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Big Name Candidates Bow To Media Power


Every modern presidential contest generates a lot of discussion about how

the nation’s most prominent journalists cover major candidates. But there’s

not much analysis of how candidates get along with the media conglomerates

that employ those journalists.

Politicians have long feared media power. And they’ve usually watched their

steps to avoid tangling with it.

Franklin Roosevelt was hardly a media favorite during the 1930s. Many

newspapers bitterly denounced him. But President Roosevelt was careful not to

be too intrusive when the profit margins of media companies were at stake.

By the time he moved into the White House, the owners of numerous daily

papers had gained large holdings in profitable radio stations. Like other

politicians of the day, FDR depended on radio networks to carry his speeches

— which helps to explain why he went along with passage of the fateful

Communications Act of 1934, a monumental giveaway of the public airwaves to

private firms.

Sixty-two years later, the Telecommunications "Reform" Act of

1996 set off a huge new wave of mergers and buy-outs in the broadcasting

industry. The measure had enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Washington and

avid endorsements across the big-media board.

Likewise, two pivotal economic treaties in this decade — the North

American Free Trade Agreement and the GATT global pact that established the

World Trade Organization — received overwhelming support from the nation’s

editorial pages.

In this context, any politician with an eye on the presidency faces a stark

choice: Go along to get along with basic corporate agendas, or face widespread

disparagement in news media.

Mainstream journalists tend to accept the idea that would-be presidents

should already be tight with corporate interests. Blending in with the

prevalent media scenery, such biases are apt to seem natural — indeed,

"professional."

In the terrain of America’s mass media, the campaign trail to the White

House may be long, but it is exceedingly narrow. Although journalists often

decry the dominant role of money in politics, they still portray success on

the fund-raising circuit as proof that a candidacy is serious. No wonder

Democratic and Republican party leaders don’t see any severe media downsides

to cozying up to fat cats with big checks.

Illusions of choice are integral to the media game. So, this year, former

Sen. Bill Bradley is being touted as an alternative to Al Gore.

Evidently, in a world where every Coke must contend with a Pepsi, every

Gore must contend with a Bradley.

The current effort to market Bradley as some kind of anti-establishment

figure is truly remarkable. By late spring, Bradley had raised more money from

Wall Street than either of the major parties’ frontrunners — and that’s

saying something.

Bradley, like Vice President Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, poses no

threat to the power of America’s corporate elites. The candidates have close

ties with leading media moguls and other deep-pocket donors. The first quarter

of this year brought in quite a haul: Gore raised $8.9 million, Bush pulled in

$7.6 million, and Bradley came up with "only" $4.3 million.

A key event for Bradley during his recent 10-day tour of California was a

$1,000-a-plate dinner in Beverly Hills that collected more than $800,000 for

his campaign. The gracious host was media magnate Barry Diller, who has become

extremely wealthy from such TV ventures as home shopping channels and the

"Jerry Springer Show."

The June 17 fund-raiser wasn’t the first time that Diller, head of USA

Networks, has helped out. Four months ago, Diller opened his home to a

reception for Bradley. The co-host was the top executive at Disney, Michael

Eisner.

Chances are that Bradley will continue to get plenty of favorable media

coverage. And why not? The former New Jersey senator certainly passes muster

in boardrooms. "Not only is he duller than a cud-chewing cow,"

populist Jim Hightower observes, "but he’s more corporate than Al."

You got a problem with that? If so, you might wonder why no progressive

Democrat has stepped forward to give Al and Bill a run for their corporate

money in the 2000 race.

More than ever, high-profile Democratic politicians are behaving like

sheep. And the big corporate media seem to be doing a good job of tending the

flock.

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Norman Solomon’s latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive

Media."

 

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