Clear Channel Goes to War


root - Posted on 26 December 2003

by Staff Writer

By Paul Krugman

By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven't drawn nearly as many people as antiwar rallies, but they have
certainly
been vehement. One of the most striking took place
after
Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks,
criticized President Bush: a crowd gathered in
Louisiana to
watch a 33,000-pound tractor smash a collection of
Dixie
Chicks CD's, tapes and other paraphernalia. To those
familiar with 20th-century European history it
seemed
eerily reminiscent of. . . . But as Sinclair Lewis
said, it
can't happen here.

Who has been organizing those pro-war rallies? The
answer,
it turns out, is that they are being promoted by key
players in the radio industry - with close links to
the
Bush administration.

The CD-smashing rally was organized by KRMD, part of
Cumulus Media, a radio chain that has banned the
Dixie
Chicks from its playlists. Most of the pro-war
demonstrations around the country have, however,
been
organized by stations owned by Clear Channel
Communications, a behemoth based in San Antonio that
controls more than 1,200 stations and increasingly
dominates the airwaves.

The company claims that the demonstrations, which go
under
the name Rally for America, reflect the initiative
of
individual stations. But this is unlikely: according
to
Eric Boehlert, who has written revelatory articles
about
Clear Channel in Salon, the company is notorious -
and
widely hated - for its iron-fisted centralized
control.

Until now, complaints about Clear Channel have
focused on
its business practices. Critics say it uses its
power to
squeeze recording companies and artists and
contributes to
the growing blandness of broadcast music. But now
the
company appears to be using its clout to help one
side in a
political dispute that deeply divides the nation.

Why would a media company insert itself into
politics this
way? It could, of course, simply be a matter of
personal
conviction on the part of management. But there are
also
good reasons for Clear Channel - which became a
giant only
in the last few years, after the Telecommunications
Act of
1996 removed many restrictions on media ownership -
to
curry favor with the ruling party. On one side,
Clear
Channel is feeling some heat: it is being sued over
allegations that it threatens to curtail the airplay
of
artists who don't tour with its concert division,
and there
are even some politicians who want to roll back the
deregulation that made the company's growth
possible. On
the other side, the Federal Communications
Commission is
considering further deregulation that would allow
Clear
Channel to expand even further, particularly into
television.

Or perhaps the quid pro quo is more narrowly
focused.
Experienced Bushologists let out a collective "Aha!"
when
Clear Channel was revealed to be behind the pro-war
rallies, because the company's top management has a
history
with George W. Bush. The vice chairman of Clear
Channel is
Tom Hicks, whose name may be familiar to readers of
this
column. When Mr. Bush was governor of Texas, Mr.
Hicks was
chairman of the University of Texas Investment
Management
Company, called Utimco, and Clear Channel's
chairman, Lowry
Mays, was on its board. Under Mr. Hicks, Utimco
placed much
of the university's endowment under the management
of
companies with strong Republican Party or Bush
family ties.
In 1998 Mr. Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers in a
deal
that made Mr. Bush a multimillionaire.

There's something happening here. What it is ain't
exactly
clear, but a good guess is that we're now seeing the
next
stage in the evolution of a new American oligarchy.
As
Jonathan Chait has written in The New Republic, in
the Bush
administration "government and business have melded
into
one big `us.' " On almost every aspect of domestic
policy,
business interests rule: "Scores of midlevel
appointees . .
.. now oversee industries for which they once
worked." We
should have realized that this is a two-way street:
if
politicians are busy doing favors for businesses
that
support them, why shouldn't we expect businesses to
reciprocate by doing favors for those politicians -
by, for
example, organizing "grass roots" rallies on their
behalf?

What makes it all possible, of course, is the
absence of
effective watchdogs. In the Clinton years the merest
hint
of impropriety quickly blew up into a huge scandal;
these
days, the scandalmongers are more likely to go after
journalists who raise questions. Anyway, don't you
know
there's a war on?

PNN RADIO

Sign-up for POOR email!