Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Angry Cranks Unite!
In some sense, it's probably not as much fun to be a conservative these days as it was in the late 1980s, when they could attack George H.W. Bush for ideological wimpiness while still leveraging his control of the executive to do some things, or the early Clinton years, when the bombthrowers enjoyed both media superstardom and the authentic thrill of insurrectionary politics. Now they control everything, which brings its own pleasures but also confers a wearing sense of reality-based responsibility--or at least, it should...

Here's a cure for those grown-up governance blues: let's waste a federal agency. James Wolcott, Jeff Jarvis and the right-wing blogger Steve Verdon have the target in sight: the Federal Communications Commission.

I love it. The FCC isn't doing what it's supposed to do--regulate the airwaves in the public interest--anyway, unless you define "public interest" strictly in terms of private profit and appeasing a handful of moralists. (Funny how the same people who sneer at liberals for "thinking they know best" don't have a similar problem with those who would define what is and isn't an acceptable standard of discourse...) And Michael Powell's hypocrisy, arrogance and will-to-pander have pissed off people from left, right and center--the campaign against last year's proposed media ownership rules changes included, among others, the Family Research Council, the National Rifle Association, MoveOn, and Common Cause. And now with Powell butting in on "scandals" like the Terrell Owens/Monday Night Football flap, it should be even easier to mount an effort against this pointless and corrupt agency and its junketeer-in-chief.

Tom Shales of the Washington Post opens up the journalistic can of whoop-tushie on both Powell and the FCC:
"Arrogant" is the adjective used most often in any discussion of Powell and the way he pushes his personal agenda, an extension of the fanatical deregulation that gathered steam under Ronald Reagan's FCC chairman, a reckless loudmouth named Mark Fowler. Basically the theology is this: Commercial interests come first, second and third among priorities, and "the public interest, convenience and necessity," which the FCC is mandated to uphold, straggles in a distant fourth. Powell is much better tailored and milder mannered than Fowler but equally stubborn and self-adoring.

He seems never to have met a media merger he didn't like, which will result in the virtual death of local television and radio in America as station after station is sucked up into one enormous unfeeling conglomerate or another. Powell scorns the pleas of public-minded groups that try to meet with him, critics say, but will rush off eagerly to any luncheon, dinner or cocktail party sponsored by big corporate powers.

When criticized heavily for this during the uproar over Powell's attempts to jettison the rules against media concentration (rules designed to promote diversity in American broadcasting and keep one company from acquiring too much media power, as Fox has now), Powell grudgingly and belatedly scheduled a series of public forums on the matter. "But he skipped half the public hearings he authorized," laments one of his many detractors.

To be fair, Shales' piece is screed, not analysis. But I've read and heard some of Powell's attempts at justification for his water-carrying on behalf of Rupert Murdoch, Viacom and other Big Media heavies, and they don't hold up: his view that major-media consolidation in local markets (or in larger settings) is justified because of the proliferation of cable and online alternatives neatly elides the fact that in terms of numbers, the big players in over-the-air broadcast and journalism are moving toward a position of dominance in newer media as well.

Like many ideologues, he's not lacking brain wattage, and I've heard he was a pretty good antitrust lawyer. But his tenure at FCC is a disaster, and since we know Bush won't fire anyone for ineptitude--and Powell, unlike his dad, won't admit to his own mistakes--let's find the win-win here: conservatives get to feel like revolutionaries again and really "shrink" government, and liberals get rid of this self-important, self-appointed moral scold-slash-corporate whore.

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