Media Monopoly? Where's the Proof?
by L. Brent Bozell III
June 13, 1996
Mark Crispin Miller has drawn a scary little picture in The Nation magazine of "The National Entertainment State." The leftist Johns Hopkins professor has uncovered a conspiracy, sketching out the tentacles from the media conglomerates who own the networks: General Electric, Time Warner, Disney, and Westinghouse.
Miller proclaims this map "would suggest the true causes of those enormous ills that now dismay so many Americans: the universal sleaze and 'dumbing down,' the flood-tide of corporate propaganda, the terminal inanity of U.S. politics. These have arisen not from any grand decline in national character, nor from the plotting of some Hebrew cabal but from the inevitable toxic influence of those few corporations who monopolize our culture."
Pretty serious stuff, don't you think?
Except there's something missing from Miller's grand thesis. Evidence. (Oh, he briefly reminds the reader that ABC News was forced to apologize to Philip Morris for inaccuracy in a "Day One" report, and how CBS's in-house fight delayed the interview of Brown and Williamson whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. But could Miller honestly argue that the tobacco companies have been undercovered by the networks that have aired hundreds and hundreds of tobacco-bashing stories?)
The idea that a handful of corporations control the media is engaging; charts outlining their mazes of subsidiaries makes it all that much juicier. They have a powerful influence, yes, but they simply don't "monopolize" our culture. Not only are their audiences dropping by the millions, but if Miller's left-wing friends at the Federal Communications Commission were to allow the 500-channel superhighway to proceed, competition from the marketplace would guarantee diversity. Thus, even if Miller had any evidence of a current monopoly, it still would be meaningless.
This lack of documentation is not new for Professor Miller. On November 16, 1988, he authored a column in The New York Times arguing the media were hopelessly biased in favor of - George Bush: "Telejournalists...are indeed a bunch of liberals. But their ideological slant has worked against any liberal bias by the TV news, as reporters bend over backwards not to seem at all critical of Republicans. Eager to evince his 'objectivity,' the edgy liberal reporter ends up just as useful to the right as any ultrarightist hack." Guess what was missing from the article? Proof. Not a single scientific study, not a single quote to back it up.
For Miller, ideology is science. For him, free enterprise, by its very nature, is "inevitably toxic." Miller warns of "our contracting media cosmos," without noting that if The Nation set out to map all the owners of our media outlets - from newspapers to magazines to movie studios to cable channels - it would probably take more pages than that little leftist magazine could possibly afford. (By the way, who owns The Nation? One owner is a beneficiary of the loathsome National Entertainment State: Paul Newman.)
Oh, but it gets better. Miller darkly warns about a media dominated by gargantuan institutions, out of touch with the people, and then proposes handing it all over to - the government. "For P.R. purposes, GE (say) could still boast its affiliation with NBC News - a most civic contribution - but the annual budget for the news would come primarily from the same sort of trust fund, based on corporate taxes, that would pay for PBS."
But what happens when government gets into the media business? You get PBS, with more stations than any other network in America. Hardly a model of democracy in action, public broadcasting is an unaccountable and corrupt nest of leftist ideologues and merchandising profiteers. Despite all this talk of "media democracy," a left wing alienated from corporations and contemptuous of public tastes is consumed with power lust, with creating another base for "independent" left-wing propaganda.
Miller's evidence-free thesis is accompanied by a set of me-too warnings of media monopoly, from Walter Cronkite to Norman Lear. The zaniest declaration: "As news organizations are increasingly driven by a bottom-line mentality, the news we get becomes more and more sensational." The source: Mr. Sensational Conspiracy Theory himself, Oliver Stone.
But right there in the magazine is a nice little paragraph from author Michael Arlen. He notes that despite the left-wing fantasies about an Orwellian media monopoly controlling our lives, we see instead "the emergence over the past several decades of a startling cacophony of market-crazed citizens all over the world, with their insistence on two-way communication and their appetite for fragmentation of broadcast authority! Will the two or three or four currently forming mega-conglomerates have the last word, shape-shifting the global citizenry (newly armed with pagers and cell-phones and Internet-friendly computers and of course 500 cable channels) back into proles? One somehow doubts it." Wow. I agree with something in The Nation magazine.