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2.21.03
Politics and Economy:
Transcript: Bill Moyers Talks with John Nichols & Robert McChesney
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Transcript

BILL MOYERS: John Nichols, you call your book OUR MEDIA. What do you mean by that?

JOHN NICHOLS: The media in this country was intended by the founders of this country to be ours, to be something that served us as citizens.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: And what we've had happen to our media system in the United States in the past 50 years especially, is it's increasingly become the province of private commercial interests to use — to suit their own naked self interest to advance their commercial concerns. And the political concerns and the social concerns of free press as a hallmark of democracy have been lost in the shuffle.

JOHN NICHOLS: I don't think that the current structures of media allow journalists to do the job that Jefferson and Madison and the founders of this country, intended. Their concept was that you don't restrain what people say. That you — and here's the critical thing — Jefferson and Madison, I hate to inform Rupert Murdoch on this, that they weren't thinking about him.

That was not their idea that some Australian press magnate could come to the United States and buy up media and create Fox, or do whatever. They were anticipating small farmers, small business people, coming together maybe to start a newspaper in their town. And...

BILL MOYERS: But we don't live in that world anymore.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, we don't live as far from it as we think. We have created structures that make it virtually impossible to do that.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

JOHN NICHOLS: Look at how our broadcast systems are structured in this country. Look at what we're talking about...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Giving all the air waves to a handful of firms to own. There's nothing written in natural law that we have to turn over these lucrative monopoly licenses to our prime air waves to a handful of enormous trans-national firms. There's nothing in the First Amendment that says that. The press system is really the oxygen of a free society.

You can't govern your own lives with a viable press system. The founding fathers, Jefferson and Madison, understood that. Their notion of freedom of the press was that the people of the country have to consciously construct a system that fosters diverse views and examination of policies, and draws people into social life.

BILL MOYERS: So how is the media failing us in your judgment, in your estimate?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Well, I think the problem we face is that the sort of drawing people into social life to understand issues, to understand how people in power operate, to keep them in check, and people who want to be in power, gets lost in the shuffle. That's not where the most money can be made.

Unfortunately, where the money lies, where the profits are for the firms that own and dominate our media system, comes in sort of zeroing out the journalism. Because that's too expensive to do the hard stuff. Gets you in trouble with people in power.

So you have a situation where the same companies that control our broadcast journalism, they're going for the government, trying to get tax relief and deregulation, so they get bigger and bigger. Or are they gonna want to be tough on the same government they're looking for special deals from.

BILL MOYERS: Give me some examples of how you think journalism, corporate journalism, is failing us. Take politics. What's an example?

JOHN NICHOLS: We had, in the fall of 2000, a political crisis in this country, and one that the whole world took very, very seriously. We had an unsettled Presidential election.

And yet, our media tended to cover that as purely a political fight between two parties. James Baker would get up and say the Bush line. Warren Christopher would get up and say the Gore line. And that would be accepted pretty much as the end of the story. There were too few people saying, "Look, we're not gonna do stenography to power. We're not gonna take this official source versus that official source. We're gonna go for the truth. And I think that what we have in this...

BILL MOYERS: Because truth would have been?

JOHN NICHOLS: The truth is, who won?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Investigate what they're saying...

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, let's really get in there and...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: ...balancing the two claims, investigate what they're saying...

BILL MOYERS: Some papers did that, don't you think?

JOHN NICHOLS: Some did. And, but you know what the interesting thing is? That much of the best journalism about it — and this is, I think, broadly accepted — was done by British papers. What I'm saying is that the notion of a pox on both your houses is a healthy one for journalists to practice, to disbelieve both official sources, and to go for — suggest that, well maybe they're both spinning us.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: You know, I think what happened is our whole electoral coverage has really deteriorated in the country. And if you look at the figures, the amount of coverage of electoral campaigns in broadcast media has plummeted. At the same time, what's happened is the amount of campaign advertising has risen dramatically. So we've seen that the main unit for a candidate to run now is their political advertising.

BILL MOYERS: You write in your book, "Elected leaders refuse any longer to address what the American people want to know about. But they will tell you, the media mavens will tell you, "We're giving people what they want."

JOHN NICHOLS: I wish they'd come out and talk to my mom.

BILL MOYERS: Your mom?

JOHN NICHOLS: My mom, on Union Grove, Wisconsin. And...

BILL MOYERS: Population?

JOHN NICHOLS: It's about 3,000.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah?

JOHN NICHOLS: And you know, my mom has pretty much, gotten pretty close to giving up on television news. She says, "You know, it's just — this is just ridiculous."

"I wanna know what's going on. I wanna know real information about whether we should go to war. When the question of "why do they hate us" comes up, I want a real dialogue about that. I don't want, you know, 'Well, they must be crazy because they're French.'"

BILL MOYERS: But John, they wouldn't be doing this if it didn't make money. They wouldn't be making money if enough people weren't watching to satisfy the advertisers.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: You know, you're right. But the way to look at this, it's not all demand driven. I think the crucial thing is much of this is supply driven.

The reason we don't have international coverage, or hard investigative pieces on how power works in our society, isn't that people aren't necessarily interested in it. That basically isn't done because it costs so much. It's so much cheaper to have a couple of blowhards exchange insults...

BILL MOYERS: Well now, let's not get personal.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Or so much cheaper to have people just sort of press release of what someone in power is than to go out and investigate the press release. So it's really supply driven. It's just inexpensive to do.

And then of course when people watch it, they say, "Well, we're giving people what they want." But let's give them some really good investigative journalism, how power works in our society. I think people love that. They're just not given a choice to vote for that in the marketplace.

BILL MOYERS: What's the truth we're not getting right now from the press in the Iraqi buildup?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Let me put this in one context. The United States has been in 7, 8 major wars in the last 100 years. World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Central American wars, the first Persian Gulf war. Those are the major ones. We now know historically that in each case the administration in power wanted to push a war and it was willing to lie, do whatever it took to get the support of the American people to do it.

So I think if you're a working journalist, and I teach journalism, what you should go — any time there's a government that says, "we've got to go to this war" and starts waving the flag and telling you, "we have to...have to..." and the more passion you get, the more you check for your wallet. The more you get skeptical, the more you say, "Well, wait a second, we've been down this road before. We're journalists. We better get to the bottom of this and investigate all this and not take them at face value." And that's the starting point of good journalism when it comes to getting into war.

And if you start there, I think John, you can field this, but in the claims that we're being given, a lot of them are just taken at face value and not being investigated.

JOHN NICHOLS: Now one of the things in this incredible period is the way that we treat the French. There is sort of this line of, "well the French must be crazy." You know how could they not be with us? And how can the Germans not be with us? And what's with this 'old Europe'?

Well, the fact of the matter is, it's a good question folks might ask. Could it possibly be that the French and the Germans know more than we do? Like they have learned a lot more over a number of recent years certainly, about Afghanistan and about Iraq and about those parts of the world.

And more importantly, might they have had experiences that would be worthy of pondering? And I think good journalism would go and ask, you know, "why aren't you with us?" And I would also look at one other thing that I think has really been lost. And that is, that in every country in the western — every western democracy, there's a huge debate about this war.

Let's actually go beneath that surface level, are you with us or against us? And look at what's really going on in all of these countries.

BILL MOYERS: But the United States government ostensibly has intelligence sources that say there is a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Maybe the French intelligence don't have that or the German intelligence don't have that. Are you saying we shouldn't give our leaders the benefit of the doubt when they say that we have this information and you need to trust us?

JOHN NICHOLS: Of course not.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Of course not.

JOHN NICHOLS: Why would you ever give any — this is...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: In the matter of war and peace given the track record of our leaders in war and peace this century?

BILL MOYERS: These people are trying to kill you and you and me. These terrorists who struck one mile from here on the 11th of September.

JOHN NICHOLS: The war on terror is a terrific example of where, I think, media has failed us. But it didn't fail us after September 11th. It failed us before. If you remember the summer before September 11th, think about what the big story of that summer was. There were two of them actually.

One was Gary Condit's sex life. And boy, the cable channels were going back every night. You know we found he maybe tied somebody to a bed. We knew more details about Gary Condit's sex life than our own.

BILL MOYERS: And the audiences were way up.

JOHN NICHOLS: Oh they were. And the other big story was shark attacks off Florida. Now it turned out there weren't any more shark attacks than any other year but it was a fun story to do. And so again and again reporters on the beach talking about shark attacks.

Well, you know what? Maybe if during that period we had devoted — we in the media, and I count myself as a part of it — if we'd devoted a little more of our resources to just checking the official terrorism warnings, to listening to Gary Hart and Lorne Rudman who had put in quite a remarkable report.

BILL MOYERS: Former Senators who were...

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: ...who were heading this commission on...

JOHN NICHOLS: They're saying that there's a — we are looking at a potential terrorist attack. Maybe if we've done what much of the rest of the world's media do, which is actually spend some time in Afghanistan. Look at some of the 'churn' that was going on there. And maybe if we asked the question of, "well, why did we send planes over to bomb Afghanistan a few years ago? What's there that we're so concerned about?" Maybe if we'd done a better job before September 11th, at the very least, if September 11th had happened, we wouldn't have had ordinary citizens the day after saying, what's going on here? Why do they hate us? I think George W. Bush has every right, and indeed a responsibility, to 'spin' this situation and to talk about this situation as he believes is proper. As he believes we should go.

But I think good journalism takes George W. Bush and his opinion and then takes other opinions. Mixes it all up. Gives people access to a lot of that dialogue, to a lot of that debate and let's the American people make some decisions. Remember, this is not just about the President. This is about the people.

BILL MOYERS: Now you say in here that the system that has created our media is one of the most corrupt you can imagine. What do you mean by that?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Well, just go back to the founding period again. The debates over the postal act and the printing subsidies were public debates, passionate. People were involved in it. They understood the importance and the significance.

We have similar policies today that set up our current media system. All our largest media companies today — and they're very large — are built on government regulations, subsidies, monopoly rights, the spectrum, the cable systems, copyright. But the crucial policies that created these aren't done with public involvement. They're not out in the open with people debating it in Congress, newspapers and media covering it.

They're all done behind closed doors in the most corrupt manner imaginable. These powerful lobbies duke it out, with no public recognition, to get these enormous monopoly subsidies. The whole system is built in our name, but without our informed consent. It's their system, but it should be ours.

BILL MOYERS: Even as we talk, the Federal Communications Commission is considering yet another move toward further consolidation. What's going on?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, what they're talking about a series of rule changes. One of the changes they're talking about would remove a very old barrier in this country that says that you can't own T.V., radio, and the newspaper in the same town. Can't be one guy that owns it all. And the reason for that is common sense, I think.

That, number one, you want a diversity of voices. And the diversity of voices is fostered by different owners, at best. Two, we have one owner of everything, and that's what would happen if you blow out this cross ownership rule.

You have one owner of everything in town.

BILL MOYERS: Is it conceivable that if these rule changes are made by the FCC, that a Rupert Murdoch, or a Ted Turner, could own the newspaper, the T.V. station, the radio station, in Madison, Wisconsin?

JOHN NICHOLS: It's totally conceivable.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Not only conceivable...

JOHN NICHOLS: It would happen.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: It's almost positive it would happen. Because that's where the money is. You can have one newsroom service an entire community, instead of having three newsrooms. Think of the savings if you've got one set of reporters serving all your news media in a town, instead of having to pay for three different sets.

BILL MOYERS: At what cost?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Well, the costs socially are enormous, which is exactly why we should be very concerned, because it violates every core liberal principle. When in doubt, it's always better to have more voices than fewer voices in media. That's the sort of — you start from there.

JOHN NICHOLS: And if you believe in a free market, if you really believe in a free market, you ought to believe that there should be a lot of different people competing within that, and maybe trying to be better than the other.

If you have one individual, or one company, really more likely a stockholder driven corporation, owning all of the media in a community, well, there's not a competition to be better per se. And because of the way media structures exist today, it's very hard to create new media there.

So the result is that you are gonna go toward those commercial values. You're gonna go to that lowest common denominator, because it's cheaper, and yeah, it appeals at some basic level.

BILL MOYERS: I think you say in your book that about a dozen companies own the greatest percentage...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: ...of radio, television...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: An overwhelming majority.

BILL MOYERS: ...music, everything.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: That's right. And we're in a situation where we can actually look at an industry that was sort of deregulated just a few years ago, radio. In 1996, in the Telecommunications Act the radio lobby was able to get a clause put in there. It was never debated by Congress. Wasn't discussed at the community level, which lifted the cap of how many radio stations a single company could own nationally in the United States. It used to be, before that it was 40. And for years, you probably remember coming up in media, was only seven, and then 12 stations, no more than two in a single community.

And they lifted the total nationally a single company could own. And they said you can own up to eight in a single community, in the largest communities. And what's happened since 1996 is radio's been turned upside down. Something like 60, 70 percent of the stations have been sold.

A single company based in your home state of Texas, Clear Channel, owns over 1,200 stations. And radio's, I think fair to say, unless you're a shareholder in the Clear Channel company, the consensus of everyone else in this country is radio's a disaster area.

Localism's been wiped out. There's almost no local news coverage. We're getting sort of piped in announcers in the communities. There's more advertising than ever in radio. So this is an example of what we're gonna get if we do this in the rest of our media, that's our future.

BILL MOYERS: Obviously, Michael Powell, the chairman, is an ardent believer in deregulation. He says that if you take off government restrictions, you will let a thousand flowers bloom. You'll have the internet, you'll have DV— you'll have a lot of other choices out there.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: That's right.

JOHN NICHOLS: One of the big problems is that the debate on...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: ...if that's right.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah. It's...

BILL MOYERS: You agreeing with Michael?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, I think he's agreeing with Mao, who is the hundredth, at least. But the thing to understand about the debate on media in this country is it's perhaps the most unhealthy debate imaginable.

There are a handful of very interested parties who are deeply engaged, who think about it every day, who hire lobbyists, who spend a great deal of money, not nearly to lobby Congress, but also, to lobby the FCC.

BILL MOYERS: Who are they?

JOHN NICHOLS: The companies themselves, as well as The National Association of Broadcasters.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: The trade association.

JOHN NICHOLS: Trade associations. And they're in there fighting among themselves a little bit. "We want this structure. These guys want that structure. But it's all agreed that we're the ones at the table, we're the ones who will decide."

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: "It's our system."

BILL MOYERS: It is a closed meeting when they get together to discuss...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: ..."what do we want?"

JOHN NICHOLS: And there's a lot of closed meetings before, all along the way. And what we're suggesting is that the reason that the debate takes the shape it does is because so many other doors are shut. So much of it is inside dialogue.

Ordinary Americans, real people, my mom, your cousin, whoever, they don't even know that these debates are being — that they're taking place. And they also don't know, I think, that they have a right to be a part of them.

BILL MOYERS: When the Telecommunications Act in 1996 passed, which made this big giveaway, Bill Clinton signed it, Al Gore was there. Republicans, Democrats...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: ...all glowing at this accomplishment. I mean both parties, are they not...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: They're both in bed with this.

BILL MOYERS: ...serving...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Absolutely. And I think...

BILL MOYERS: Why?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: This is the...

JOHN NICHOLS: There's some corruption.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: This is the question...

BILL MOYERS: What?

JOHN NICHOLS: Corruption.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Pure corruption. This is really where big money crowds everything else out. The way to understand how policy makers make media in this country, communications, there's a great movie, THE GODFATHER, PART TWO.

There's a scene early in the movie where all the American gangsters are on top of a hotel roof in Havana. It's a classic scene. Hyman Roth and Michael Corleone. And they've got a cake being wheeled out to them.

And Hyman Roth is cutting up slices of the cake. And the cake's got the outline of Cuba on it, giving each gangster a slice of Cuba. And while he's doing this, Hyman Roth's saying, "Isn't it great to be in a country where we have a government that respects private enterprise, they let us own the country. And that's how media policy...

BILL MOYERS: So they divided up Cuba.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: You're saying the big media dividing up...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Of course.

BILL MOYERS: ...the country of...

JOHN NICHOLS: Now...

BILL MOYERS: ...of...of...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: ...of the United States.

JOHN NICHOLS: Our air waves.

BILL MOYERS: ...for the world.

JOHN NICHOLS: Our air waves.

BILL MOYERS: Our air waves.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: And what they're doing, though, is that they're fighting among each other. They've got these huge lobbies like Hyman Roth and Michael Corleone, they each want the biggest slice.

But what they all agree is that no one else gets a slice. It's their cake. The door is shut, no press coverage, no public awareness of these policies.

BILL MOYERS: I think that's realistic but it's very pessimistic. What would you have done? Would you have the government take over the media?

JOHN NICHOLS: No.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Well, the government makes the media as it is. These policies are government policies. The question is whose interests are they gonna represent? Private interests, commercial interests in our name, or actually our involvement? The argument is that people need to participate in these policies. We give 50 to 100 talks a year around the country. And we find people are really interested in this issue. This is an issue that cuts very close to them. Not just in terms of journalism, but sort of the commercial tidal wave that's overwhelming people's lives.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Well, we see advertising and commercialism not just increasing in sort of the number of advertisements you see on television and our media. But also, permeating the editorial content, both in journalism and programming.

BILL MOYERS: More and more commercials...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: More...

BILL MOYERS: ...more and more...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Product placement.

BILL MOYERS: ...commercial values, and share...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: And I think that people are deeply concerned that this is corrosive to sort of the integrity of our public culture, that this is a real problem. It's not a left-right issue. It's — there's some people who personally benefit by — who made money off it, and there's everyone else. It's much like the environment.

JOHN NICHOLS: What we really need in this country is a movement not unlike the environmental movement of the early 1970s, that accepts the notion that, as with the environmental movement, it wasn't that the government took over every bit of land, and every sea, and every lake, and stuff like that, but it was that government regulation was seen as something that citizens ought to be a part of, not just the corporations that were regulated. And that begins to insert a public voice in this debate.

And the interesting thing is we find, in talking to members of Congress, that a lot of them are actually more interested in this than you think for an intriguing, very self serving, perhaps, reason. Members of Congress are noted, saying that in this churn of media ownership, they don't get paid attention to at the local level, either.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: More and more commercial values. And I think people are deeply concerned that this is corrosive to sort of the integrity of our public culture. That this is a real problem. And I...

BILL MOYERS: If there were this movement, what would it be asking? What would it want?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Well, there's a whole range of issues we can work on let's have fewer stations that one company's allowed to own, for example. It's silly to let one station own 1,200 stations.

A tangible thing. Let's say ten stations per owner, so we get more community owners. Let's come up with something to reduce the amount of commercials that we bombard our kids with. What we're doing to children in this society is absolutely obscene.

Most other democratic societies in the world, most — many in Europe — prohibit, or sharply limit, the amount of advertising on television to children under 12. It's just irrational.

BILL MOYERS: In the interest of?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Of the children. That we can't... it's just, they take a two year old and marinate their brains in 30,000 T.V. ads a year, with the most sophisticated, psychological thinking done to go in to get them to brand imprint brands and their names is just an outrageous thing to do to children in society.

BILL MOYERS: But the media executives would say, "Look, that's for the parents to do."

JOHN NICHOLS: Hey...

BILL MOYERS: "That's not for the government to... "

JOHN NICHOLS: You know, they'd said that about cigarette advertising, too, at one point. The fact of the matter is that in this country, we accept regulation of advertising. We accept there be a public role in this.

It's just that what we've been told up to this point is in some narrow little public health areas. Well, I would suggest that we ought to take a look at the public health of our democracy.

Majority of Americans don't vote in most elections. We have every civic group — you go talk to the Rotary, you talk to the Lion's Club. They're all saying, "You know, there's just this decline in civic life. There's a decline in connectedness in this country."

And we know that the dominant part of most of our lives, as regards communication, is media. I think that we can suggest that media ought to have a role in making our civic life work better, and that that oughta be a part, not the whole of it. It can be entertaining. It can even make money for folks. But a part of it ought to be more civic.

BILL MOYERS: But you're flying in the face, are you not, of a business culture?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: This is serious business. You're absolutely right. This isn't a-- a tangential or marginal thing. We are going exactly at some of the crucial institutions in our society.

And I think we have to look around and look at the caliber of our democracy. It's deeply troubled. And it's not gonna take a band aid. And the founding fathers, not to keep harping on them, but I think their legacy here is very rich.

They understood that setting up a diverse, well funded media system with a broad range of viewpoints was the essence of building of the oxygen for democracy. And it took conscious policies. It didn't happen naturally. You had to work at it.

And we've gotta return to that principle and get public participation in the policies. There's nothing natural about our media system.

BILL MOYERS: These corporations will tell you that they earned their success and their power the old-fashioned way, the American way, by winning the robust competition of the marketplace.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Nonsense. They, the most important comp... look, they do compete. Don't get it wrong. And the people who make movies and T.V. shows are trying to get the most viewers. That's true.

But the most important competition these companies have is behind closed doors in Washington, getting these valuable monopoly licenses. Once you're given a monopoly license to T.V. spectrum in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington, a trained orangutan could become a billionaire. It's no great genius then.

But once you win that fight, the rest is a downhill slope. So I mean, yes it's true they do compete but at the same time, the most important issue is this whole system's set up by government policy. Those policies are made correctly once you win the policy behind those closed doors, the rest of it's easy.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: But no one else is allowed to play but the people who win those policy fights.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: When you said that you can own eight radio stations in a single market, when you said that you can own as many radio stations nationally as you like, that decision allowed Clear Channel to win in the public marketplace. It didn't — there wasn't some sort of competition...

BILL MOYERS: You're saying these decisions that are discussed in economic terms...

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: ...are really political decisions.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: Is that what you're saying?

JOHN NICHOLS: Absolutely.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: That's absolutely right. With tremendous social implications.

JOHN NICHOLS: Made by — well, the decisions are made by the FCC or by Congress. I mean they're made the same way every political decision is. The problem is that, for instance, you referenced before the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Where was the robust national debate on really what is our media environment?

BILL MOYERS: There's a wonderful moment in that debate.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: I remember when John McCain...

JOHN NICHOLS: Of all people.

BILL MOYERS: ...spoke up and said, "You will not see this on television."

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: That's right.

JOHN NICHOLS: And he was right! And the incredible thing was that, when we go around the country, you know, we did town meetings in places like Montpelier, Vermont and you know, the amazing thing is we did one about a year ago. The room was packed. You literally — there were people standing along the side to talk about media and democracy. What the heck is that? And yet, the interesting thing is that when we started talking about that debate, people were amazed. This was a first blush for many of them.

They were saying, "You know, in 1996, they made all this stuff." And they're like, "Oh, yeah, I think I might a heard something about that." Well, that's ridiculous. That would be, to do an equivalent, that would be saying, "You know, I think I might have heard something about the Clean Air Act," or, "I think I might a heard something about, you know, just..."

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Civil Rights.

JOHN NICHOLS: "...Civil Rights Act."

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Yeah.

JOHN NICHOLS: This is absurd. This is, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a fundamental, structural shift in the way we live our lives.

BILL MOYERS: By?

JOHN NICHOLS: And yet...

BILL MOYERS: Because?

JOHN NICHOLS: Because we, the average American spends, is it 11 hours?

BILL MOYERS: Twelve.

JOHN NICHOLS: Twelve hours in contact with some kind of media. When you radically reshape who controls that, how it works, how it's structured, that affects our lives.

BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that in the name of deregulation we're creating monopolies?

JOHN NICHOLS: Absolutely. We call it deregulation.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: It's not.

JOHN NICHOLS: It is not deregulation.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Yeah. It's regulation on the behalf of private interests, versus regulation...

JOHN NICHOLS: It's regulation...

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: ...on behalf of the public.

JOHN NICHOLS: It is regulation to pick winners. We are picking winners. Now the winner, the people who get picked are the ones who have great lobbyists, and a huge push in Washington, and they do all the right things. But we are picking winners. And I can tell you, we're also picking losers.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: That's right.

JOHN NICHOLS: The losers are our communities. The losers are — is our democracy. In fact, when John McCain had a hearing on this just in... end of January.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Late January.

JOHN NICHOLS: There was a wonderful gentleman from Syracuse, New York there, a small town radio station owner, talked about how he was forced out. You know, that he was just... that advertising pressure and all sorts of things were brought upon him that he had to sell out.

But he told this wonderful story of how, just a few years ago, he was on there, and he was beating Clear Channel. He was doing a great job. And he was doing local reporting, and all sorts of stuff, creating it right now, in this media era, and doing a great job. The only way, as he said, that he got beat, was that they finally just said, "Well, we own all the other stations," and they made all these deals for advertisers, that it finally became impossible for him to compete.

BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that recently when the FCC, all the commissioners, came to New York to have a hearing on the rule changes here in the heart of the media universe, only one camera showed up and it was not from the corporate media?

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: It was quite striking. And I think it's always been one of the problems is that the news media that we depend on to cover important public policy issues is conflictive. There's an extraordinary conflict of interest, because our news media are owned by firms which benefit by certain types of policies. And they have no stake in engaging the public in these.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think your mother's watching right now? I didn't...

JOHN NICHOLS: Oh she will be if I tell her that... yeah.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: She watches PBS all the time.

JOHN NICHOLS: She does. She's obsessive about it.

BILL MOYERS: Look at your mother in the camera and tell her if she really wants to join a movement and do something practical what can she do right now?

JOHN NICHOLS: It's a very simple thing. Write to your Congressman, mom. And write to your Senator. This is a really important reality of what happens in media as regards the structures and the rules and regulations, is driven by Congress. At this point we have a dawning recognition among a lot of members of Congress that things are amiss.

My mother's U.S. Senator, Russ Feingold from Wisconsin, has introduced a quite good Bill as regards radio consolidation and some things that need to be done. I'd hope my mom and people, other people in Wisconsin would cheer him on. I'd hope other people around the country would cheer him on. I think that we are at a point where dialogue can begin to be had. And there have been some wonderful people in Washington. Good activists who have been working at this for years and have done — who've put the seeds there. They've laid a lot of the groundwork.

Now we need the American people to come riding to the rescue. No change in this country has ever come out of Washington. It always comes when ordinary folks say, as they did with the environmental movement, or the anti-war movement, you know we don't like where it's headed. And members of Congress need to hear that. And members of the FCC need to hear it when they go around for these hearings around the country.

If they do, I think we have a chance. Not a certainty, but a chance to begin to kind of turn some of this around and we need to. It's what our country needs.


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