When Anthony looked at the calendar, he could see that he had only two days to live. Where must your thoughts run when you taste your own death in your mouth?
* * *
When legendary media critic A.J. Liebling issued that warning some
decades ago about the corrosive effect of media monopolies on the First
Amendment, media ownership was a great deal more varied than it is today.
Even then, it was far more concentrated in a few hands than when the
Bill of Rights was written, when "the press" was a low-capital venture,
and newspapers were easily launched by those who had something to say.
The founding fathers hardly anticipated today's media market, in which
journalism is a vehicle for mega-corporate profits, and the diversity of
opinion implied in the First Amendment is threatened less by a king or the
state and far more by the motives of media barons.
Nowadays, media mega-mergers are the rage, and the Bush Administration
is determined to remove legal barriers to media conglomeration that long
have prevented a few giant corporations from controlling all of print and
broadcast journalism. But can we count on the very news organizations
whose owners are zealously pursuing profit from those mergers to also
objectively cover the implications of media concentration for a free
The initial signs aren't promising. When America Online purchased Time
Warner in the biggest media merger in US history, there was
considerable analysis of the deal's business aspects but meager attention
to implications for a representative democracy of having a significant
portion of its media controlled by one corporation.
Previously, one could assume that Time magazine, AOL and CNN, as well
as other parts of the new conglomerate, at least reflected the voices of
different owners, but that's no longer the case. Also, with that merger,
AOL went from being an outsider company demanding open access to cable to
being the second-largest cable operator. Suddenly it muted its open
access demand, leaving the perception that the news outlets now assembled
under the AOL banner might also have had a change of heart as to what's
important in the cable controversy.
Most recently, the new Bush FCC appointees relaxed a long-standing
"dual network rule" barring one television network from buying another.
The result is that Viacom, which owns CBS, will have a large stake in the
UPN network. Will other broadcasters anticipating similar deals permit
their news organizations to voice dissenting opinions, or launch
investigations of the FCC's abandonment of its consumer watchdog role?
Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has made clear his intention to purchase
DirecTV from General Motors. If he succeeds, he'll combine the largest
US satellite broadcaster with his existing satellite network, which is
pervasive in much of the rest of the world. Will journalists laboring in
his vast empire dare raise troubling questions about the danger of one
man holding such overwhelming power in the world communications market?
Further, Bush's new FCC chairman, Michael Powell, promises to
eliminate the 1975 prohibition against cross-ownership--a company owning
a TV station and newspaper in the same market. That might prove immensely
profitable to the Tribune Co., which, in purchasing the Times Mirror Co.
last year, acquired newspapers in three markets where Tribune already
owned television stations. But is cross-ownership healthy for independent
journalism in those markets, which include New York and Los Angeles? Will
the news outlets that are subsidiaries in the deal fully examine the
journalistic implications of media concentration? Or will they only
report on the wonders of what the owners celebrate as "convergence" or
The answer suggested by the last election is that media have
difficulty covering themselves fully when the owners' financial interests
are seriously in play. How else can one explain the scant attention paid
to the difference between Al Gore--who opposed cross-ownership--and
George W. Bush on this issue?
Also ignored in the coverage was the stake that media moguls had in
the Democrats not gaining control of Congress. Had that happened, John
Dingell (D-Mich.) would be chairing the House Commerce Committee, which
oversees the work of the FCC. Dingell was on record as opposing the
Tribune purchase of Times Mirror because such mergers lead to a "huge
concentration of power in a small group of hands."
That's why Dingell and others believe that government regulation to
preserve a diverse media market is essential. The rules concerning media
ownership were not carelessly drawn up over the preceding decades to
inconvenience the media industry. Rather, they were designed to save the
media business from its worst instincts.
Regulation is a reminder that there is a public interest in the news
media as in no other industry because corporate concentration threatens
the competition vital to an unfettered press. The free press belongs to
us all and not just to the few who own one.
Let's not begrudge Dick Cheney his $36 million income last year.
Sure, it dwarfs the puny $744,682 reported by the President, but George
W. Bush represents old money, and he knows better than to be too showy,
particularly when you're running for office as a Joe Six-Pack kind of
guy. Better to roll over the income from inherited money into
Cheney didn't have time for such accounting niceties. Bush caught him
right in the middle of a tax year with that Vice President nod, and
remember, Cheney was only supposed to be advising Bush on the best choice
for Veep. How was Cheney to know he'd be forced to recommend himself as
the most qualified?
Still, just because he had become Vice President didn't mean he had to
take a vow of poverty. As Cheney told CBS News at the time, "I'd like not
to give away all of my assets to serve the public." And why should he,
since there's no law limiting the assets of federal office-holders or any
requirement that they give up their acquired wealth? Cheney had only to
look as far as Bush, who merely put his in a blind trust, no questions
Huge financial assets are now the norm for leaders of our
representative democracy, and it wasn't unexpected that the mostly
wealthy members of the Senate recently voted rich people like themselves
an enormous tax cut, albeit not as large as the one Bush wanted for
himself and his pals.
Cheney's assets are only at risk of taxation if he wants to leave a
huge amount to his heirs without paying additional taxes. Soon, even that
will no longer be a problem because Bush and Cheney are sensitive to the
unfairness of the estate tax to ordinary people like themselves, and they
want to eliminate it.
What was at issue during the campaign was not Cheney's assets or his
income but his future stock options in Halliburton Co. These being tied
to the rise and fall of Halliburton stock, presented a potential conflict
of interest because, as Vice President, it was conceivable that he could
influence stock prices. Under considerable pressure, Cheney decided to
donate those stock options to charity, but he was left with a bit more
than a hair-shirt.
Even after taxes, Cheney cleared more than $20 million in 2000. If the
Bush tax cut had been in effect last year, Cheney would've saved another
couple of million, to which he obviously feels entitled.
Don't forget, Cheney was playing catch-up after years in the public
sector, first as a congressman and then as Defense secretary. As it
turned out, he only had about five years in the private sector to cash in
his chips, and he didn't really know much about the energy business. When
he hired on to serve as the CEO of an oil services firm, he knew he would
have to justify the big bucks he was getting paid.
Fortunately for him and Halliburton, it all worked out in the end.
For the Texas-based Halliburton, there initially was some concern.
Only two years ago, with the company's stock floundering, the board of
directors chastised Cheney for the company's poor performance. But then
came the presidential election, and those same directors must have
figured they had died and gone to heaven after Cheney got the Veep nod.
That's when the board of directors turned around and rewarded him with an
incredibly lucrative severance package providing the bulk of his reported
$36 million income in 2000.
Can you blame them? Most of Cheney's working hours last year were
devoted to seizing the White House for the most avidly pro-Big Oil
presidency in US history, and servicing Big Oil is what Halliburton Co.
is all about. That and construction projects around the world that an
anti-environmental Administration now seems all too eager to facilitate.
Quite an impressive record for an executive who was just learning the
business. They knew the guy would be good; after all, as a congressman he
had one of most pro-industry voting records. And it was Defense Secretary
Cheney who had made the decision to privatize logistical support
facilities for the military, which gave Halliburton's subsidiary, Brown &
Root, huge construction contracts for the US military at bases
throughout the world.
Of course, as the former Defense secretary who'd saved Kuwait, where
Halliburton has huge contracts, Cheney was already known to be an
effective player. But how could Halliburton have known Cheney would be
this good? Not only did he help elect another Texas oil guy as President,
but if you look at the short record of the Bush-Cheney Administration,
when it comes to opening the environment for energy exploration, even
that most pristine area in Alaska, these guys know no limits.
Indeed, they must be guffawing down in Texas to have two good old boys
running the White House without a scintilla of shame. It's been oil money
Sure, in our hearts we always knew
That Albert Gore would always do
Whatever it might take for him to win.
How come, then, that this single case
It's cherry blossom time in Washington, DC, and there's no better
place to retreat from the lobbyist feeding ground that is called the US
Congress than the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial. The stench of the
trough recedes, and the optimism of spring is restored as one wanders
down the beautiful Cherry Walk along the Tidal Basin to absorb the words
of a president who cared so deeply about putting government at the
service of all.
At the Capitol, the avarice of the over-represented rich and powerful
is on sickening display as their lackeys rush to pass the current
President's plans to stuff the pockets of their kith and kin. This is a
President who never learned that it's possible to be a leader born of
privilege and yet be absorbed with the fate of those in need.
Not so Roosevelt, a true aristocrat whose genuine love of the common
man united this country to save it during its most severe time of
economic turmoil and devastating world war. At the memorial, his words,
cut in granite, are a stark reminder of how far greed has taken us from
the simple but eloquent notion of economic justice that sixty-four years ago a
President dared embrace:
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance
of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who
have too little."
Does George W. Bush not know there are tens of millions in this
country, many of them children, who have too little? Is it conceivable
that he believes the best way to serve them is a tax cut whose main
purpose is to add to the abundance of the super-rich? We may no longer be
the nation that Roosevelt saw as one-third "ill-housed, ill-clad,
ill-nourished," but we are uncomfortably close.
Rich people can be progressive, as Roosevelt so admirably
demonstrated, but only when they step out of their own too-comfortable
skins, a feat Bush the Younger has yet to attempt. Roosevelt, like Bush,
was raised by servants, but for FDR they became the constituency he most
Objecting to Bush's feed-the-rich policies is not class warfare, as
GOP reactionaries claim, but rather a rational attempt to save capitalism
from its worst excesses. That's why more than 800 wealthy Americans, led
by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates Sr., have risen to decry the proposed
repeal of the estate tax, which would further exacerbate class
differences based on accident of birth.
Even more obscene is the Bush administration's attempt to blame
environmental safeguards for poverty when it's the poor who are stuck
with toxic land and foul water. Roosevelt was ever mindful, as this
administration isn't, that it's counterproductive when economic crisis is
used as an excuse to rape the environment. In his message to Congress on
January 24, 1935, Roosevelt warned: "Men and nature must work hand in hand.
The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of
balance also the lives of men."
That was said in the midst of the country's deepest economic
depression, yet now we have the sight of our presumed leader smashing
environmental safeguards when faced with the prospect of a mild
Finally, what Roosevelt and his saintly wife, Eleanor, brought to
Washington, and which Bush seems bent on denigrating, is a respect for
government as an indispensable ally to our betterment. At the FDR
memorial, one is overwhelmed by the breadth of Roosevelt's achievements
in putting the power of the government at the service of the people.
Projects that transformed this nation, ranging from the Tennessee Valley
Authority, which brought electricity to vast darkened swaths of this
nation, to the Works Progress Administration, which treated artists not
as a suspect and subversive cadre but rather as an indispensable source
of light in the bleakest of times.
There was no rural hovel or city ghetto beyond the reach of FDR's
government. When Roosevelt died, I was a young kid living in a Bronx
tenement being raised by a family of often unemployed workers, until
Roosevelt became our salvation. Millions like us, of all ages, poured
into the streets at the news of FDR's death, crying from love but also
from fear that the man who had stood between us and the abyss was no
longer our President.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who lived a few subway stops from my
neighborhood, and who was in my class at the publicly funded City College
of New York, has written in his autobiography that he and his family felt
the same way about Roosevelt. Maybe he should take his boss down to the
FDR memorial some quiet night to consider a new role model.