Bush Wins the Air War

No doubt Leo, Ben, Bruce, Bon Jovi and the other show-biz campaigners for John Kerry are as despondent post-election as the rest of Democratic-leaning Hollywood. But not the entertainment industry’s bosses. Because Big Media is beside itself with joy at the reality of four more Dubya years filled with unfettered consolidation and conglomeration.

So it was hardly surprising that Tuesday night, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, at 9:41 p.m. PST, first called Ohio for George W. even though voters in that state were still in line to cast their ballots. Gee, after the 2000 election’s many mistakes, wasn’t jumping the gun like that exactly what the broadcasters said they wouldn’t do in 2004?

But it smelled like a repeat of 2000 when, at 11 p.m. PST on Tuesday night, Fox News had declared Florida for Bush even though Florida was still a statistical dead heat. Now, in 2004, Murdoch was just returning a favor, since his News Corp. continues to defy a July 2001 FCC order requiring it to divest itself of a TV station in exchange for the agency’s approval to buy 10 TV stations from Chris-Craft Industries Inc. for $5.4 billion. What, Rupert worry? Now, with Bush’s re-election, and Congress even more Republican than before, he can rest assured that the FCC will relieve him of his headache by amending its prohibition on owning broadcast outlets and newspapers in the same market.

Exactly 15 minutes later Tuesday night, NBC and its ratings-challenged relation, MSNBC, called Ohio for the president, again while voters there stood in line. Anyone recall how NBC’s elections chief had claimed vociferously beforehand that the network would not compete, or even be influenced by, the actions of its rivals? Yet this, too, seemed a replay of 2000’s shenanigans when, once Fox had called Florida for Bush, NBC’s parent-company boss, General Electric chairman Jack Welch, demanded his news division to do the same. And that set in motion call after call for Bush.

This time, the other broadcasters waited. But was it mere coincidence that the next to fall in line was CBS, whose parent-company boss, Viacom’s Sumner Redstone, had come out a few weeks earlier and admitted that the Republicans are best for his business?

In any case, GE/NBC had even more incentive in 2004 to do Dubya’s bidding than last time around. Last month, the Republican-controlled House and Senate passed and sent to the White House a $137 billion corporate tax bill (dubbed “No Lobbyist Left Behind” by Goldman Sachs) that gave a huge $8 billion tax break to — you guessed it — GE. According to House Ways and Means Democrats and independent watchdog groups, GE spent a record $17 million lobbying Republicans in high places.

Meanwhile, Hollywood studios learned the hard way what supporting the Democrats will get them in a George W. Bush presidency: punished. In that same tax bill, movie companies watched while, at the last minute, House Republicans stripped the studios of about $1 billion worth of tax credits because the industry is so closely identified with the Democratic Party and had just hired Dan Glickman, a Clinton loyalist, to head its lobbying group. (Don’t shed too many tears: The studios still held on to $336 million in tax breaks for movies made in areas with high unemployment.)

But, sensing a Bush win, Big Media moved quickly in the final days of the campaign to correct this bad mistake. To offset the installation of Glickman, a former Democratic congressman from Kansas who was also Clinton’s secretary of agriculture, as its new president and CEO, the MPAA decided to placate the GOP-controlled Congress with one of Ah-nold’s aides. Stacy Carlson, formerly director of Schwarzenegger’s Washington, D.C., office and overseer of W’s 2000 campaign activities in the 11 Western states, will serve as the MPAA’s executive vice president of global government affairs.

With W’s gang sure to continue its rewards-incentives program for Big Media, prepare for four more years of 24/7 pro-Bush news and talk.

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