By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Then there’s the fact that the more corporate takeovers of the media, the less curious those same media become of their owners. The trend is for Big Media conglomerates to fail to accurately or extensively cover themselves. After buying ABC in 1995, Disney’s Michael Eisner declared on the record, "I would prefer ABC not cover Disney." Within days, ABC news boss David Westin killed a 20/20 story critical of the parent company.
Fifteen years ahead of his time, writer-director Jim Brooks got it right in his movie Broadcast News. Then, as now, Big Media’s machinations focused on making money, and their manipulations fooled the First Amendment. When TV producer Jane has the proof that star reporter Tom violated newsroom ethics, she fumes, "You totally crossed the line."
"It’s hard not to cross it," Tom replies. "They keep moving the little sucker, don’t they?" Time to set it in concrete.
More Accessible Moguls
Nobody knows the moguls better than we who work in or around Hollywood, which is why familiarity breeds contempt. Like Kubla Khan building a stately pleasuredome and Citizen Kane erecting Xanadu, today’s Big Media bosses also build monuments to their egos, or, in this case, their conglomerates.
The reason is obvious: Network TV ownership is the most public face of today’s giant media corporations, not only on Wall Street but also on Main Street. But these influential men remain enigmas, able to restrict their public exposure to five-minute interview segments with overtly friendly anchors of TV business shows.
For example, it was important to know that, early in Jeffrey Immelt’s career, the chairman of NBC’s parent company helped organize a massive recall of GE appliances. As a result, it came as no surprise that he treated the world’s best war correspondent like a malfunctioning toaster oven. Repairing the problem of Peter Arnett was not much different from removing a dangerous product from public shelves as quickly as possible.
Yet, asked last fall what concerned him most about the impending war in Iraq, Immelt showed far worse judgment than Arnett when opining it was a GE business opportunity. "We built about a billion-dollar security business that’s going to be growing 20 percent a year, so we’ve been able to play into that," Immelt told CNBC.
It’s increasingly clear that to understand the mindset of the new military-infotainment complex, you’ve to get inside the heads of the people who run it. Once upon a time, the people who masterminded our wars came from the Fortune 500. Today, the people who mouthpiece our wars come from the cable industry. It was no coincidence that Clear Channel Communications, the radio giant that pulled the Dixie Chicks from the playlists of its country-music stations, is headed by a George W. Bush contributor and crony. The U.S. invasion of Iraq showed us that most media moguls believe in the free-market economy but not in the free market of ideas. It’s high time we call them on it.
Free Political Airtime
In his quixotic mission to level the electoral playing field, John McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, continues to call on broadcasters to meet their public-interest obligation by providing free air time for political candidates. This is an idea whose time has come, even more crucially now that the courts have crucified the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
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