Question: What do the following talk radio hosts have in common?
– John and Ken, KFI Los Angeles
– Bill Handel, KFI Los Angeles
– Barry Young, KFYI Phoenix
– Liddy and Hill, KFYI Phoenix
– Tom Sullivan, KFBK Sacramento
– Roger Hedgecock, KOGO San Diego
– Peter Boyles, KHOW Denver
– Mike Rosen, KOA Denver
– Bill Cunningham, WLW Cincinnati
– Chris Baker, KPRC Houston
– Pat Gray KPRC Houston
Answer: They are all huge presences in their local markets. They all focus intensely on local issues. They all contribute significantly to the diversity of opinion in their communities. And they all work for radio stations owned and operated by Clear Channel Communications, the radio behemoth that has been the cause of so much angst among liberals worried about media consolidation.
In the opinion of my former boss, Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, large media conglomerates such as News Corporation (which owns my employer, Fox News Channel, and the New York Post) and Clear Channel pose a dire threat to American democracy. Blethen, whose family owns the Times, had an op-ed in the Washington Post last Sunday bemoaning the growth of Clear Channel and other media chains. An excerpt:
Walter Lippmann said that a free press “should consist of many newspapers decentralized in their ownership and their management, and dependent for their support . . . upon the communities where they are written, where they are edited and where they are read.”
From thousands of independent media outlets during Lippmann’s heyday in the middle of the past century, media ownership dropped to only 50 companies by 1983. Today what was a concern has become a nightmare: The majority of our media are controlled by just five companies.
Consider the frightening loss of diversity in media voices:
Less than 20 percent of our newspapers are independent and locally owned.
In just the past decade, the 10 largest owners of local television stations have tripled the number of stations they own.
About one-third of the population now listens to radio stations owned by a single company.
Bad things happen when media conglomerates swallow up independent voices: Quality is diminished, local news and investigative journalism disappear, differing points of view vanish, community service becomes an afterthought, and jobs are eliminated. All are sacrificed in an incessant drive for ever-higher profits….
The relentless march of media consolidation has largely gone unreported in the mainstream press. After all, why would newspaper and media companies that already have control, and seek more, want their own outlets reporting stories that run counter to their financial interests?
The 1996 deregulation of radio virtually ended local ownership in that medium. Clear Channel now operates 1,240 radio stations nationwide and has gutted what once was an important network of independent, community-based stations generating news and information.
To be sure, media conglomerates sometimes inappropriately influence editorial content behind the scenes to serve their business interests. But Blethen is kidding himself if he believes independently-owned media outlets are immune from such temptations.
All Big Media outlets face financial pressures. It is probably fair to say that most Big Media outlets, whether owned by a giant corporation, a family, or an individual, occasionally slant coverage to favor their financial interests. Sometimes this “slant” may be quite subtle, as when a newspaper omits coverage of an issue that might embarrass its parent company. As Michael Kinsley once noted, we’re not going to see a major investigative expose of Microsoft in Slate. Fortunately, there are plenty of other publications that would be all too happy to run such a story.
The fact is that many corporate-owned media outlets can and do contribute significantly to diversity of opinion. In many communities, corporate-owned radio stations are the only significant source of dissent.
Consider Seattle. Both the daily newspapers (the Seattle Times, owned by the Blethens, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) and both the alternative weeklies (the Seattle Weekly and The Stranger) are somewhere between very liberal and left of center. (Yes, yes, I know the Times endorsed George W. Bush in 2000; it’s still a left of center paper.) Other daily newspapers in the area, such as the Tacoma News Tribune and Bremerton Sun also lean to the left.
Television news reporters are either apolitical or liberal. In 1996, a KING-TV news anchor, Lori Matsukawa, gave money to the gubernatorial campaign of Gary Locke, a Democrat. Earlier, Matsukawa had introduced Locke to television reporter Mona Lee, who is now Locke’s wife.
One of the city’s most popular radio stations, KIRO, just fired its lone conservative host, Brian Maloney, but continued to broadcast shows by Dave Ross, a Democrat candidate for the U.S. Congress, when he announced his intention to run for office and until he filed the official papers for candidacy.
The only significant challenge to the left-liberal orthodoxy in King County comes from the area’s two conservative talk radio stations, KVI and KTTH. KVI is home to conservatives Kirby Wilbur and 2000 Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carlson, while KTTH is home to Mike Siegel, who might best be described as a populist/conservative (sort of a Seattle version of John and Ken at KFI Los Angeles). All three hosts–Wilbur, Carlson, and Siegel–have had a profound impact on local politics and contribute greatly to diversity of political opinion in King County despite the ownership of their stations by corporate conglomerates. (KVI is owned by Seattle-based Fisher Communications and KTTH is owned by Pennsylvania-based Entercom.)
Someday in the not too distant future, Seattle blogs may also play a major role challenging the Northwest Big Media outlets.
Since Blethen purports to care about diversity of opinion, one might think he enthusiastically supports Wilbur, Carlson, and Siegel’s presence on Seattle’s airwaves. Not so. Both Carlson and Siegel are persona non grata at the Times. When Carlson showed up at a a Times party (Carlson was invited to the party by one of the reporters who had won a Pulitzer), Blethen angrily confronted Carlson and forced him to leave. When I worked for the Times, my boss reprimanded me for praising Siegel in a column.
Blethen and his ilk claim to support diversity of opinion, but they have shown little inclination to support the airing of conservative voices such as those featured on KVI, KTTH, Clear Channel, and my employer, Fox News. For those who truly value diversity of opinion, these media conglomerates have turned out to be a blessing.
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