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6/29/03


 

KICKBACK

 

 By David Podvin

Many Americans have wondered how George W. Bush can be blatantly corrupt, yet receive such positive coverage from the media - the same media that spent the previous eight years so desperate to uncover presidential scandals that it felt compelled to invent some. With the recent deregulation of the broadcasting industry by the Federal Communications Commission, the mystery has been solved.

The answer is money.

On October 25, 2001, MakeThemAccountable reported on a deal that had been made in 2000 between political advisor Karl Rove and Jack Welch, who was then Chairman of General Electric. The arrangement involved a quid pro quo in which the mainstream media agreed to run interference for the Bush campaign with the understanding that a new Republican administration would eliminate regulations on communications conglomerates.

In exchange for faithfully executing their part of the most pernicious alliance in American history, the multinational media companies have recently received the latest installment of a multi-billion dollar kickback:

June 2, 2003  In a bitter split along party lines, the Republican majority of the Federal Communications Commission — led by Chairman Michael K. Powell — voted 3 to 2 to relax rules that prevented TV stations from merging with local newspapers and restricted how many stations one company could own, both nationally and locally.

The broad revision of ownership rules clears the way for further consolidation by the biggest media conglomerates, enhancing the economic prospects of companies such as News Corp., General Electric, Disney, Viacom Inc. and Tribune Co.

In the short term, the FCC ruling has substantially increased the value of broadcasting outlets:

Bud Paxson, chairman of television station owner Paxson Communications (PAX), said Monday that the company is waiting to hear from NBC about buying the 68 percent of Paxson it doesn't already own in the wake of the FCC's relaxation of television station ownership rules. "NBC has always stated that they were going to finish the acquisition of us, if and when the rules changed," he said. "Well, now they've changed, so we'll have to see if that's going to hold true or not. But if it doesn't, I think we're in a unique position to increase shareholder value because the value of our properties has risen dramatically today." [Emphasis added] CBS Marketwatch, 6/3/03.

Over the long haul, deregulation offers the prospect of unlimited profits for the media powers as they consolidate the industry and ultimately monopolize the mainstream flow of information in this country. Along with all that money will come greatly enhanced political power. As Joseph Goebbels said, he who controls the facts controls public opinion.

Democracy is dependent on having a well-informed electorate, but the American people will now have even less contact with a diversity of information. The vast majority of citizens get their news from television. Their access to the data on which they form their views will be controlled by an ever-smaller number of media executives, all of whom are allied with the Republican Party. This concentration of power will further skew the political debate on all major issues in the direction of the corporate bottom line, and in favor of those candidates who are corporate functionaries. The interests of common people will be further marginalized. The inevitable result will be a diminished standard of living and inferior quality of life for the average American.

The debasement of journalism is a perversion of the very essence of the United States. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the American system could not survive without an independent press. He knew that the influence of the economic elite had to be counterbalanced by journalists who were free to expose the truth about even the wealthiest predators. Throughout this nation’s history, the independence of the press has been protected as a necessity for a free republic. With the advent of the electronic media, the executive branch of the federal government assumed responsibility for preventing powerful interests from effectively monopolizing public access to information.

Now, the executive branch is controlled by someone who is in league with those seeking to attain such a monopoly. By granting to his media allies the ability to eliminate competition in the marketplace of ideas, Bush is furthering his own career at the expense of the country he has sworn to protect and defend. His endless series of corporate tax cuts is creating huge budget deficits that will ultimately be repaid by the middle class. The flood of red ink that flows from this larceny is being used as justification for slashing spending on health care, child abuse clinics, and other safety net programs that have existed to protect the most vulnerable citizens. With the active support of the journalistic establishment, Bush is bankrupting America in order to enrich his campaign contributors, including the companies that own the mainstream media. In return, the mainstream media protects Bush and marginalizes his critics. It is a win-win situation, with the only losers being the American people.

The pact between Rove and Welch has resulted in a massive redistribution of wealth and power. For the amoral profiteers of Corporate America, there is greater influence over government than ever. For the average citizen, there is taxation without representation.

Political candidates who are not servants of Big Business can now expect to be confronted by an even more outrageous gauntlet of lies than Al Gore faced in the 2000 presidential contest. During that campaign and the Florida recount, the media upheld its end of the Rove/Welch agreement by smearing the Democratic nominee with a non-stop barrage of false allegations.  At the same time, corporate journalists turned a blind eye to Bush’s extensive personal corruption and record of abject failure as a National Guardsman, as a businessman, and then as governor of Texas.

Since taking office, Bush has continued to receive a reportorial free ride. He has been impervious to revelations about his insider trading at Harken Energy, his political corruption involving Enron and energy deregulation, his obstruction of an investigation into his failure to protect the nation from terrorist attack, and his lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush has been scandal-proofed; in the absence of investigative reporting, there can be no scandals.

Avarice is not good for journalism. Unrestrained greed on the part of the owners of the fourth estate produces a de facto oligarchy in which the most powerful elements of society are allowed to operate without fear of having their graft exposed. A lack of vigilant oversight by the media has enabled the theft of a presidential election, the looting of the Treasury, and the shredding of the Bill of Rights. Bush is not president in the way that Lincoln or FDR was president – he is the transfer agent for the Fortune 500, and he receives the tender loving care accorded to the goose that lays the golden eggs.

This is not a conspiracy - it is a lust for cash. There is no need for threats or secret memos in order to enforce discipline upon corporate journalists - they fully understand the consequences of placing themselves in conflict with the economic objectives of their employers. The general public may not have noticed that rising journalistic star Ashleigh Banfield was recently demoted by General Electric after she told the unacceptable truth about the mainstream media’s deceitfully pro-Bush coverage during the Iraq War. However, all of the other reporters who work for General Electric certainly noticed, as did all of the reporters who work for competing news organizations. The Banfield incident serves as a reminder that, in corporate newsrooms, deviation from the party line will not be tolerated.

The venal mutation of journalism that is practiced by the mainstream media does more than intimidate journalists into conformity – it distorts almost everything with which it comes into contact. The never-ending attempt to attain the extremely profitable “lowest common denominator” has motivated the news-manufacturing subsidiaries of Corporate America to obsess about trivia while trivializing matters of great significance. This anxiousness to pander, combined with an overwhelming financial incentive to support politicians who are willing to steal from the taxpayers on behalf of the industry, has resulted in the media hysterically decrying Democratic peccadilloes while carefully ignoring Republican felonies.

With the recent deregulation of broadcasting by the FCC, the communications conglomerates have been richly rewarded for inflicting upon this nation the ultimate lowest common denominator, George W. Bush. By shamelessly pimping for the most power-hungry element of this country, the media companies have immensely increased their wealth, with the promise of much more to come. In the process, they have violated every canon of journalistic ethics, betrayed the public trust, and done irreparable damage to the country whose flag they so cynically wave.

It isn’t moral, and it isn’t honest, but it is multinational corporate journalism, and unless there is a change of occupant in the White House, it will soon be the only kind of journalism we have left.

Podvin on the Media

Podvin, the Series

 


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