Cross Media Ownership - The Tail Wagging the Dog is Already Too Big

Of all the many views I've read against the proliferation of cross media ownership that the recent FCC changes could foment, the best resides within the example of Viacom.

That media giant's ownership of both CBS News and Paramount places it in the potentially conflicted position of promoting a movie (whose rights they've already purchased) about Jessica Lynch, the young soldier who was captured and then rescued in Iraq. Would Viacom-owned Paramount ever jeopardize its multi-million dollar movie rights investment by allowing Viacom-owned CBS News to report that there really wasn't so much of a rescue after all? Would higher-ups at Viacom really subdue their news team's coverage of the resulting controversy, preserving the story that a film could be based on?

Well...yeah. I think it would be naïve to assume that they wouldn't. When major holding companies leverage themselves to buy other large entities, it's all about cutting the fat and driving new revenue to the bottom line. "Monetizing Media Assets" is mantra. There's nothing wrong with that, unless you're interested in having the news be more about the truth and less about entertaining viewers so they stay for the next commercial break. I hope this doesn't read as cynical as it sounds. I used to be one of those inside-the-beltway spin guys, so I know from what I speak. There's nothing wrong with how the networks dramatized the Lynch rescue, I guess. It wasn't the military's fault. The buyer must remain vigilant and, well, the buyer is the consumer of this news - and the products whose advertisers support this news.



Why was the media so eager to buy the Administration's story on why we HAD to attack Iraq in the first place? There's been a rush to condemn the Administration's war and reconstruction planning in the past month, and some media critics have cried, "Where've you been?" The editor of Vanity Fair, of all people, has led a perhaps unlikely view from the pulpit of the same magazine that put a few members of this administration's leadership on its cover just a few months ago in a first-time ever gravitas glam patina. Grayson Carter, in a scathing Editor's Note this week, seems to call out not only the media outlets who went along with the Administration line, but President Bush himself, calling this war perhaps the single largest White House crime since the days of Richard Nixon.

So, who's guilty of simply trying to sell more ads? Is it the news organizations that followed (swallowed) the story hook, line and sinker? Or, is it those who are suddenly hypercritical? Or, is it a little bit of both Vanity Fair had a very health number of ad pages in the first months of this year, while some other magazines were really suffering, and it's not like it's dying on the vine now. Perhaps Mr. Carter is able to have it both ways, glamorizing the administration when it was fashionable to do so, then coming down hard when others (led by Slate, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic) had cleared the road.

But, I'm wondering why the major networks didn't try to do something different back in the spring and ask the hard questions. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this White House press office has banished longtime correspondents to the back of the pressroom in the wake of Helen Thomas' (and others') criticisms of the Administration's buildup to war. Then again, she's just a major syndicated columnist. Not so many Americans get their news from print anymore.

Returning to our theme, that's part of the biggest problem with an increase in cross media ownership. Right now, while our international prestige is in the tank, our troops are still dying in Iraq, and we've forced Saddam Hussein (and maybe $3B) under ground, even our own population can't figure out what the heck is going on.

According to a recent Harris Poll, fully 69% of all adults believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and 35% believe that we have found clear evidence of these weapons. Almost half of all adults (48%) believe that we have also found clear evidence that Iraq was supporting Al Qaeda.

This means that, in terms of hard evidence, our population is woefully misinformed.

One of the most interesting -- some would say paradoxical - findings of the Harris Poll is that fully 40% of Americans believe that even if it turns out that Iraq had no significant weapon of mass destruction, and there were no links to Al Qaeda, we were still told the truth.

In other words, as a nation, we'd rather watch the movie about Jessica Lynch's rescue and believe it's true than know the truth that there were no Iraqi guards at the hospital and her captors had already attempted to return her to her unit. No wonder the FCC was able to force through its reforms. Let's hope that the recent Senate amendments to them hold. It's hard enough to separate the truth from the fluff in broadcast news coverage today. I'd hate to see it ALL become an entertainment product this quickly.

Or, is it already too late?

Next story loading loading..