Beast of the Month - February 2001
William Kennard, Federal Communications Commission Chairman
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
John Swinton, former New York Times managing editor, in 1880.
The first official month of the third millennium was dominated by two news stories: the coronation of a fraudulent imposter in the seat of the Presidency, and the approval of the titanic telecommunications merger between America Online and Time Warner. The two stories were more closely connected than most are aware.
The connection was made clear in the news coverage of the inauguration for the new "president," which occurred as 20,000 demonstrators protested the sham. As Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting noted on its website, the inauguration parade "occurred amidst widespread and angry protests rejecting the legitimacy of Bush's claim to office, the likes of which have not been faced by any modern president. Along the parade route, he was confronted by signs with messages like 'Shame,' 'Bush Lost' and 'Hail to the Thief.'" The London Guardian reported that it "fell well short of being triumphant, and on many occasions during its slow advance through the drizzle, the sound of jeering drowned out the cheers." Where was the American korporate media on the protests? The New York Times, for one, had merely one story on the demonstrations, "Protesters in the Thousands Sound Off in the Capitol". It was found on page 17. Meanwhile, the front page was filled with gushing reports titled "Bush, Taking Office, Calls for Civility, Compassion and 'Nation of Character': Unity Is a Theme" and "Proud Father and Son Bask in History's Glow." More telling is the dismissive mention of the protests in a front page analysis of the inauguration by R.W. Apple (titled "Tradition and Legitimacy: A Nation's Old Rituals Begin to Dissolve Lingering Clouds of a Bitter Election Battle"):
Thousands of the doubtful and disenchanted took to the streets of Washington today in angry protest. But the debate is likely to grow softer as the nation grows accustomed to pictures of Mr. Bush speaking from the Oval Office, boarding Air Force One, accompanied everywhere he goes by the strains of "Ruffles and Flourishes" and "Hail to the Chief." In the television age, those images, more that anything else, confer the mantle of authority and legitimacy on a leader.
In other words, thanks to repeated affirmation of a lie by the korporate media, the masses would eventually swallow it.
There is no greater indictment of the collaboration between the korporate media and the political establishment than their own pronouncements. Indeed, Apple seems to state that it is the duty of his profession to confer legitimacy on authority.
Contrary to how some may argue, the push for resolution behind Shrub seems more utilitarian than ideological. The business of korporations is business, and having people question the legitimacy of rule is bad for the bottom line. Fights over surface controversies - such as the nomination of John Ashcroft for Attorney General - are one thing, but having people question the system is out of the question. (Besides, since the Democratic Party serves korporate interests as much as the Republicans, it really matters little to most korporate entities which party is in power.)
The writing was on the wall as early as 1983, with the release of The Media Monopoly, by Ben Bagdikian. At the time, Bagdikian warned that, "50 corporations dominated most of every mass medium." Today, such dire warnings seem like a description of relative media freedom that seems nearly utopian. Since that time, Bagdikian has published updated editions, and each time the number has become even smaller: 29 in 1987, 23 in 1990, 14 in 1992, and 10 in 1997. In 2000, he released the sixth edition, and the number was down to six. As Bagdikian puts it, "It is the overwhelming collective power of these firms, with their corporate interlocks and unified cultural and political values, that raises troubling questions about the individual's role in the American democracy." Questions that became even more troubling after the 2000 "election".
What is interesting to note (and underscores the lack of difference between the two parties) is that the consolidation of media has, if anything, increased under the reign of Kommander Klinton. Of course, the blame doesn't rest solely on the shoulders of Slick Willie: much of the explosion in consolidation happened after the 1996 Telecommunications Act was easily passed by Congress and signed by Billy Boy with little opposition. At the time, most controversy surrounding the legislation involved the Communications Decency Act, a doggie bone thrown to religious conservatives to "protect children" from sexual material on the Internet, which turned out (as some, including The Konformist's humble editor, expected) to be a red herring. Few even in the "Free Speech" movement pointed out that the Act was fundamentally unsound, radically changing Federal law to allow even more control of public airwaves by even fewer hands. The end result was even more public power consolidated in even fewer companies, ironically at a time when a new medium like the Internet could have conceivably caused the reverse.
It was in this atmosphere that William Kennard (The Konformist Beast of the Month) was appointed FCC Chairman in 1997. Certainly, if someone else occupied his office during his reign, things would've ended little different. But the frightening consolidation of airwaves since then has his fingerprints all over the place.
The approval of the AOL-Time Warner merger (one year and a day after first officially proposed) is the fitting capstone to his reign. The combination of the two titans (the nation's largest internet provider with the largest media conglomerate) was a $100 billion-dollar deal. (When first proposed before the tech stock tank, the deal was worth an even more astounding $165 billion.) The merger was approved with a minimal requirement to open up AOL's Instant Messenger service to at least one competitor. The most important "concession," the requirement of Time Warner to open it's cable Internet lines to competitors, was actually mandated by the Federal Trade Commission during its review of the deal. Perhaps it's telling that previously under Kennard, the FCC had sided with cable companies such as Time Warner and AT&T during previous battles with local communities over the cable giants' supposed "right" to monopolize a public service.
While the FCC under his reign has been busy approving consolidation of public airwaves and defending cable companies' right to monopolistically gouge, they haven't been too busy to attack what they deemed to be a sinister threat: the use of public airwaves by low power micro radio. Termed "pirate radio" due to their lack of license, micro radio is a low-priced entry onto the public airwaves, a way for people of a community to have their voice heard. Naturally, this is viewed as dangerous by the National Association of Broadcasters (the radio industry's lobbying arm), who apparently dislike any dilution of their control of radio waves. The FCC has instituted a policy of raiding and impounding micro radio stations and equipment, even though in the vast majority of cases, no licensed radio signals are interfered with. Incredibly, Kennard has earned praise for criticizing his own Commission's policy, as though he has had nothing to do with it. He has proposed a minimal reform of limited licensing to micro radio stations (a move that has been opposed by the NAB) but his act of Pontius Pilate is unconvincing.
Soon after the AOL-Time Warner deal was approved, Kennard resigned from his post of FCC Chairman. Some believe it will soon get even worse at the FCC, as his replacement will be Michael Powell, Colin's toad-like son. Already an FCC commissioner, Powell was part of the debate and vote to approve the AOL-Time Warner deal. Apparently, the fact his father owns $6 million in AOL stock isn't considered conflict of interest. Powell believes that the current minimal FCC restrictions of telecommunication giants are too severe. Claiming to be an opponent of government regulation, he opposed even the requirement on AOL's Instant Messenger service as a supposed move of big government. However, the alleged Mr. Anti-regulation is opposed to the plan to license micro radio, a move that would actually be a blow to federal power.
The good news is that for once, fear of Shrub and his sleazy cohorts is unfounded. Not that the Junior Powell (who combines both Dubya's exploitation of his daddy's undeserved prestige for personal benefit in exchange for serving korporate interests, and his dad's Oreo-like servitude to the military-industrial-komplex status quo) isn't a creep, but after the reign of Kennard at the FCC, little could be made worse. If Powell is his father and Shrub, Kennard is like Klinton, giving lip service to issues of social justice while enforcing programs that contradict those supposed concerns. And for that, Kennard is being rewarded.
In any case, we salute William Kennard as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Bill!!!
The Media Monopoly, Ben Bagdikian
IGNORING REALITY AT THE INAUGURATION
January 22, 2001
Media Giants Have a Pal at the FCC
January 25, 2001 (Page A-41)
BREAK UP MICROSOFT?... THEN HOW ABOUT THE MEDIA "BIG SIX"?
Norman Solomon, Media Beat, April 27, 2000
The US Media: A Critical Component of the Conspiracy Against Democratic Rights
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