Media Ownership? Really?

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Seems that every time I feel myself drifting leftward, the leading lights of leftism jolt me back to reality.

I can understand Obama’s demagoguing on the media ownership issue, though that doesn’t excuse it. He has a huge Internet following, and the Digg/netroots crowd has a fascination/obsession with grand media conspiracy theories.

Truth is, we’re nowhere close to media monopoly, even in traditional media. Information markets are about as diverse as they’ve been in American history. Never mind the explosion of options on cable and satellite TV, satellite radio, and the Internet. Even the craziest, kookiest niches have a voice, now (hell, look at the fringe nut-job you’re reading right now!).

If this “corporate media” beast really exists, and is really the threat to democracy the netroots claim it to be, how to explain the fawning media coverage of Obama over the eighteen months? And I say this as someone who finds Obama to be the least worst of the three remaining major-party candidates. The press has generally doted all over him.

As I’ve pointed out before, much of the left’s obsession with so-called media consolidation is really more an obsession with Rupert Murdoch, whose rise has been the consequence of deregulation that allowed for more media outlets, not fewer. I disagree fairly often with Fox News (and yes, I write a column for the Fox News website), but in general I think it’s a good thing Fox News exists. Same for Air America and, for that matter, the English version of Al-Jazeera. The more outlets there are for information to filter through, the better. You get the feeling that some on the left who decry the rise of Murdoch seem to pine for the day when all of our news was filtered through just a few trusted wise old lefty dinosaurs like Walter Cronkite. That’s an argument for more consolidation, not less.

The ACLU’s decision to weigh in on the media ownership issue is far less understandable than Obama’s–and frankly, more offensive. Of all the assaults on personal freedom taking place at every level of government right now, the ACLU has the resources to launch a campaign on this?

This is why I let my membership expire. The ACLU does great work on the drug war and civil liberties–the latter particularly with respect to the war on terror. If I could support just those parts of the organization, I’d consider joining again. But this crap is inexcusable. It’s economically ignorant, demagogic, based on a false premise, and stakes out a position that limits personal freedom, not one that advances it.

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30 Responses to “Media Ownership? Really?

  1. #1 |  Jonathan Hohensee | 

    One fact that I memorized to bring up in debate is how Adbusters, who decries how the media drowns out minority voices, has over 100,000 readership a month* and while my source for my insane, esoteric, obscure style of libertarianism (Reason) has only 34,000 a month.
    Is it fair to say that, because Adbusters reaches a wider audience, the magazine is crushing the voice of Reason?

    *Spite of the fact that the assholes charge about $7 an issue for about 10 pages of real content and 100 of filler. They have two sections for letters. TWO. And dedicate about 5 pages to it for each section.

  2. #2 |  Jonathan Hohensee | 

    As I’ve pointed out before, much of the left’s obsession with so-called media consolidation is really more an obsession with Rupert Murdoch….You get the feeling that some on the left who decry the rise of Murdoch seem to pine for the day when all of our news was filtered through just a few trusted wise old lefty dinosaurs like Walter Cronkite. That’s an argument for more consolidation, not less.
    I’d say you’re half right. Although Murdoch is part of the justification, what a lot of the anti-media giant types really want is for their viewpoints to have a bigger part of the table. To me, they seem to find the fact that the media would do reports on Brittany Spears, or reports that are not 100% critical of Bush is a conscious effort to malign the causes they believe in by ignoring them.

    News Reporter: “Up next, Hanna Montana does something outrageous!”
    Angry Guy: “Psshh! This is outrageous, this year alone over 10,000 dolphins off of the south seas died because of Exon’s shoddy environmental standards. why isn’t the media covering this”?

    Is it fair to say that, because Adbusters reaches a wider audience, the magazine is crushing the voice of Reason?
    Pun not intended, by the way…I think that’s the first time I said that phrase and meant it.

  3. #3 |  Steve Verdon | 

    If this “corporate media” beast really exists, and is really the threat to democracy the netroots claim it to be, how to explain the fawning media coverage of Obama over the eighteen months? And I say this as someone who finds Obama to be the least worst of the three remaining major-party candidates. The press has generally doted all over him.

    Now you know why some refer to the netroots as the nutroots.

  4. #4 |  mactbone | 

    With 1,194 stations, Clear Channel owns nearly 900 more than the next ownership group, Cumulus Broadcasting. In fact Clear Channel, which reaches 188 markets (three times the number reached by Cumulus), dominates the industry, as does no other single company in any other medium we study. It has been at the top of the heap since early 2000.

  5. #5 |  Chodeo | 

    Hmmm. I can think of a few media consolidations that have taken place over the course of past 7 years that have been disconcerting to me as a liberatarian.

    ClearChannel’s domination of radio, or LiveNation’s domination of venue promotion, two things which I think have had very negative impacts on consumers.

    Certainly there’s a diversity of opinion available online, but can the same be said about more traditional media?

  6. #6 |  Windypundit | 

    This is why I let my membership expire. The ACLU does great work on the drug war and civil liberties–the latter particularly with respect to the war on terror. If I could support just those parts of the organization, I’d consider joining again.

    Yeah, I’ve been in and out 2 or 3 times myself. The federal government will do something ugly like the Patriot Act or Raich and I’ll join, then I’ll get pissed-off over their support for the weird stuff and refuse to renew.

  7. #7 |  perlhaqr | 

    Bah, the ACLU.

    They’ll never see a dollar of my money until they decide to support all 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights.

  8. #8 |  Matt Moore | 

    mactbone – If the best you can come up with is clear channel, then good luck convincing anybody. Radio is but one bit of media and the consolidation of commercial radio is not much of a concern when there is now competition from satellite, “public” radio, and people listening to podcasts.

  9. #9 |  Matt Moore | 

    Chodeo – LiveNation’s “dominance” of music venues has mostly come at the expense of Ticket Master (which was, nearly, a monopoly). It’s an illustration of a market finally working, without (or in spite of) government interference.

  10. #10 |  The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » ACLU Strikes A Blow Against Freedom Of Speech & Association | 

    […] Tip: Radley Balko, who let his ACLU membership subside due to this issue. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  11. #11 |  Tamko | 

    You left out the business GE does with Iran. That’s where the “blame the Jews” movement you help push comes from by way of NBC.

  12. #12 |  kinyah | 

    the aclu does absolutely nothing to protect the 2nd amendment aspect of civil liberties

  13. #13 |  Windypundit | 

    the aclu does absolutely nothing to protect the 2nd amendment aspect of civil liberties

    Neither does Law Enforcement Against Prohibition or the Institute for Justice or NORML. That’s not really the point.

    Bah, the ACLU.

    They’ll never see a dollar of my money until they decide to support all 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights.

    The ACLU used to be in favor of gun control, but that changed a long time ago. President Nadine Strossen has hinted that she personally supports the right to bear arms. Here in Chicago, the ACLU and the NRA teamed up to stop the housing authority from conducting warrantless gun sweeps of the housing projects.

    I’m not saying you should join the ACLU, but don’t let the lack of support for the Second Amendment stop you. The ACLU supports a lot more amendments than most of our Senators and Congressmen.

  14. #14 |  Salvo | 

    The ACLU line on the second amendment is that there is already an (arguably) more powerful organization called the NRA that does nothing but promote and argue 2nd amendment issues. Given that there is no organization as powerful as the ACLU for arguing 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th amendment issues, I’d give the ACLU a pass in wanting to focus resources on something that isn’t duplicated by one of the most powerful lobbies in the country.

    But you got me on 3rd Amendment issues. C’mon ACLU! Where is your support for my 3rd amendment rights??!!

    As for media ownership, I’d just point out that I respectfully disagree with Radley(please don’t downrate me). One of the things on 9/11 that I found most fascinating is that it revealed on the cable and radio dials just who owned what. If you turned to almost any cable station that day, you would have only received the Viacom feed(CBS), the GE feed(NBC), the News Corp feed(Fox), the Disney feed(ABC) or the Time-Warner/Turner feed(CNN). That was it; 100 channels, and only the same 5 stations that day. Same went for the radio too–Viacom/Disney/Clear Channel, and not much else.

    I would argue that the point is that while there seem to be many viewpoints on TV and radio, in actuality, it’s really down to a handful of major companies that aren’t really giving different viewpoints at all. The limitations set up by the FCC on who can actually use a band prevents anybody from even attempting to compete. Locally owned stations don’t exist anymore. Local news now consists of “You won’t believe what’s hurting your kids now–tune in at 11!” and salacious scandal stories, instead of real stories of local interest. Satellite radio looks like it might finally be giving Clear Channel a run for it’s money–unless the broadcast lobby pressures Congress to force the FCC standards on it(and they are certainly trying).

    I cede the point about the Internet though. The great thing about it is even though traditional media has been consolidated to a few outlets, it truly does offer a tremendous amount of views, springing up as a reaction to consolidation. Which is why Net Neutrality is such an important issue–to prevent the same consolidation from happening here.

  15. #15 |  Tom | 

    Obama is the least worst? As a libertarian how can you say that? He is for socialized healthcare, against the 2nd amendment, routinely bashes free enterprise?

    How can you say that?

  16. #16 |  A McGillican | 

    I agree with Salvo. Cable and satellite television gives the impression of endless choice but in reality its 5 stations. And while one may argue that the market drive the choices and the 5 media groups are just providers, its interesting how they adapt and play off each other for advertising resulting in seemingly similar coverage.

    Question for Radley: if the media is so free, then why is the drug war or police militarization covered so little and uncritically such that the best coverage of these topics is a blog?

  17. #17 |  T.J. Brown | 

    “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.”

    McCain is not much better, but even he won’t go that far.

  18. #18 |  B | 

    Yes, I really wish Obama would STFU about this, and fast. (I say this as someone who voted for him two weeks ago.)

    You can avoid Clear Channel if you don’t care for it. But you have to be disciplined enough to limit yourself to college radio, NPR, Rhapsody, iTunes, and the scant few thousand radio stations streaming on the internet…

  19. #19 |  Radley Balko | 

    If you turned to almost any cable station that day, you would have only received the Viacom feed(CBS), the GE feed(NBC), the News Corp feed(Fox), the Disney feed(ABC) or the Time-Warner/Turner feed(CNN). That was it; 100 channels, and only the same 5 stations that day. Same went for the radio too–Viacom/Disney/Clear Channel, and not much else.

    First, several stations shared feeds because not everyone could access Ground Zero right away. By day three or four, every cable news station was doing its own broadcast from NYC. You also left out the BBC and NPR.

    Second, I think the perception was probably exacerbated by the fact that the more entertainment-oriented channels also picked up feeds from news stations. Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, and ran the CBS feed. But Viacom owning Comedy Central hasn’t stopped the Daily Show and the Colbert Report from becoming a subversive, biting source of news for much of the country.

    Finally, I guess I’m still wondering what “good ol’ days” you’re pining for. Just 25 years ago, most of the country had three TV stations and 5-6 radio stations. We have exponentially more options, now. If smaller, less locally owned media outlets are either drying up or being bought up, perhaps that’s an indication that the economics of the media industry says we can either have all of these options, and have some of the same companies own many of them, or we can just have fewer options.

    Yes, we have far fewer daily newspapers than we used to, but I’m not ready to trade having a second or third daily in my city for the Internet, are you? Because that’s what killed them.

    It’s a similar argument with people who support federally mandated a la carte cable programming. What they don’t understand is that some of their favorite more niche-oriented channels only exist because the giant conglomerates that own them worked out deals that force the cable companies to carry the smaller channels if they want to carry the bigger ones.

    Of course, this gets us into the state-sanctioned cable monopolies, which is a whole other debate. But let’s just say I have no love for Comcast.

  20. #20 |  Sam | 

    I don’t care much for the current news options, and I certainly have no interest in “old days” good or bad. I like the internet, but what I’m looking for are “good new days”. The info on the net that offers divergent points of view are awfully difficult to find unless you’re fluent in the nature of the web (such as the ppl you find on this site), and even then I often find myself noting a story of interest that I only accidentally stumbled upon. The vast majority of people don’t care to put the kind of effort into FINDING web news that I do, and I don’t blame them…it’s time consuming and often frustrating. TV news, on the other hand, only has so many channels and you can be sure you’ve checked them all just by hitting your ‘channel down’ button a few times. The unity of core news stories on these channels (mirrored by most large online news sites, those fed by Reuters etc…) is frustrating when you realize how many other stories there are, no matter what your interest is. I don’t care what the old days were like (aside from a vague interest in historical trends), what I want is to feel like there’s something other than a united front passing everyone around me information. I don’t know how to achieve it (ditch the FCC?), but I think discussing doing “something” is reasonable.

  21. #21 |  ClubMedSux | 

    “Seems that every time I feel myself drifting leftward, the leading lights of leftism jolt me back to reality.”

    I have a sneaking suspicion that many of your readers have similar experiences on a weekly basis.

  22. #22 |  Packratt | 

    Ah, the ACLU…

    Nothing frustrated me more than when the ACLU of Washington State decided to sponsor a big protest against Guantanamo a few months ago just a few scant blocks away from the King County Jail just after that jail had been found to be violating the constitutional rights of it’s prisoners by denying them medical care to the point where some pre-trial detainees were dying slow deaths due to infection… just a few damn blocks away from their headquarters.

    They never spoke out or took any cases against that jail still to this day. But they sure don’t have a problem spending their resources protesting about prisoner treatment thousands of miles away when so many other organizations are doing the same thing already.

  23. #23 |  Steve Verdon | 

    As for media ownership, I’d just point out that I respectfully disagree with Radley(please don’t downrate me). One of the things on 9/11 that I found most fascinating is that it revealed on the cable and radio dials just who owned what. If you turned to almost any cable station that day, you would have only received the Viacom feed(CBS), the GE feed(NBC), the News Corp feed(Fox), the Disney feed(ABC) or the Time-Warner/Turner feed(CNN). That was it; 100 channels, and only the same 5 stations that day. Same went for the radio too–Viacom/Disney/Clear Channel, and not much else.

    What limited thinking on this issue. This is the era of the intertubes, and you can get news from around the world. As Radley points out there is the BBC as well as NPR. You can get news from other sources as well from other countries to get that perspective. The idea that you are limited to just television/radio is nonsense, particularly since people can not have cable, listen mostly to music on the radio and still stay quite informed. Sounds to me what you want is a limited number of news sources that are somehow deemed balanced. If this is the case, and I’m just speculating here, but who deems that 5 or 6 news orgs are “balanced”?

    Sorry Salvo, try again.

  24. #24 |  James D | 

    Radster, am I allowed to say ‘I told you so’ about the ACLU? I’m pretty sure I was telling you that were crazy to join them.

    As for your larger point, you’re dead on. I find it hilarious that the left (which dominates TV, print, and a large portion of online media) is so threatened by the ONE source (talk radio) that they don’t dominate and is constantly saying that the sources they DO dominate are right-wing even though it’s been proven by every ‘test for bias’ ever done. I’m glad I have the internet to get every possible position on subjects. I pity people who still can only get their news from TV and/or radio.

  25. #25 |  Jeremy | 

    As a libertarian I really don’t have too much of a problem with this ruling.

    This ruling does not limit personal freedom except in the most trivial roundabout way. Corporations are chartered by the government; their freedom is not equivalent to our freedom as human beings. There is no such thing as “corporate personal freedom”. Corporations have many privileges already, and there is no public need whatsoever served by giving them new protections.

  26. #26 |  Matt Moore | 

    #15 Tom – If Obama isn’t the least worst, then which one is? McCain and Hillary are just as authoritarian… in some areas both are worse.

    Radley didn’t say he was a good choice, just better than the others.

  27. #27 |  ACLU Joins In On Media Ownership Hysteria | Technology Update News | 

    […] newspapers and broadcast television, two industries that are declining in importance. Radley Balko notes that the ACLU is jumping into the debate. I don’t understand how lobbying for more restrictive […]

  28. #28 |  ACLU Joins In On Media Ownership Hysteria | 

    […] newspapers and broadcast television, two industries that are declining in importance. Radley Balko notes that the ACLU is jumping into the debate. I don’t understand how lobbying for more restrictive […]

  29. #29 |  Andrew Williams | 

    23 corporations/individuals own the mainstream media that 90 percent of the country gets its news from. How much luck have you had getting one of the network to air Cory Maye’s story? Or Kathryn Johnson’s? I don’t believe in monopolies. And companies like Clear Channel are clearly monopolies that also stifle dissent. How many people have access to Clear Channel stations vs. access to Sirius? The Internet and Internet radio are signs of hope, but moguls like Murdoch and companies like CC grab so much of the airwaves and filling them with their “America is great” pablum.

  30. #30 |  Andrew Williams | 

    “They confuse size with power.”
    Damn, Samuelson’s got a great point there. I’m going to need to rethink #29.

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