As I pointed out here before (see, “And so the Comcast-NBC Merger Hysteria Begins: Help Me Document It!“), every time a media merger is proposed we hear all sorts of silly Chicken Little predictions of impending doom as well as preposterous conspiracy theories about supposed nefarious schemes to take over the media universe and control our minds. For good measure, there’s also plenty of talk of “the death of deliberative democracy,” or efforts to weed out one sort of perspective or another.
As history has shown, it’s all complete bunk. But that doesn’t stop critics from concocting asinine theories about media providers seeking to “silence critics.” Here’s two bits of Chicken Little-ism that I missed in my previous essay documenting this silliness. First, over at Huffington Post, Marvin Ammori tells us that America is about to become Italy or Argentina because of the deal:
Putting so much power in the hands of one company–and, specifically, its executives–is dangerous for a democracy. There is a reason why autocratic regimes control the media–media shape public opinion and define what is “possible” in politics. We have seen the problem of private media consolidation in many countries. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi used his massive media empire to win elections and is now Prime Minister (Italy’s longest serving ever). In Argentina, the government had to pass a media consolidation law because of the power of one media company that happens to be far smaller than a combined Comcast-NBCU.
And then we have Wade Norris writing about the deal over at the Daily Kos, saying: “If you don’t want to see the progressive voices on MSNBC silenced, then join the ‘no merger’ petition.” Ah yes, another automated “stuff-the-online-complaint-ballot-box” petition. I love those gimmicks. But ignore fake complaints for a moment and focus on the accusations at hand here. The Ammori-Norris theory is: If Comcast and NBCU are allowed to marry (a) progressive voices will be driven off their platforms and (b) Silvio Berlusconi will take over America democracy will somehow suffer. Is there really any truth to this?
I find both claims pretty outlandish. I mean, seriously, why would Comcast or NBC silence Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, as Norris suggests in the title of his essay? What possible reason would they have to take two of their MSNBC superstars off the air? Is that really good business? Would they win a new base of fans with that move? Are Fox News-loving conservatives suddenly going to jump ship and run over to MSNBC because of it? Finally, can you imagine what a PR nightmare it would be for company?
Moreover, the thing that really kills me about this ‘Comcast-is-out-to-stifle-liberal-voices’ theory is that, for the last couple of years, I’ve heard conservatives whining about how Comcast is supposedly just another big backer of liberal causes. Well, which is it? The truth it: neither. Comcast is in the business of … business. They are not ideological puppet-masters hell-bent on steering our opinions one direction or the other.
It’s reminds me of the blather we sometimes hear about how Rupert Murdoch wants to brainwash citizens into subscribing to conservative causes. Whenever I hear that I always ask the accuser who made the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” — a piece of global warming propaganda that must even make the people at Greenpeace blush in embarrassment. Oh, that’s right… Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation financed and distributed that movie! So, which does that prove: (A) Rupert Murdoch is hell-bent on programming our minds to accept the fact that global warming would result in a global freeze (how’s that work again?) and leave kids scurrying for the safety of New York City libraries (seriously, have you see that movie? That’s the plot!); or (B) Rupert Murdoch is out to entertain people and make money? If you answered B, congratulations for being a sensible person. If you answered A, then click here now to start giving money to the Free Press!
By the way, if all these conspiracies had any credence and the mass media and online providers in America really were engaged in a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy to silence liberal voices, then someone needs to explain to me how Obama absolutely crushed the Right in the last election. Seriously, let’s hear your theory. How did he circumvent “the man” and get himself elected?
I’m sorry, but the asinine horror stories that currently dominate public policy discussions about media policy (and net neutrality regulation, for that matter) have just gotten completely out of control. Sadly, we’ve been here before. It reminds me of the entertaining debates that took place in Congress back in 2003, following the FCC’s announced plan to tweak media ownership rules. I documented all the hysteria in this book, but here are some choice gems you may have missed:
- During the debate on the House floor over an amendment that would have overturned one element of the new FCC rules, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said the FCC’s tweaking of the rules was an attempt to impose a centralized “Saddam-style information system in the United States.”
- Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) argued that media ownership deregulation amounted to “mind control” by Republicans who were trying to “dumb down” the public. “It’s a well thought out and planned effort to control the political process,” he argued and, “It will wipe out our democracy.” [Quoted in Terry Lane, “Hinchey Pushes Fairness Doctrine Bill to CWA,” Communications Daily, March 31, 2004, p. 9.]
- Rep. Markey jokingly introduced an amendment that would have deemed the new FCC cross-ownership rules to be “indecent” and require Commissioners who supported the rule to watch the movie Citizen Kane over and over again “until they flinch at the word ‘Rosebud.’” [Quoted in Terry Lane, “House Commerce Committee Raise ‘Indecency’ Fines to $500,000,” Communications Daily, March 4, 2004, p. 2.]
- Another lawmaker likened the FCC’s new rules to Soviet Union-esque control of the media.
I have come to believe that rational debate about media policy is simply impossible in this country. Facts have become utterly irrelevant. It’s all about emotion and who can wear more of it on their sleeve. And the Chicken Littles are really good at shouting louder than everyone else.
Some further reading:
- “A Media Morality Play” [recent editorial I penned for Forbes about how Comcast-NBC deal and the fight over the future of media in this country]
- “A Brief History of Media Merger Hysteria: From AOL-Time Warner to Comcast-NBC” [recent PFF white paper documenting the reality about media mergers]
- “Should Consumers Fear the Comcast Deal? [a New York Times debate about the deal that Jim Harper and I took part in]
- The Media Cornucopia [an essay I penned for the City Journal a few years ago about the future of media policy]