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Corporate media downplays
Chicago Tribune's acqusition of Times Mirror

Should Baltimore worry about the proposed $8 billion acquisition of the Sun’s parent company, the Times Mirror Corp. by media conglomerate the Tribune Corporation? The mainstream media don’t want you to.

The headline in the Sun’s business section (3/14/00) indicated the focus of their coverage. “Wall Street Applauds Merger of Tribune, Times Mirror” it said, very simply and honestly. In the first several paragraphs of the news story we’re informed that “analysts” think the merger is swell; i.e., “Analysts enthusiastically greeted the proposed acquisition...”; and “analysts” are “impressed” by the “potential of the combined company...”

Besides employees of both firms, the only analysts quoted were three enthusiastic men from securities and investment firms that do business on Wall Street. Similarly, the Washington Post quoted Wall Street types almost exclusively. They also threw in an additional article in the business section which again quoted “analysts” in an article sub-headlined “Latest Media Merger [is] a Sign of the Future, Analysts Say” (Washington Post, 3/14/00).

John Morton, a “newspaper analyst,” summarizes the article by saying, “It has become incredibly important to have access to huge amounts of data from around the country--and to have access to TV, the Internet and newspapers.”

In Eileen Murphy’s feel-good Media Circus column for “Baltimore’s Alternative Weekly” (City Paper, March 15, 2000), she includes several reassuring quotes from Sun editor John Carroll. For example, she quotes Carroll without irony as saying he spoke with a representative at the Tribune Corp. and was reassured they support “the type of journalism we’re doing and want to see more of it.”

Murphy fails to point out the obvious problem: the Tribune company wants to see more of a fluffy, fanatically pro-business publication that enthusiastically supports U.S. state-sponsored terrorism and routinely excludes progressive viewpoints on important matters.

Judging how the Washington Post and the Sun covered the buy-out, it appears that nationwide the mainstream media served up this story entirely from the point of view of business elites.

The Washington Post was even thoughtful enough to inform its readers that more similar mega-mergers are in store. Pushed to the sidelines are the perspectives of several articulate media critics like Robert McChesney and Mark Crispin Miller.

Noteworthy Omissions

Similarly, while much space is devoted to hearing the opinions of Wall Street ‘analysts,’ it appears that no consumer activists of any sort were newsworthy enough to hear from.

When a news story is sold to the general public in this fashion, hopefully some readers have developed the instinct to view the euphoria with the skepticism it deserves.

The critical question the mainstream media failed to ask was what effect this proposed merger would have on our democracy; i.e., the notion that the public should determine what crucial decisions are being made to society. In the recent Extra! (March/April, 2000) McChesney writes “By any known standard of a free press in a democratic society, these developments [such as the AOL-Time Warner merger] should provoke intense concern, if not outrage.”

Of course, when only Wall Street players and employees within the firms in question get to discuss the pros and cons of a merger between media conglomerates, a general lack of public outrage is a predictable reaction.

(The editor of this publication informs me that in places like Sweden they actually subsidize newspapers on the grounds that they’re necessary for democracy. That’s a great idea desperately needed here.)

Regular Mediawise readers understand why Morton is quoted uncritically by the Washington Post as saying today’s media conglomerates should have access to TV, the Internet and newspapers.

The Washington Post will likely never ask again why any company should be permitted to be so horizontally integrated that it has stakes in three separate forms of media. (Currently, the Post is awaiting approval of AOL’s buyout of the Time Warner empire, which now owns them.)

No Acquisition Criticized

Generally speaking, media conglomerates do not even criticize the acquisitions of their competitors. As McChesney has repeatedly shown, the media conglomerates tend to act much more like partners than actual rivals. This is most clearly seen when they engage in joint ventures, a practice that is clearly on the rise.

In McChesney’s recent Extra! article, he answers the often-raised question of why the public should not be satisfied by the fact that alternative media are accessible on the Internet. He points out how uneven the playing field is when smaller companies try to direct web traffic away from media conglomerates. For example, it doesn’t bother Time-Warner too much if they lose $200-300 million a year on the Internet. They can accept losses that smaller companies couldn’t because they have many other profit-making tentacles (e.g., newspapers, magazines, radio stations, etc.). Meanwhile, they are actively promoting their ventures on the Internet.

McChesney also points out the advantages the media giants have in making their sites visible to the public. Unlike smaller companies they can (and do) aggressively promote their web sites in their traditional media holdings.

They also don’t generally have much trouble getting their sites registered in popular, commercial search engines.

Special Back-Scratching Deals

Other deals are available just for them, as when Netscape’s and Microsoft’s include them as predefined bookmarks to their web sites when you download one of their browsers for the first time. The Internet has yet to prove of great assistance in ensuring that progressive organizations can get their messages across. And, as the media conglomerates continue to get more horizontally and vertically integrated, it appears this will continue to be the case. For these reasons, Baltimore should certainly be concerned about the Tribune company buying the Times Mirror Corp. Almost certainly this means that a bad newspaper (the Sun) will become even lighter-edged, fascistic and unresponsive to the general public. It also further unevens the playing field for news outlets on the Internet which hampers the spread of progressive thought.

Scott Loughrey

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