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Guess Which Candidate Is Toughest on Media Monopolies?

The Bush administration has been a failure in applying and enforcing antitrust laws. As Albert Foer, head of the American Antitrust Institute (and also father of The New Republic editor Franklin Foer and novelist Jonathan Safran Foer) put it in … Read More

By / May 27, 2008

The Bush administration has been a failure in applying and enforcing antitrust laws. As Albert Foer, head of the American Antitrust Institute (and also father of The New Republic editor Franklin Foer and novelist Jonathan Safran Foer) put it in 2006, the Bush administration doesn't "even seem to think that monopolies are bad. Big is efficient and efficient is good. This is a story about how ideology has taken over the law enforcement process."

Although antitrust policy doesn't get much play in the media, lax enforcement is bad for consumers, bad for small businesses, bad even for farmers (as John Edwards has observed) — in other words, bad for huge numbers of Americans (even worse than a shortage of flag lapel pins).

Barack Obama — you know him as the candidate with no actual policies — has consistently been going after the Bush administration on its derelict antitrust policy. In a November 2007 statement (PDF) to the AAI, he noted that from 2001 to 2006, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department challenged fewer than half as many mergers per year as they did between 1996 and 2000, and that the Bush DOJ had not brought a single monopolization case, and concluded that "the current administration has what may be the weakest record of antitrust enforcement of any administration in the last half-century."

Just last week, Obama stepped up the press on antitrust enforcement, promising that "[w]e are going to an antitrust division in the Justice Department that actually believes in antitrust law. We haven't had that for the last seven, eight years." In particular, he pledged to be vigilant in guarding against improper media consolidation (which would make for a striking contrast with the Bush DOJ's green light for a merger between the only two players in the satellite radio market — it's enough to make one think they don't know what 'monopoly' means.)

Despite the perception that he is the media's golden boy, Obama is committed to putting criticism of corporate media practices front and center in his campaign, and takes a non-negligible risk in doing so. Although it's unlikely that attacking mergers and consolidation will turn the media's coverage of him negative in any sweeping way, his comments about media monopolization, as the AAI points out (PDF), got effectively no play in the media whatsoever. Moreover, an editorial and ideological slant is increasingly prevalent in media venues controlled by people like Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife. And though the Murdoch-Scaife–sphere isn't likely to be friendly to Obama under any circumstances, things can always get worse, and may very well if Obama continues pressing a position guaranteed to antagonize media executives.

In fact, in what would be a wonderful post-modern irony, it's possible that by vigorously attacking media consolidation, Obama will provoke the media to cease being the handmaidens of the government they were during the Bush years. But more likely, unfortunately, any press backlash Obama policies might cause will be restricted to venalities, the media quickly forgetting their watchdog jobs in the run-up to the next war.

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