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Commercials, Disney and Amistad


There is another aspect of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell’s desire to allow more and more media conglomerates gobble up more independent television and radio stations and newspapers. Mega media companies are now as arrogant and insensitive as the Bush administration. It is no wonder that the media and Bush have developed a mutually beneficial relationship. Bush feeds the media cheap publicity stunts like his landing on an aircraft carrier and declaring the Iraqi conflict over and, in return, the media gladly jumps on the chance to produce fake movies about Private Jessica Lynch and Bush’s “heroism” on September 11.

But arrogance and insensitivity reached a new threshold on June 21 when ABC aired the movie “Amistad.” The film concerns an 1839 slave ship revolt off the coast of Cuba, which sees 50 Mende men, women, and children, illegally captured by slavers in Sierra Leone, rising up and killing two of the Spanish ship’s officers, including the captain. The Mende attempted to sail the Amistad back to West Africa but were subsequently captured by an American naval ship off the coast of Long Island. The Mende are arrested and in 1840 are tried for mutiny and murder. However, in a harbinger of the coming Civil War, a US District Court Judge, to the displeasure of President Martin Van Buren and his southern supporters, rules that the Mende were illegally kidnapped and sold into slavery in violation of Spanish law and orders them returned to West Africa. Van Buren orders the verdict to be appealed to the Supreme Court. Former President John Quincy Adams, who, unlike George W. Bush, was an honorable and distinguished presidential son to reach the White House, becomes the lead defense attorney for the Mende. Adams wins the case and the Mende are transported back to their native land. The film, directed by Steven Spielberg, is as uncomfortable to the viewer as his other landmark movie about the Holocaust, “Schindler’s List.”

However, when NBC aired “Schindler’s List” in 1997, it was done without commercials. ABC decided that a film showing Africans being tortured, beaten, deprived of food, dying of disease, keelhauled, and committing suicide was worth commercials. But not just any commercials. At a critical point of the film, when viewers are concentrating on a pre-trial scene involving a close up on the face of Sengbe Pieh, the leader of the revolt, ABC quickly broke away to a commercial featuring a chimpanzee using a banana for a cell phone. And consider the inappropriateness of such a commercial after actors, portraying pro-slavery figures, are constantly arguing that the Africans on trial are not fully human and, therefore, not deserving of equal rights under the law. The insensitivity of the Disney-owned network could not have been more stark. ABC’s entertainment division has the professional talent to ensure the awful segue did not occur. But it did. Chalk it up to arrogance.

But it is the same arrogance that permits Fox News to regularly engage in the worst kind of neo-conservative and ethnophobic propaganda. MS-NBC, not to be outdone by Fox, has given air time to two absolute demagogues, Michael Savage (aka Michael Wiener), an out-and-out racist, and Joe Scarborough, an ethically-tainted former Congressman from Florida’s Redneck Riviera (the Panhandle).

The host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert, a former political hack for Mario Cuomo and Pat Moynihan, has shown his new neo-conservative allegiances by his pedantic and irritating “no,no,no,nos” while interviewing Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean on the eve of the former Vermont Governor’s formal presidential candidacy announcement. Russert should have done more than to have eulogized the late David Brinkley — he should have acted more like a journalist and less like a K Street or Capitol Hill lobbyist lecturing a wayward politician. But Russert’s corporate masters at defense contractor giant General Electric probably did not mind it when their draft dodging Washington bureau chief questioned Dean’s 1Y (call up in the event of a national emergency) draft status during Vietnam. Such arrogance is the rule with the media conglomerates.

Media arrogance will continue as long as the media continues to grow in size and influence. Perhaps Michael Powell should take a “time out” and think about how his shilling for broadcast monopolies will inevitably continue the same type of arrogant and insensitive behavior as shown by ABC.

WAYNE MADSEN is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and columnist. He wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth. He is the co-author, with John Stanton, of “America’s Nightmare: The Presidency of George Bush II.”

Madsen can be reached at:



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