Viva La Revolution, my billionaire comrade!
July 26, 2004 12:51 AM   Subscribe

Ted Turner is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore: "the government [is] not doing its job. The role of the government ought to be like the role of a referee in boxing, keeping the big guys from killing the little guys."
posted by limitedpie (22 comments total)
And speaking of media concentration, is Rupert Murdoch more Homeric or Burnsy? Who, exactly, is big media? And a few talking points (albeit obvious) on why we should care...
posted by limitedpie at 1:06 AM on July 26, 2004

[this is a good read]
posted by gen at 1:42 AM on July 26, 2004

But today the government has cast down its duty, and media competition is less like boxing and more like professional wrestling: The wrestler and the referee are both kicking the guy on the canvas.

At this late stage, media companies have grown so large and powerful, and their dominance has become so detrimental to the survival of small, emerging companies, that there remains only one alternative: bust up the big conglomerates.
While I agree with Turner's key points, it is important to note that Turner writes this AFTER he loses his company to AOL Time Warner.
posted by gen at 1:47 AM on July 26, 2004

I don't see why it is important to note that he wrote this after losing his company. Does it change the content in any way? Does it make you think that he is misrepresenting facts? Perhaps it's true that he wouldn't have wrote this if he was currently the President and CEO of AOL Time, but unless you are arguing that he has a personal agenda that compels him to distort the facts (something I disagree with) then it is a pointless observation.

And this is an excellent read. One of the republican worst aspects of Clinton's administration was facilitating the escalation of media conglomeration, an escalation that Bush's administration of course has taken to even greater heights:

In the summer of 2003, the FCC raised the national audience-reach cap from 35 percent to 45 percent. The FCC also allowed corporations to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market and permitted corporations to own three TV stations in the largest markets, up from two, and two stations in medium-sized markets, up from one. Unexpectedly, the public rebelled. Hundreds of thousands of citizens complained to the FCC. Groups from the National Organization for Women to the National Rifle Association demanded that Congress reverse the ruling. And like-minded lawmakers, including many long-time opponents of media consolidation, took action, pushing the cap back down to 35, until--under strong White House pressure--it was revised back up to 39 percent. This June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threw out the rules that would have allowed corporations to own more television and radio stations in a single market, let stand the higher 39 percent cap, and also upheld the rule permitting a corporation to own a TV station and a newspaper in the same market; then, it sent the issues back to the same FCC that had pushed through the pro-consolidation rules in the first place.

Thanks to intense pressure from the US Public (egged on by internet blogs, I would venture) the FCC "only" raised the cap 4% instead of 10%. I wonder if Bush wins a second term if they will get that extra 6% push? For that matter, what is Kerry's stand on this issue? I sincerely believe that this is one of the most important challenges facing the US Democracy, a point that Turner also makes in his article...
posted by sic at 2:59 AM on July 26, 2004

"... it is important to note that Turner writes this AFTER he loses his company to AOL Time Warner."

That should be AFTER he SELLS his company to AOL Time Warner.
posted by jpburns at 4:45 AM on July 26, 2004

Turner didn't lose his company, he traded it for a boatload of TW stock. He is, IIR, the 2nd or 3rd largest shareholder of Time Warner Stock.

And if his suggestions were to be adopted and these companies like TW were to be busted up, it would have a beneficial effect on the value of his shares, which once worth 10 bil or so, have lately made Ted get by with living on his last billion or so.

That being said, he is stating what at this point should be obvious to everyone except the crowd that holds ownership in these media megaliths.

The state of affairs in media today is all quite unsurprising as it stems from the successful lobbying of the FCC regs that were in place for decades with the stated purpose of preventing the precise probs Ted describes.

So, if they knew to avoid large media conglomerates in the 1930s, who oughta pay if the big boys are compelled to cash out?

Lastly, IBM litigated (some sould say stalled) its anti-trust litigation for years. Expect the same here.
posted by Fupped Duck at 5:08 AM on July 26, 2004

Great post limitedpie!

[preemptive strike]

Didn't he marry that damned commie lover? Why, that in itself negates anything he might have to say contrary to the pro-corporate BushCo!

[/preemptive strike]

Now that we have that out of the way, can we petition Ted Turner to join Mr. Soros in putting his money and influence where his 'mouth of the south" is?

P.S. Spell check, wingnuts = ingenues!

(I do not doubt that he will do so but its fun to cast all the required aspersions his way before the wingnuts can.)
posted by nofundy at 6:44 AM on July 26, 2004

I too asume that it is easy enough to denounce what is going on when you are no longer a part of being very much involved in doing what is going on...addtionally, though, the idea of big fish swallowing small fish can be seen everywehre in our society: the small bookstore , the hardware store, the business supply store etc are all clsoing down--Walmart, Office Max, Staples, Home Depot etc have taken over. So too in media. We can view this trend as good or bad, much as we can iln the same way argue for or against globalization.
posted by Postroad at 7:01 AM on July 26, 2004

When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas.

posted by the fire you left me at 7:27 AM on July 26, 2004

Postroad: I'm not following you, I guess, mostly because it seems clear to me that arguing for or against globalization is quite a bit like arguing for or against the spread of information: It's a fact of life, and what's at question is not whether, but how.

Though it does seem quite clear to me that the bigger the fish, the greater its resources for control. Where this gets really interesting is when smart, big fish realize that they can co-opt "think small" approaches, the way IBM has been carefully co-opting open source.

Ted Turner has always been a believer in benevolent despotism. After all, in his day he was one of the great media consolidators. He didn't see a problem with it then because it was him doing it, and his aims were Pure. (Well, they must have been pure, right? He wouldn't imagine himself having impure aims, would he?)

None of this has easy answers. What empowers freedom can also empower control; freedom or constraint lie ultimately not in big ideological choices, like "Free Trade" versus "Protectionism", but in daily small choices like "do I buy from Walmart or Ben Franklin?" (Or even "Walmart or CostCo?")
posted by lodurr at 7:39 AM on July 26, 2004

There is a powerful philosophical faction of government in the US that believes that "oligopolies make empire". That is, with the exception of the CATO Institution, that embraces monopolies, an even more extreme ideology, many capitalist philosophers now believe that "more than one" producer of a product or service is sufficient, and that there is a rapid inefficiency curve beyond just a small number of producers.
So they do not see the *crisis*, plainly obvious, in industries like media, pharma, automotive, banking, mining and agribusiness.

In the short term, they may be correct, in that oligopolies can produce the greatest amount of generally desired product with the highest productivity (that is, fewest employees to produce most product). However, they miss a staggeringly obvious problem. Stagnation.

Corporations have "life cycles", much like a person. If you think that a cooperative team of young people can generally accomplish more as a group than could each one, individually, you would probably be correct. However, this would not necessarily be the case if the people were middle aged or old. Individually, one or two of the old people might be fully functional, but the rest have too many problems to assist the group, instead dragging them down with them. This is a good analogy for mature and old corporations.

So instead of encouraging or supporting oligopolies, and providing protections for them to maintain themselves, some process, such as the Sherman Antitrust Act or similar legislation needs to be introduced to "stir the pot up", in a manner of speaking. To encourage innovation in an industry, along with some method of relatively painlessly breaking up stagnant or degenerate corporations.

For the time being, it would be wise to consider what are the major oligopolies that *need* stirring up.
posted by kablam at 7:45 AM on July 26, 2004

I don't mind the idea of oligopolies in theory. But what I dislike, and assume Turner is also saying, is said oligopolies gaming the political system to prevent competition or as Kablam puts it "stir[ring] the pot up".

Economic efficiency is one thing, but introducing inefficiences (and indeed protecting business plans) via government lobbying is a different thing.
posted by infowar at 9:10 AM on July 26, 2004

The problem isn't one of media consolidation: it's of media magnates who insist on using their holdings as a voice for themselves.

If, say, Robert Murdoch and his organizations upper administration were to just STFU and let their news stations report the news however they best see fit, there wouldn't be any great cause for uproar. Their journalists would be free to investigate stories, present facts, and present the news that interests their small market segment.

But because Murdoch dictates the news content from on high, we only get the news that Murdoch wants to promote. And that news is, of course, the news that makes it possible for him to gain more power, or for the people he wants in power to gain more power.

Worse is that the mega-media empires are able to out-compete, out-spend, undercut, or purchase their competitors. Your local news station is simply no match for the purchasing power, fancy graphics, kickbacks, and advertising deals that the big boys can provide.

And it's not like the alternative voice is necessarily a bunch of wingnuts: in the current media empire structure, the alternative voice is simply any voice that is not Robert Murdoch's or Conrad Black's.

There are two solutions to this problem:

One is to legislate maximum market holdings, so that alternative voices have the ability to compete. If those with truly alternative viewpoints can't get their shit together enough to put together a media outlet, tough.

The other is to legislate hands-off management of media, so that those within the organization are able to engage in journalistic reporting. (I'm not sure this can work.)

Whatever the solution ends up being, the bottom line is that a public that is not presented with largely unbiased, fact-based, non-partisan reporting is a public that can not participate in a truly democratic process.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:55 AM on July 26, 2004

But because Murdoch dictates the news content from on high, we only get the news that Murdoch wants to promote.

Eh. I don't buy into this. You don't need an evil genius at the helm to produce the schlock Fox comes up with. In fact, as long at your company motto is: "Give them what they want" you don't have to "dictate" content at all. Instead, content and (more importantly) presentation will (d)evolve to fit the character of the average, ignorant American.

The problem is that the "media" isn't supposed to reflect the mainstream, it's supposed to inform the mainstream. That means an assumption, a priori, that the bovine populace is unable to formulate positions for themselves, and journalists "would be free to investigate stories, present facts, and present the news" despite the lowly, common, brutish interests of their small market segment.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:17 AM on July 26, 2004

Fox's talking heads receive direct marching orders from above. They receive a daily memo telling them what issues to focus on for the day, and the particular spin they are to put on it. The better they spin it, the better the praise from above.

There is an evil genius at the helm.

As for the population formulating positions for themselves, this is precisely what they can not do so long as the media is presenting issues according to the whims of its micro-managing owners. When the only information you can get is the information Murdoch wants to give, and only then with the particular spin that he wants to give it, you can not hold an informed position.

Journalists who present facts and present largely unbiased non-partisan news are helping the public make an informed position. This is opposite the "bovine populace" attitude you would claim such behaviour represents!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:00 AM on July 26, 2004

The great thing about Ted was that he never, to my knowledge, told the journalists working for him how to report, how to slant a story, or anything of the sort. He didn't like it when CNN journalists asked him questions that he'd rather not answer, but he didn't fire them. Turner seems to respect journalism, in a way that Murdoch obviously doesn't.

Actually, some of Turner's pet projects and topics did of course get coverage they might not otherwise get..."World Report", a wonderful show in which news reports from all over the world were translated into English and compiled, was Ted's baby and would have been cancelled several times over had it not been. Environmental coverage, such as the "Earth Matters" show, wouldn't have been on the air if Turner hadn't pushed for it.
posted by Vidiot at 12:10 PM on July 26, 2004

The great thing about Ted was that he never, to my knowledge, told the journalists working for him how to report, how to slant a story, or anything of the sort. He didn't like it when CNN journalists asked him questions that he'd rather not answer, but he didn't fire them. Turner seems to respect journalism, in a way that Murdoch obviously doesn't.

posted by MidasMulligan at 7:14 PM on July 26, 2004

Seemingly born a Conservative, Vincent writes for a host of web sites as a featured and guest writer, including NEWSMAX.COM, GOPUSA.COM, OPINIONEDITORIAL.COM, WASHINGTONDISPATCH.COM, INTELLECTUALCONSERVATIVE.COM, AMERICANDAILY.COM, and is a staff writer for COMMONCONSERVATIVE.COM.

A non-partisan critique of CNN, I'm sure, Midas. Looks to me to be another over-emotional tirade against the evil liberals, sans any semblence of fact.

How about an unbiased critique of CNN based on facts, eh? Let's see the equivalent of "Moody Memos" and attaboy-promotion as used by Fox News. Let's see some hard statistical analysis of the storylines.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:57 PM on July 26, 2004

How about an unbiased critique of CNN based on facts, eh? Let's see the equivalent of "Moody Memos" and attaboy-promotion as used by Fox News. Let's see some hard statistical analysis of the storylines.

Everyone here seems quite rabid about Fox ... but it is simply one of several major networks. Its fairly dramatic rise in popularity has certainly disturbed liberals, who certainly cannot accept that the popularity could be due to something like the fact that apparently it is broadcasting a perspective that a good number of people find more agreeable than what the "non-liberal" media broadcast on most of the rest of the airwaves. No ... it must be because of the "evil conservatives", with their media-conglomerate ways.

So far as "facts", you can try to demean the source of the link all you want - but the story was all over the place. Here's a link to the op-ed piece (in the NYT - that bastian of liberal "facts") from the CNN guy himself.

Yes. That's right. CNN did not publish large amounts of information about Saddam's atrocities over the course of years (including those perpetrated on CNN's reporters themselves). This however, is considered an "over-emotional" tirade against liberals, while an op-ed piece from Ted Turner himself is considered completely "non-partisan" fact? Riiiiiiight.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:26 PM on July 26, 2004

...while an op-ed piece from Ted Turner himself is considered completely "non-partisan" fact? Riiiiiiight.

The bias of CNN under Turner is debatable (or perhaps empirical as FFF points out: "Let's see some hard statistical analysis of the storylines.") But reducing your argument to a straw man doesn't help. No one in this whole thread as far as I can tell ever claimed that this was not an op-ed piece with a partisan flavor (the use of comrade in the post title was also a clue.) What has been accepted *as fact* are simply the facts (and consequences) of the changes in regulation Turner cites. If you think that allowing concentration of the media is positive for democracy I'd like to hear your reasoning. But if you simply want to dismiss the subsumed facts of increased concentration of media in the United States because Ted Turner has written an Op-Ed piece then it seems the real partisan blindness is coming from you. Media Concentration (imho) shouldn't be a partisan issue at all-- in principle a lack of distribution channels for ideas is just as problematic for true conservatives as it is for liberals. In fact, if we are to take the right wing argument of liberal media bias seriously, then it would seemingly be crucial for conservatives to fight against concentration to break up the "liberal cartel that currently dominates the airwaves + print media."
posted by limitedpie at 9:25 PM on July 26, 2004

Let's address this in two parts, shall we?

Part the First:

Direct EJ quote: CNN had been in Baghdad long enough to know that telling the world about the torture of one of its employees would almost certainly have gotten him killed and put his family and co-workers at grave risk.

Eason Jordan's admission boils down to this: "The dictatorship in Iraq had us up against the wall. We either toed their line, or our journalists and sources would be killed and we'd be kicked out of the country."

Are you claiming that having one's employees and news sources not killed is a particularly liberal philosophy? Are you claiming that having CNN removed from the country of Iraq would have resulted in... better coverage of Iraq?

Not to put too fine a point on this, but what on earth do you think CNN should have done?!

Part the Second:

The problem with Fox, Midas, is not that it puts forth a conservative agenda, but that it presents itself as fair and balanced journalism, when it is demonstrably not (a) journalistic and (b) fair or balanced.

There are very high-quality conservative journalistic media. Fox is not one of them.

There are liberal media venues that are equally as poor at journalism as Fox News is. None of them, however, has anything close to a majority share of the market. Fox News does: a 55% market share, through which the majority of Americans are being served a stream of rah-rah-republicans political partisanship. This is wrong.

Without a truthful, fact-based, non-partisan media there can be no democracy. Surely you recognize the truth of that!

Again, I challenge you: find an unbiased critique of CNN based on facts. Let's see the equivalent of "Moody Memos" and attaboy-promotion as used by Fox News. Let's see some hard statistical analysis of the storylines.

If CNN is strongly liberally biased, it needs to be exposed as such, so that more Americans will become aware that it, like Fox, is not serving their best interests.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:31 PM on July 26, 2004

(I just loooove how the right-wingers seem to think that CNN is run by The Nation or Mother Jones or something....)
posted by Vidiot at 10:13 PM on July 26, 2004

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