In 2002, I was an on-air commentator at MSNBC, and also senior producer on the "Donahue" show, the most-watched program on the channel. In the last months of the program, before it was terminated on the eve of the Iraq war, we were ordered by management that every time we booked an antiwar guest, we had to book 2 pro-war guests. If we booked two guests on the left, we had to book 3 on the right. At one meeting, a producer suggested booking Michael Moore and was told that she would need to book 3 right-wingers for balance. I considered suggesting Noam Chomsky as a guest, but our studio couldn't accommodate the 86 right-wingers we would have needed for balance.
When we look at the media's role in the 2004 election, we make a mistake to focus on election coverage per se. The basis for Bush's victory was in place way before 2004. At the end of last year, a huge study done by the University of Maryland's PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, found that most of those who got their news from the commercial TV networks held at least 1 of 3 fundamental "misperceptions" about the war in Iraq (and some held 2 or 3 of them):
-- that Iraq had been directly linked to 9/11
-- that WMDs had been found in Iraq
-- that world opinion supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Viewers of Fox News, where I worked for years, were the most misled. But strong majorities of CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN viewers were also confused on at least one of these points. Among those informed on all 3 questions, only 23 percent supported Bush's war.
How can you have a meaningful election in a country where, according to polls, half or more of the American people don't know who attacked us on 9/11? They think Saddam Hussein was involved.
Among the reasons some of us worked for Bush's defeat was to get a new Federal Communications Commission. Many of us were ready to fight for the elevation of commissioner Michael Copps, a Democratic appointee, to FCC chair, replacing Michael Powell, Colin's son. Powell is the best friend of the media conglomerates. We need to stop Powell from any further media concentration over the next 4 years, and unions need to be in the forefront of that resistance.
Thanks to media deregulation started during the Reagan administration, and unfortunately continued by Bill Clinton: there are now 8 companies that largely determine what Americans see, hear and read through the media -- 8 companies sitting on the windpipe of the First Amendment.
We can thank Clinton's Telecommunications "Reform" Act of 1996 for the right-wing Clear Channel's dominance of radio and for the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group becoming the biggest TV chain in the country. Clear Channel owned 40 radio stations before the Telecom bill and 1200 soon after. Sinclair had 11 stations before the bill, and now has 62 TV stations.
TV news is dominated by 5 corporations.
Cohen says the movement to change this has never been stronger. I hope that means we will soon be strong enough.