Michael Powell’s Message to Americans

Driving long distances in the Washington, D.C. area has one advantage–C-Span radio is good company. I am unsure as to how its signal will be affected by the FCC handover of the airwaves to media wolves today, but C-Span served me well yesterday. For I was able to listen to all the FCC commissioners speak in defense of their votes to loosen media ownership rules.

Many others far more knowledgeable than I about media and FCC law will cover the technicalities of the Commission’s decision. I am more concerned with the rhetoric of the majority and their gleeful pronouncement that they didn’t give a damn what the American people thought or wanted. So much for the FCC representing the public interest. Their public, obviously, is Rupert Murdoch and friends.

The schism between Americans was obvious in the Commissioners’ comments and votes. Though it had 3 votes needed to change the rules, the majority ignored 750,000 public comments, 150 congressional representatives, and groups like the NRA, NOW, and Common Cause, which were opposed to the decision. The arrogance of the majority mirrors the arrogance of the majority in the U.S. Congress.

The Republicans are incapable of civil discourse. They are loath to entertain opposing viewpoints. They engage in ad hominem attacks when confronted with alternative perspectives. Carrying out this tradition of intolerance were Commissioners Powell and Abernathy–particularly Abernathy, who sounded like one mean witch of a woman, snarling, with bared teeth and sharpened claws (the statement of Commissioner Kevin Martin was rather benign–he was more intent on praising Powell than defending his position).

The majority decision was based on facts and logic; the dissenters, they said, were well meaning but misguided by the same emotions and fear of Americans who were against the hijacking of the airwaves. Fools they, and fools we, Abernathy said. History will prove Americans wrong, and the three who know better than we what is in our public interest chose the right path for us. Monopolistic control of the media will benefit diversity of views (there is that Bush regime Alice-in-Wonderland logic again).

It was not so much the decision, for none of us can truly predict the end result. Though unlikely, the Supreme Court may reject or remand the new rules (still unpublished, for we–you and I–don’t need to know what they are just yet, you see). No, it was the way the big three spoke about you and me. It was the way they dismissed the comments of three-quarter million Americans. It was the way they put us down, that chauvinistic accusation of emotionality for our challenge of their decision. It was the defiant attitude, the belligerent tone.

It was George Bush telling the rest of the world that he would do what is best for Iraq and the world, world leaders’ insight and expertise be damned.

It was the Supreme Court awarding the Presidency to George Bush. Voters and elections be damned.

It was the government telling the governed that their opinions did not count.

It was a democracy handing over the avenues of First Amendment expression to a powerful few that support the Bush regime.

It was the FCC telling Americans to go to hell.

It was a sad day for democracy, as Commissioner Adelstein explained in his somber dissent:

“This is a sad day for me, and I think for the country. I’m afraid a dark storm cloud is now looming over the future of the American media. This is the most sweeping and destructive rollback of consumer protection rules in the history of American broadcasting. The public stands little to gain and everything to lose by slashing the protections that have served them for decades. This plan is likely to damage the media landscape for generations to come. It threatens to degrade civil discourse and the quality of our society’s intellectual, cultural and political life.

“I dissent, finding today’s Order poor public policy, indefensible under the law, and inimical to the public interest and the health of our democracy. . . . It violates every tenet of a free democratic society to let a handful of powerful companies control our media. The public has a right to be informed by a diversity of viewpoints so they can make up their own minds. Without a diverse, independent media, citizen access to information crumbles, along with political and social participation.”

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teaches law and psychology, and writes Civil Liberties Watch under the auspices of The City Pages. She can be reached at: ecassel1@cox.net