Fri Sep 21st 2007, 03:20 PM
As everyone knows by now, Dan Rather, who has the highest recognizability and highest favorability rating of any anchor in the US and who was dropped like a hot potato by CBS after the authenticity of a single document in a single program was called into question, has filed a $70million law suit against his former employer.
In the suit, filed a day earlier in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, Rather claimed CBS and Viacom Inc. used him as a “scapegoat” and intentionally botched the aftermath of a discredited story about President Bush’s military service to curry favor with the White House. He was removed from his “CBS Evening News” post in March 2005.
As another DU member has posted, Viacom’s chief, Sumner Redstone made no bones about which presidential candidate he favored in the 2004 election:
The chairman of the entertainment giant Viacom said the reason was simple: Republican values are what U.S. companies need. Speaking to some of America’s and Asia’s top executives gathered for Forbes magazine’s annual Global CEO Conference, Mr. Redstone declared: “I look at the election from what’s good for Viacom. I vote for what’s good for Viacom. I vote, today, Viacom.
“I don’t want to denigrate Kerry,” he went on, “but from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on. The Democrats are not bad people. . . . But from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company.”
What an understatement. The truth was, Viacom/CBS desperately needed a second Bush term if it was to hold together its media empire and watch it grow, and it feared a John Kerry presidency. Here’s a summary of what was going on behind the scenes at CBS from CommonDreams.org:
In the spring of 2003, Michael Powell tried to hand over the airwaves and newspapers to fewer and fewer tycoons by further loosening restrictions on how many media outlets a single company could own. Powell tried to scrap 30-year-old rules that limited the reach of any television network to no more than 35 percent of the national population, and limits on cross-ownership that, for example, prevented newspapers from buying television or radio stations in the same city. The new rules would have allowed a broadcast network to buy up stations that together reached 45 percent of the national population.
The attack on the existing media-ownership rules came from predictable corners: Both Viacom, which owns CBS, and Rupert Murdoch’s conservative FOX News Channel were already in violation, and would be forced to sell off stations to come into compliance with the 35-percent limit. The rule change would enable Murdoch to control the airwaves of entire cities. That would be fine with Bush and the Powells, since Murdoch is one of their biggest boosters.
It looked like Powell, backed by the Bush White House and with Republican control of Congress, would have no trouble ramming through these historic rule changes. The broadcast industry left nothing to chance: Between 1998 and 2004, broadcasters spent a boggling $249 million lobbying the federal government, including spending $27 million on federal candidates and lawmakers.
This would normally be called bribery. At the FCC, it’s just business as usual.
You would think that FCC deregulation, affecting millions of Americans, would get major play in the media. But the national networks knew that if people found out about how one media mogul could own nearly everything you watch, hear and read in a city, there would be revolt. The solution for them was simple: They just didn’t cover the issue for a year. The only thing the networks did was to join together – and you thought they were competitors? – in a brief filed with the FCC to call for media deregulation.
And then, something remarkable happened: Media activists – an unlikely coalition of liberals and conservatives – mounted a national campaign to defeat Powell and stop the corporate sell-off. The FCC received 2 million letters and e-mails, most of them opposing the sell-off. The Prometheus Radio Project, a grass-roots media activism group, sued to stop the sale of our airwaves, and won in federal court last June. These are hopeful signals that the days of backroom deals by media titans are numbered.
Now, that federal court ruling was a big problem for media giants like Viacom/CBS. After all its hard work and all its money (which had been essentially flushed down the toilet) it was back where it started in 2000—out of compliance with federal media ownership rules with no room to grow. (For those who like legal documents, here is one with lots of facts http://www.mediaaccess.org/filings/vcmcap…. ) Unless the case was overturned by the Supreme Court, it was stuck. And Viacom/CBS had another problem. W. was not doing as well as it had hoped, and John Kerry was not the friend of media giants that George W. Bush had been.
Media consolidation, an issue that galvanized millions of Americans in 2003 is nowhere to be found on the election map of 2004. That was until Sunday, when Senator John Kerry v
entured forth on CSPAN to confirm that, had he been around to vote on last year’s proposal to loosen rules against media ownership, he would have voted against it.
“I wasn’t there for the vote, but I was 100 percent in favor of overturning his rule,” Kerry told CSPAN executive vice president Susan Swain during an interview taped earlier in the week. The “his” Kerry was referring to is Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell. And the “rule” in question was the FCC’s ill-fated effort to allow media companies to buy up more local media outlets by raising an ownership cap from a 35 to a 45 percent reach of the national audience.
This timeline from Bill Moyers shows what was happening in 2003 and early 2004 about the media merger issue:
The Republican Congress was persuaded to raise the media ownership cap just enough to put NewsCorp and Viacom in compliance with the law, but they had no room to grow. (And since Viacom had been described as owning 41% of the nation’s television channels in the court documents from 2001, I wonder if some one was fudging the math.) No problem, said the Bush administration. Just as soon as we win this re-election campaign, we are taking the appeal to the Supreme Court, which will raise the federal media ownership cap back up, so you guys in the entertainment business can start expanding again.
So, if you were Sumner Redstone and it was 2004 and you were faced with a choice of George W. Bush who was promising to write you a blank check for unlimited media acquisitions and mergers or John Kerry, who was really uncomfortable with the whole idea of too much media power concentrated into one set of hands, which candidate would you prefer? And if, as I suspect, you were actually out of compliance with the law (television holdings don’t just shrink from greater than 41% down to 39% overnight), you might be a little nervous, too, that the current administration might decide to start enforcing the law.
The irony of it all is that the Bush administration never intended to keep its promise to launch a court appeal of the lower court ruling that threw out the FCC federal media owership rule changes. It was Michael Powell, who had done the administration’s dirty work for years, who suddenly had a fit a conscience—or maybe he got pissed off at how they treated his dad, and he decided to get even in the best way he knew how, by turning the mainstream media against the Bush administration, by revealing them to be liars and cheats.
The Bush administration yesterday abandoned plans to ask the Supreme Court to allow a set of controversial rules to take effect that would have loosened restrictions on how large media conglomerates could grow.
The decision disappointed big media companies that had lobbied heavily in support of the rules and thrilled those who had fought to keep tighter rein on how much control one company should have over television, newspapers and radio stations in individual markets.
The rules would have allowed television networks such as CBS and Fox to buy a few more television stations nationally and let one company own the biggest newspaper and highest-rated television station in most cities.
Note the date on the Washington Post article. Jan. 28, 2005. When I read that, the curious behavior of the news networks over the exit polls made sense. I also knew that the Bush administration was in for a bumpy second term with the news media, because hell hath no fury…. The administration had waited until after W. was safely sworn in for his second term to admit to their flunkies in the corporate media that they had no intention of keeping their promises, probably because they knew that they would fail. When several of the networks got together to launch their own appeal, they failed. The result was coverage of DSMs, Cindy Sheehan and Katrina.
However, this revelation came too late for Dan Rather and his producer Mary Mapes, who had already been sold for 20 pieces of silver by their boss, Sumner Redstone, who preferred to dismantle the jewel in CBS’s crown, 60 Minutes in order to curry favor with the White House in order to make money through mergers, rather than do it the old fashioned way, by producing quality programming.