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.
Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."