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How Bush buys positive war spin

Billions of dollars at stake in the Big Media deregulation game


It's war. The nation's president is mad with imperial delusions. There is a burgeoning anti-war movement whose message of morality and peace screams for just a smidgen of fair attention from the media. Liberties face vicious attacks from the very leaders who have sworn to defend the Constitution; the press responds with yawns and shrugs. Courageous dissenters stand up against the power of the administration, and are derided or ignored by disdainful newspapers and TV chattering heads.

At Atlanta's media Coxopoly, the issue is simple. Follow the big bucks. Pentagon spin is accorded the status of holy writ, the president is granted unconditional support -- and Cox executives who disagree are forced to choose between their principles and their jobs. The president gratefully responds with legislation that squashes press competition, and enriches Cox and other media conglomerates to the tune of billions of dollars.

No, I'm not talking about next month at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I'm talking about 1970-'72. Under the deceit of "preserving" newspapers, the press lords were seeking anti-trust exemptions that enabled them to establish city-by-city monopolies. Competition was stifled, communities lost valuable voices, democracy suffered. Media companies booked record profits.

For years, there were suspicions of a deal between the newspaper chains and Richard Nixon. Circumstantial evidence attested to the 1970s scheme. Cox, for example, would benefit greatly from the anti-trust exemptions, and it had ordered its editors to endorse Tricky. The two Cox editors who demurred -- at the Miami News and the Palm Beach Post -- were ousted. Eventually a smoking gun was found by national media critic Ben Bagdikian in the form of a letter promising the 1972 endorsements of the major chains to Nixon in return for anti-trust exemptions.

That's not a story you'll find in the AJC archives. Cox execs will hold their collective breath and turn purple before discussing the subject. Like much other news about news, the media draw an opaque cloak around their self-serving machinations.

"It's more than just embarrassing to reveal that news organizations cover the news with venal financial interests in mind," says Reese Erlich, a California journalist and author of the just-published book Target Iraq. "To expose that would undermine any reason the public has to pay attention to and believe the media."

Usually the media's behavior is merely reprehensible. But with hundreds of thousands of people -- babies, schoolkids, moms, elders, as well as soldiers -- soon destined to be dismembered, incinerated, disintegrated, perforated, punctured, eviscerated, maimed, crippled, blinded -- well, America's media will have blood on their cash-grabbing hands.

Let's get one thing straight: AJC columnist Jay Bookman is a state treasure. His gutsy critiques of Bush's foreign policy, and his unflagging opposition to the looming catastrophe are trumpet calls of insight and integrity in an editorial section dominated by mental midgets (Bill O'Reilly), intellectually dishonest shills (Jim Wooten) and neocon ideologues (William Safire). That said, it's time to spank Jay.

Bookman spoke to an enthusiastic Little Five Points crowd last week hosted by Women's Action for New Directions. With every remark and in answer to every question, Bookman kicked butt.

Except when it came to questions about why the media, especially the AJC, are so lame in trying to ferret out the truth about the Bush war machine.

"I just don't know," said Bookman, brow wrinkled in perplexed concern. "I can't figure it out." Had he told what he knows is likely the truth, his head would have been spiked in front of the AJC offices.

So, I'll help out Jay.

After World War II, the United States was keenly aware that government dominance of the press had enabled the Axis dictators to press unchallenged toward war. With writers such as George Orwell providing a forward roll on totalitarianism -- Big Brother was merely a media mogul on steroids -- American leaders wisely put limits on communications ownership. No newspaper could own broadcast properties in the same city (Atlanta and about two dozen other cities were granted exemptions to this "cross-ownership" ban). The number of TV and radio stations a single company could own was limited.

During the 1990s, the Federal Communications Commission began dropping the limits on the number of stations companies could own. The resulting mega-companies are dung heaps upon which nationally syndicated vermin such as the incredibly dishonest Rush Limbaugh and ultra-racist Michael Savage thrive.

"Liberal" media? Forget it. In daily newspapers' op-ed pages and on radio and TV, the right is so dominant that it is virtually doing a soliloquy. The handful of moderate and left commentators doesn't begin to match the right's extreme, shrill carpet-bombing of public debate. Behind the rightward march is media consolidation. Liberal bashing, racism and bellicose jingoism make good theater, and the conglomerates can spread the swill across the whole nation. It's stupefying, yes, but a media-drugged public is good fodder for advertisers.

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