Capitalist Media Monopoly? Think Again
by L. Brent Bozell III
September 7, 1995
In the 1980s, left-wing media critic Ben Bagdikian predicted in his book "The Media Monopoly" that "If mergers and acquisitions by large corporations continue at the present rate, one massive firm will be in virtual control of all major media by the 1990s." Bagdikian no doubt thinks his nightmare is coming true. Disney buys Capital Cities/ABC. Westinghouse buys CBS. Time Warner pursues Turner Broadcasting. News Corp. and TCI lurk. "Consumers are the losers," he proclaimed.
Bagdikian and other liberals suggest that left unregulated, the market will restrict consumer choice in media, a reduction in freedom of expression, a downsizing of democracy. They mourn the waning powers of the Federal Communications Commission. But as media scholar Thomas Hazlett demonstrated in the February issue of Reason magazine, it was the FCC that strangled the explosion of cable and new media beginning in the 1960s. Consumers were the losers as the FCC delayed the advent of CNN, C-SPAN, and other political news channels. Liberals who are really interested in opening up public affairs broadcasting should be supporting deregulation.
But old liberal habits die hard, not the least of which is the habit of being wrong. Remember the dire warnings of an Atari monopoly on video game technology? Not so many years ago, the Left proclaimed in the same apocalyptic terms that IBM conspired to control the world of computers. Microsoft shattered that silliness, so now Bill Gates becomes the conspirator. The left will simply not accept that his entrepreneurial spirit has not only spawned competition in computers, but created a new frontier in communications as well.
Another, more ideological reason liberals oppose having these capitalists run the media is the belief that liberal and left-wing voices will be buried by corporate media owners, assumed automatically to be fire-breathing supply-side radicals. That also assumes that the corporate brass spends its days controlling the nightly network news content. But a close look at recent Federal Election Commission records shatters the sloppy preconception of corporate conservatism.
Begin with Michael Eisner, the Disney chairman who pulled off the ABC deal: he gave almost $25,000 to Democrats in the last election cycle and almost nothing to Republicans. Eisner brought in superagent Michael Ovitz, who, as the new President of Disney, will be in an influential place at ABC. Consider that Ovitz hosted a fundraiser for Bill Clinton in December 1993. Or consider that Ovitz co-chaired the Democrats' host committee pushing the DNC to hold the 1996 convention in Los Angeles. Or consider that in every campaign cycle since 1987, Ovitz has given tens of thousands of dollars to the Ted Kennedys and the Chris Dodds, matched only by a measly $500 to one Republican, the hapless Rudy Boschwitz.
The last mega-merger of media companies, Time Warner, also featured executives who were very active supporters of Democrats. The late co-chairman Steven Ross gave at least $190,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Timothy Boggs, Time Warner's vice president for government affairs, gives thousands to Democrats, including $10,000 to the DNC in 1994. Common Cause found Time Warner to be the Democrats' largest supplier of soft money.
How about a Time Warner merger with Turner? Well, in the 1993-94 cycle, Ted Turner gave to six Democrats (Buddy Darden, John Lewis, Ed Markey, George Mitchell, Bill Richardson, and Mike Synar) and two Republicans (Jack Fields and Carlos Moorhead). His chief Washington executive, Bertram Carp, gave to five Democrats and no Republicans. Jane Fonda surely approves.
Time Warner, along with NBC's owner, General Electric, signed a Dan Rostenkowski statement supporting Bill Clinton's massive 1993 tax increase. GE lobbied the Business Roundtable not to endorse a health reform plan when it considered endorsing something less liberal than the Clinton plan.
Preferring Democrats to Republicans is the rule. Over at CBS, vice president for government affairs Martin Franks, a former Tony Coelho aide, continued to shovel thousands to Democrats like Tom Foley and Joe Biden. Some recently retired major newspaper executives also put a little money on the table. The Washington Post's Katharine Graham gave $2,000 to the liberal Women's Campaign Fund; New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger gave $1,000 to Senator Daniel Moynihan and $500 to liberal Republican Rep. Amo Houghton.
Bagdikian ended his book by declaring as his enemy "the insidious power that comes with unchallenged dominance over the information of others." If we deal simply with the major national media, that "unchallenged dominance" is held by people who donate the vast majority of their political kitty to the Democrats. But as technology expands, the media will become all of us. That's what liberals truly fear.