Chicago Writer for "Editor and Publisher" Attempts Hilarious Stab at Op-ed

Posted by Mitchell - November 2, 2006 (entry 494)

Mark Fitzgerald, writing with a Chicago byline in the trade paper Editor and Publisher ("America's Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry") writes a headline that I would actually agree with: "Why Newspapers Will Lose On Media Cross-Ownership -- Again" (reprinted on Free Press here).

The last four sentences summarize the op-ed: "Will newspapers be able to overturn the cross-ownership prohibition? I'm dubious for one big reason. The industry seems to have convinced itself that it need not convince the public about the rightness of its case, so long as it can convince three out of five FCC commissioners. That hasn't worked before, and I'm betting it won't work this time around, either."

Yes, Fitzgerald is correct in that the flames of increasing public involvement, stoked by a number of media activists and public interest groups, burned the corporate media lobby and their DC mouthpieces in 2003, and is precisely the reason the issue is still on the table.

But Mark is off the mark about the merits of the repeal of newspaper-TV cross-ownership; he just thinks that, you know, just present the argument to the public, and engage in a debate with the public, and the excellence of the position will simply win outright. But the corporate media didn't do that. Right again. For example, the Chicago Tribune opined about the cross-ownership rule exactly once (on a Sunday) in the months running up to the 2003 FCC media ownership decision. The big three major news networks mentioned the issue exactly once in primetime news combined.

So what's the problem with the op-ed? He says that demagogues like CMA took advantage of the gap in public discourse to monopolize the issue and smear the merits of the media moguls' arguments. And the result? "When the public did start hearing about the proposals -- mostly from 'media democracy' advocates and their Op-Ed sympathizers -- it turned out the more they knew about media deregulation, the less they liked it."

Um, not so fast. Two points comes to mind:

(1) The merits of the case weren't mentioned publicly because that case has no merits. Repealing cross-ownership is ruinous for public discourse and a healthy media both in theory (increasing ownership reduces owners) and in practice (just look at Canada's media).

(2) Speaking as one of the "media democracy" advocates Fitzgerald decries, we're not greasing the wheels of public opinion polls to our favored advantage; we're trying to tell people what's going on about media concentration because the media are not and will not. There's a reason there's a correlation between public knowledge and public outrage: Media can and do get away with murder without the check of public involvement in media policy, particularly when the media get to cash in big on favored policy decisions. When people find out about the corruption that passes for media policy, they get pissed and want to do something about it. I sure did when I first heard about it, and I have devoted a serious chunk of my "spare" time to activism on media issues. That's why the modus operandi was for the media to shut up about the issue and ram it through the FCC before people knew what was going on and could act to stop it. They didn't engage the public on the issue precisely because doing so would have spelled disaster for getting the cross-ownership rule repealed.

So, the op-ed in the end is as vacuous as the media ownership policies in question. But still, Mark, we're just proud of you for trying. And ran the spell-checker and everything! Just like a real op-ed writer!

By the way, today CMA celebrates its fourth birthday today, November 2. Your homework assignment: Read all about how CMA got started here and here.

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