John Kerry:  Media Darling
by Justin Felu
February 12, 2004

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As fans of the increasingly irrelevant Howard Dean campaign are quick to point out, the media has been very nice to John Kerry.  According to an analysis by Media Tenor, 37.2 percent of the coverage of John Kerry's campaign since his victory in the Iowa caucuses has been positive whereas only 10.2 percent of the coverage has been negative. [1]  Kerry has been described as "handsome," "articulate," "a war hero," "statesmanlike," and "strikingly Lincolnesque."  This may simply be due to John Kerry's interesting personal history and calm demeanor.  The media always likes a compelling saga, and it is easy to portray Kerry's life in such a way.  However, it is interesting to note that while the media has indeed been very nice to John Kerry, over the course of his career John Kerry has been very nice to the media.

Kerry was a strong supporter of the Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which by some accounts was the most lobbied piece of legislation in history.  The result of these laws was a massive consolidation of media companies, particularly in the radio industry, where over 4,000 radio stations have been sold since 1996.  Clear Channel alone went from 40 stations to approximately 1,200 stations.  The legislation also gave away the digital spectrum to the broadcasting companies free of charge (rather than having it auctioned off).  The spectrum is valued at about $70 billion.  Keep in mind, this is the same John Kerry who likes to brag about how he boldly shafted the poor by supporting welfare reform.  Apparently, giving a $70 billion Christmas gift for the telecom industry is a more laudable goal than providing temporary subsistence living for America's poor.

Kerry's special relationship with the telecommunications industry is the focus of a devastating report by The Center for Public Integrity entitled "Kerry Carries Water for Top Donor." [2]  According to the report, "Boston-based Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C. has been the biggest financial backer of the Massachusetts Democrat's two decades-long political career in elected office, with its employees contributing nearly $187,000 to various Kerry races, including his current presidential campaign."  Kerry's brother, Cameron, has been working for Mintz, Levin since 1983.  The company lobbies on behalf of telecom organizations such as the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).

CTIA successfully lobbied Congress in to delaying the auction of certain portions of the spectrum.  Broadcasters were slow in shifting to the digital spectrum which they had been given and the FCC saw the auctions as a way of speeding up the transition.  The industry was reluctant to move forward due to the large investments that would be required and the lagging economy.  The FCC had already delayed the auctions twice and was refusing to do so a third time.  Senator Kerry then introduced a bill which delayed the auction of the upper bands, prompting the FCC to back down.  When Kerry's bill was introduced, CTIA president Thomas E. Wheeler stated, "We are extremely grateful to Senators Ensign and Kerry for defending the precious national resource of spectrum, serving American consumers, public safety and our global competitiveness."

Kerry and his wife also hold a considerable amount of stock in the industry.  According to the report, "Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry have substantial holdings in telecommunications companies; between $17.6 million and $47.1 million of their combined fortune is held in companies with a stake in the industry, the Center's analysis of his financial disclosure form revealed. That falls in a range of roughly 7 percent to 11 percent of the couple's combined $165 million to $626 million in assets. Most of the fortune, and the stocks, belong to Heinz Kerry.  Some $3.9 million to $13.9 million of those holdings are in companies which are members of CTIA."

The report outlines several other Kerry-led initiatives done on behalf of the telecom industry.  In one incident Kerry co-sponsored a bill that gave government assistance to firms that had bought spectrum from another company that ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Kerry also urged the Bush administration to quickly hand over spectrum that was at the time being used by the government to the private sector.  The spectrum was slated to be used in the development of a new wireless system.  He and several other Senators introduced a bill in June 2000 that prevented firms with more than a fourth of foreign government ownership from buying U.S. telecom companies.

Given all of these facts, it is no surprise that the media loves John Kerry.  In 2002 the Massachusetts Telecommunications Council (a lobbying organization) named Kerry "Policy Maker of the Year."  The UK Guardian reports that Kerry's campaign "is being bankrolled by key executives from News Corporation, MTV-owner Viacom and Sony . . . Mr Chernin, one of [Rupert Murdoch's] most trusted lieutenants, is among several media chiefs who have pledged to raise between $50,000 and $100,000 . . . Others who have pledged to raise more than $50,000 include the Viacom chief executive, Sumner Redstone, and Sony chairman Howard Stringer."  Kerry has also been endorsed by the Communications Workers of America, a union which represents over 700,000 workers. [3]

FCC chairman Michael Powell recently won a 3 to 2 vote which loosened restrictions on media ownership.  The new rules allowed a single company to own stations that reached 45 percent of U.S. households, up from 35 percent.  The ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast outlets was also eliminated in most markets.  Local TV ownership rules were also changed to allow one company to own up to 3 stations in large markets.  The changes provoked an unprecedented outpouring of activism from interest groups ranging from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting to the National Rifle Association.  The wave of concern over media consolidation prompted Congress to roll back the new rules.  The 45 percent figure was taken down to 39 percent, still 4 percent higher than the original limit.  The compromise was just enough to save CBS and News Corp. from having to sell off stations. Republican Senator John McCain denounced the compromise, saying "They pandered to a special interest, Viacom and CBS, and grandfathered them in." 

The one thing this episode makes clear is that media conglomerates are extremely powerful entities.  Not only do they have the ability to control the United States Congress, they also control what we see and what we don't see on the public airwaves.  Any society that is even remotely democratic ought to have a diverse and independent media system that keeps the citizenry well informed and keeps a sharp and skeptical eye on the centers of power.  There is something dangerously wrong with a mass media that leads a majority of the American public to believe utter falsehoods, such as "Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11."  Such grave misconceptions undoubtedly contributed to the building of support for Bush's war in Iraq.  In other words, media reform is an issue of life and death.  Given that this issue is of such grave importance, Kerry's special relationship with the industry should give pause to all people who cherish democracy.

Justin Felux can be contacted at justins@alacrityisp.net.

Other Articles by Justin Felux

* Playing the "War Hero" Card


[1]  "Media Tide Turns Against Bush, Carries Kerry to Early Victories" by Timothy Karr: http://www.mediachannel.org/views/dissector/affalert142.shtml

[2]  "Kerry Carries Water for Top Donor" by Asif Ismail: http://www.publicintegrity.org/bop2004/report.aspx?aid=4

[3]  "Media Chiefs Back Kerry Campaign" by Owen Gibson:  http://media.guardian.co.uk/city/story/0,7497,1144464,00.html






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