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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Krug 3.25 - The Jeers, the Smears, The Fears, And The Tears

Professor Krugman comes out strongly today against freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. A big media company is engaged in an activity that is legal, visible, disclosed, and annoying to the Professor. Let him tell it:

By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven't drawn nearly as many people as antiwar rallies, but they have certainly been vehement. One of the most striking took place after Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, criticized President Bush: a crowd gathered in Louisiana to watch a 33,000-pound tractor smash a collection of Dixie Chicks CD's, tapes and other paraphernalia. To those familiar with 20th-century European history it seemed eerily reminiscent of. . . . But as Sinclair Lewis said, it can't happen here.

Eerily reminiscent of what? The Cat Stevens record smashings in 1989? Or perhaps he is thinking of the Nazi book burnings which destroyed works by authors such as Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Karl Marx and H.G. Wells. Who knew that the earnest Prof held the Dixie Chicks in such high esteem?

But enough frivolity, we have some heavy lifting to do.

Who has been organizing those pro-war rallies? The answer, it turns out, is that they are being promoted by key players in the radio industry — with close links to the Bush administration.

The CD-smashing rally was organized by KRMD, part of Cumulus Media, a radio chain that has banned the Dixie Chicks from its playlists.

"Pro-war" rallies, again? NO, they're "pro-liberation", or "pro-American". Anyway, watch the bait and switch. We are about to learn that the Dixie Chick bashing has nothing to do with the main story, and was just there for all of us to have fun with.

Most of the pro-war demonstrations around the country have, however, been organized by stations owned by Clear Channel Communications, a behemoth based in San Antonio that controls more than 1,200 stations and increasingly dominates the airwaves.

The company claims that the demonstrations, which go under the name Rally for America, reflect the initiative of individual stations. But this is unlikely: according to Eric Boehlert, who has written revelatory articles about Clear Channel in Salon, the company is notorious — and widely hated — for its iron-fisted centralized control.

OK, a link to a Salon compendium of the Boehlert's work on this.

...now the company appears to be using its clout to help one side in a political dispute that deeply divides the nation.

Why would a media company insert itself into politics this way? It could, of course, simply be a matter of personal conviction on the part of management.

Boy, I would hate to give up on that explanation too quickly. We are talking about rallies for the listeners of right-wing talk radio. As business promotions go, this is not a bad idea. The pro-liberation position is popular in the country, and very popular (I bet) amongst talk-radio listeners. So, management may be following their personal conviction that this might help them to make a buck. Get Randolph Hearst on the line!

But there are also good reasons for Clear Channel — which became a giant only in the last few years, after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed many restrictions on media ownership — to curry favor with the ruling party. On one side, Clear Channel is feeling some heat: it is being sued over allegations that it threatens to curtail the airplay of artists who don't tour with its concert division, and there are even some politicians who want to roll back the deregulation that made the company's growth possible. On the other side, the Federal Communications Commission is considering further deregulation that would allow Clear Channel to expand even further, particularly into television.

Or perhaps the quid pro quo is more narrowly focused.

Let's pause and admire that rhetorical ploy. A "quid pro quo" has not even been established, and now the Professor is slyly refining it. Anyway, here is a link to the current state of play at the FCC. Interesting factoid:

Victoria Raskin..., said 73 of the 91 biggest cable networks are owned at least in part by six companies, including Viacom, Walt Disney Co., News Corp., NBC parent General Electric and AOL Time Warner, all of which also own broadcast networks and control a combined 75 percent of prime-time viewing....

And none of which are named "Clear Channel". If the villains of Krugman's piece are planning to insinuate themselves into television, it wil be as a small fish in a shark tank.

Back to Krugman:

Experienced Bushologists let out a collective "Aha!" when Clear Channel was revealed to be behind the pro-war rallies...

Clever use of the passive voice here - "Clear Channel was revealed". One can imagine an intrepid investigator gasping "Clear Channel is behind it" with her dying breath.

Or, one can imagine reading the newspaper announcing a local rally. Readers patient enough to make it all the way to the third sentence of the story learn that Clear Chanel is the mysterious force behind these rallies.

And is that legal? The Chicago Tribune (annoying registration required) said this:

In a move that has raised eyebrows in some legal and journalistic circles, Clear Channel radio stations in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Antonio, Cincinnati and other cities have sponsored rallies attended by up to 20,000 people...

The sponsorship of large rallies by Clear Channel stations is unique among major media companies, which have confined their activities in the war debate to reporting and occasionally commenting on the news. The San Antonio-based broadcaster owns more than 1,200 stations in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

While labor unions and special interest groups have organized and hosted rallies for decades, the involvement of a big publicly regulated broadcasting company breaks new ground in public demonstrations.

"I think this is pretty extraordinary," said former Federal Communications Commissioner Glen Robinson, who teaches law at the University of Virginia. "I can't say that this violates any of a broadcaster's obligations, but it sounds like borderline manufacturing of the news."

So, not illegal. And the idea of talk radio manufacturing news is murky - are they making news when they encourage their listeners to phone their Congressfolks?

Well, these questions have also been hiding in plain sight at the WaPo and the Instapundit. Glenn also points out that this is not the first instance of media companies promoting a political viewpoint, although that observation does not earn him a prize either for courage or insight.

And Krugman's Big Finish - the Vice-Chaieman of Clear Channel is Tom Hicks, a Texas buddy of George Bush, both of whom were involved with the Texas Rangers. The evil intersection of busines and politics, crony capitalism at its worst, etc. We get an amusing reference to the Buffalo Springfield Jurassic Rock hit, so we have evidence that Krugman is aware of his tendency to present himself as creeping towards... well, whatever. He returns to the question of his own mental health in his conclusion:

"...the scandalmongers are more likely to go after journalists who raise questions..." says the chap who recently won Columnist of the Year, presumably while traveling incognito.

So, is this the first Administration to mix business with pleasure? If I could get Terry McAuliffe on the line, I could ask him. Or ask any trial lawyer, or Hollywood biggie, or any business exec, if this is new. Or perhaps the Psychic Connection could get me a clear channel to Warren Harding.

Krugman is worried that "we're now seeing the next stage in the evolution of a new American oligarchy." But he has refinanced his home mortgage because, in a few years (give or take), hyperinflation will destroy the US financial markets. Is this what the new oligarchs really want?

Sorry, I keep looking for consistency from one column to the next. My bad.

UPDATE: The Man Sans Q is looking for the economics in a column by an economist. I am looking for archive links to a "Blogger" post. We are both disappointed, but I suspect neither of us is surprised.

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