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Cesspool


Ah, the cesspool. That would, of course, be Congress. Aka Capitol Hill.

We caught a whiff of the cesspool the other day when a group of corporate liberals announced that they were going to launch yet another “newspaper” to cover the cesspool.

Millionaire media mogul Robert Allbritton and journalist Martin Tolchin have teamed up to launch something they will call The Capitol Leader.
The Capitol Leader will begin publishing on November 21 and will join an already crowded field consisting of Roll Call, The Hill, the National Journal and Congressional Quarterly.
    
Allbritton succeeded his father, Joe L. Allbritton, as chief executive at the Washington, D.C.-based Riggs Bank. Riggs, you may recall, was sold in 2004 after it pled guilty to criminal charges related to illegally operating bank accounts for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and routinely ignoring evidence of corrupt practices in managing more than 60 accounts for the government of Equatorial Guinea.
 
Junior is now runs Allbritton Communications Co. — which owns two local DC television stations — and is set to be publisher of the Capitol Leader. Tolchin is a former New York Times correspondent who co-founded the Hill in 1994.

“There is so much going on up there that there’s definitely room for another publication, and probably many more publications,” Tolchin told the Washington Post. “I don’t think we’ll be the last.” Indeed, it won’t.  
 
And although there’s surely a lot of fodder for investigative reporting on the Hill, that’s not why. It’s about corporate advertising. These Capitol Hill publications are fundamentally high-priced corporate issue-ad delivery devices to our anesthetized elected representatives. Members and staff on the Hill read the publications, so corporations know that if they take out ads in them, they reach a very select audience.

Let’s look at the September 12, 2006 44-page issue of Roll Call. It ran 19 full-page ads — 16 of them from corporate sponsors. (The other three were ads by TIAA-CREF, Roll Call itself (promoting a Congressional basketball game), and the Alaska Wilderness League.) The 16 full-page corporate advertisers were:

* National Cable & Telecommunications Association
* American Hospital Association
* American Petroleum Institute
* Mywireless.org (a front group for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association)
* Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
* Shell Oil
* Coalition for Community Pharmacy Action (a front group for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association)
* Global Military Aircraft Systems, AleniaNorthAmerica, L3 Communications and Boeing (“The C-27J JCA Is Needed Now More Than Ever.”)
* American Iron and Steel Institute (“More steel is recycled each year than all other materials combined.”)
* Genentech
* Lockheed Martin
* National Association of Realtors
* The Auto Alliance (BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen) (“9 Million Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Counting”)
* USA For Innovation (corporate front group headed by Ken Adelman)
* TV For Us (wewantchoice.com)(telecommunications astroturf group)
* American Chemisty Council
 
On September 11, 2006, Roll Call carried a special 40-page B section titled “What’s Next — Guide to Congress.” (The newspaper itself for that day was itself 40 pages). This “What’s Next” section carried 10 full-page ads — nine from corporate sponsors and one from George Washington University. Here were the corporate ads that ran in the aptly named Guide to Congress:

* Federalist Group — An Ogilvy PR Worldwide Company (“From Capitol Hill to Main Street — Getting Your Voice into the Conversation is Critical to Success.”)
* Investment Company Institute (“Mutual Funds — the Retirement Investment of Choice.”)
* American Medical Association (“Congress Must Stop Medicare Physician Cuts Before Leaving for the November Elections.”)
* Southern Company (“Why Are We Investing More Than $6 Billion in Cleaner Energy? It’s Our Backyard Too.”)
* DRS Technologies (“Keeping Watch — Threat and Intelligence Surveillance, Critical Infrastructure Protection, Maritime Security, Border Management”)
* National Apartment Association (“Because Not Every Home Is a House.”)
* Dow Chemical Company (“Meet the Element of Change.”)
* American Health Care Association (nursing homes)
* Bosch (auto parts conglomerate)

Today’s 36-page The Hill (September 24, 2006) newspaper carried 13 pages of corporate ads. They are:

* National Cable and Telecommunications Association (“Cable Delivers Today. Why Wait?”)
* Shell Oil Company. (“Lance Nacio is proud his office is the Gulf of Mexico, where the seafood and energy industries exist side by side.”)
* American Petroleum Institute (“It’s time for Congress to put our offshore oil and natural gas resources to work for America.”)
* AstraZeneca (A two-page ad — “AstraZeneca is the first pharmaceutical company to join the FDA Alliance — a coalition committed to a strong, effective and well-funded Food and Drug Administration.”)
* American Health Care Alliance (nursing home industry — “A special thanks to our nation’s governors — and a majority of the U.S. Congress
– for standing up for our frail elderly by opposing deep cuts to nursing home care.”)
* Nuclear Energy Institute (“Pass Yucca Mountain Legislation Now!”)
* ProtectingAmerica.org (Insurance industry and others)
* National Association of Realtors (“Congress — Pass Small Business Health Plans”)
* Lasker Foundation and Research America (primarily pharmaceutical industry supported) (“2006 Candidates — Your constituents want to know.”)
* KnowLegis (“free e-mail alerts to put you in the know”
* Bobby Van’s Steakhouse (“Best porterhouse in town, five years in a row.”)
* United Technologies (“There’s something in it for all of us.”)
 
While these papers do an admirable job covering the nuts and bolts of the legislative process, including how big business influences policy-making, they have actually become part of the influence game itself. Roll Call has a circulation of 18,000. A full-page ad in Roll Call costs $10,175. Unless you want the back page in color — then you are talking about a premium. But don’t ask about the back page. It’s booked for the foreseeable future.
 
That’s why Marti Tolchin and Robert Allbritton are salivating. Not because they want to recreate the next I.F. Stone’s Weekly. But because they want to run another K Street Weekly. Ching. Ching.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, <http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com>. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, <http://www.multinationalmonitor.org>. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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