vice president gave his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, ABC talking heads Peter Jennings, Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Ted Koppel, George Will, George Stephanopoulos, and David Gergen each proclaimed that Gore had marginalized himself with a presentation that was too far left of center. Conversely, the Gallup Poll showed that, as a result of the speech, Gore received the biggest post-Convention gain of any candidate in the survey’s history.

This attack on reality was typical of the ABC News cheerleading effort for Bush, and it did not go unappreciated by the Republicans. After being appointed FCC chairman, Powell named Walt Disney Co. executive Marsha MacBride as the agency's new chief of staff. MacBride had served as a vice president in Disney's Washington office, which was heavily involved in lobbying the FCC. Disney’s chief lobbyist is now making federal communications policy. The ability to write its own rules is one dividend of the company’s assistance in helping Bush seize power.

When it comes to genuflecting before Bush, Viacom/CBS doesn’t have to take a backseat to anyone. CBS News Managing Editor Dan Rather cast aside all pretense of journalistic integrity when he told David Letterman, “George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions, and, you know, it’s just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he’ll make the call."

Actually, Bush has been making the call for Rather for quite some time. In 2000, CBS News fell obediently in lockstep with the Republican storyline for the campaign. Night after night on Rather’s broadcast, Gore was misportrayed as a dishonest, sleazy, and corrupt automaton who deserved no credit for the accomplishments of the Clinton Administration, but who bore responsibility for anything that had gone wrong. CBS viewers were instructed that Bush was charming, and that his frequent bouts with the truth just made him all the more lovably human. Military desertion? Paying for an illegal abortion? Influence peddling? Corrupt insider business dealings? Viewers of CBS News never heard these allegations against Bush, much less saw any investigation of them.

CBS radio is aggressively pro-Bush. The network features the commentaries of Charles Osgood, whose allegiance to Bush is spousal in tone. Osgood is unswervingly protective of his man, bitterly complaining that Bush is being persecuted by labor unions and environmentalists, but defiantly declaring that W is “holding up well under the assault”.

Viacom has tasted the sweet financial fruits that go to media conglomerates supporting Bush. Limitations on media expansion have already been partially lifted, which will allow Viacom CEO Mel Karmizan to pursue his dream of empire building. And with Bush in power, when the FCC fines radio stations for indecency, it targets an obscure rap station in Portland instead of Viacom’s nationally syndicated vulgar golden goose, Howard Stern

The New York Times is stereotyped as a liberal paper, but there was nothing liberal about its presidential campaign coverage in 2000. Reporters Richard Berke and Katherine Seelye promoted every Republican slander of Gore as truth. After the first debate, they falsely accused Gore of lying about anecdotes that were later proven to be accurate, while ignoring blatant Bush lies on major public policies ranging from the economy to taxes to Social Security to health care. Meanwhile, tender Bush correspondent Frank Bruni was called “my favorite reporter” by the Texas governor.

Since inauguration day, The Times has been on a crusade to legitimize Bush. The effort has included joining with the other participants in the media Consortium to proclaim (on page one) that a review of Florida ballots confirmed a Bush victory, while grudgingly acknowledging (on page nine) that more Floridians voted for Gore. Berke has written articles suggesting that Democrats are secretly thrilled that Bush is in the White House because he’s doing such a swell job.

No one was happier with the FCC appointment of Michael Powell than The New York Times Company. Although primarily known for its flagship newspaper, The Times has diverse media interests to promote. It responded to Powell’s selection by electing William Kennard to its Board of Directors. Kennard also joined The Carlyle Group, the private equity firm that includes Poppy Bush. Kennard is a Managing Director in the Carlyle Global Telecommunications and Media Group. He had served as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from November 1997 to January 2001.

Kennard’s protégé at the FCC was Colin Powell’s son. His mentor at the Carlyle group is George W. Bush’s father. He has been the go-between as the Times, the Bush Administration, and the Carlyle Group have coordinated their interests. In an upcoming article, MakeThemAccountable will examine Kennard’s key role as the behind the scenes liaison between the Bush Administration and the mainstream media.

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he greatly increased the money that was spent on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, a previously experimental program that Bush turned into an annual litmus test of academic achievement. The major financial beneficiary of the expanded standardized testing was Kaplan, Inc., a publisher of educational material. Kaplan is a subsidiary of the Washington Post Company.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, the Post assigned reporter Ceci Connolly to cover Al Gore. Connolly was a key participant in the GOP effort to discredit the Democratic nominee, writing a false story that misquoted Gore as claiming that he was the one who started the investigation of Love Canal. "Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore," she wrote. "The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie 'Love Story' and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site."

Connolly was also lying when she wrote that Gore mistakenly claimed to have inspired “Love Story”; author Erich Segal confirmed that Gore was telling the truth. And Connolly was lying when she accused Gore of claiming to invent the Internet; neither she nor other Republican operatives have ever been able to document Gore’s nonexistent claim. Even after she was confronted with proof that her allegations were false, Connolly refused to retract them, and her editors allowed her lies to go uncorrected.

Now, the Washington Post Company is being rewarded for its favorable news coverage of Bush. In the education bill that Bush recently signed, additional standardized testing will provide more than $100 million dollars a year of added revenue to the Post through its Kaplan subsidiary.

NBC.

ABC.

CBS.

The New York Times.

The Washington Post.

In 2000, the “liberal” media saw an opportunity to earn huge financial rewards by advancing the career of George W. Bush. The corporate news organizations that dominate the flow of information in this country rejected the principles of objectivity and honorable journalism in favor of ingratiating themselves to a corrupt politician who had pledged to reward them once he was in office.

Now the payoff is happening, but you won’t see it reported on the major commercial networks, or read about it in America’s newspapers of record. The huge conglomerates that control the mainstream media are too busy promoting the current interests of George W. Bush, motivated by their lust for the enormous financial rewards that Bush will continue to bestow upon his media sycophants at the expense of the American people.

Podvin on the Media

Podvin, the Series

 


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