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