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Clear channel organizes pro war rallies { March 26 2003 }

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Copyright 2003 The International Herald Tribune |

Paul Krugman: Behind pro-war protests, a company with ties to Bush
Paul Krugman
Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Channels of influence

NEW YORK By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven't drawn nearly as many people as anti-war rallies, but they have certainly been vehement.

One of the most striking took place after Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, criticized President George W. Bush: A crowd gathered in Louisiana to watch a tractor smash Dixie Chicks CDs, tapes and other paraphernalia. To those familiar with 20th-century history it seemed eerily reminiscent of ... But as Sinclair Lewis said, it can't happen here.

Who has been organizing those pro-war rallies? The answer, it turns out, is that they are being promoted by key players in the radio industry - with close links to the Bush administration.

The CD-smashing rally was organized by KRMD, part of Cumulus Media, a radio chain that has banned the Dixie Chicks from its playlists. Most of the pro-war demonstrations around the United States have, however, been organized by stations owned by Clear Channel Communications, a behemoth based in Texas that controls more than 1,200 stations and increasingly dominates the airwaves.

The company says the demonstrations, which go under the name Rally for America, reflect the initiative of individual stations. But this is unlikely: According to Eric Boehlert, who has written revelatory articles about Clear Channel in the online magazine Salon, the company is notorious - and widely hated - for its iron-fisted centralized control.

Until now, complaints about Clear Channel have focused on its business practices. Critics say it uses its power to squeeze recording companies and artists and contributes to the growing blandness of broadcast music. But now the company appears to be using its clout to help one side in a political dispute that deeply divides the United States.

Why would a media company insert itself into politics this way? It could simply be a matter of personal conviction on the part of management. But there are also good reasons for Clear Channel - which became a giant only in the last few years, after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed many restrictions on media ownership - to curry favor with the governing party.

On one side, Clear Channel is feeling some heat: It is being sued over allegations that it threatens to curtail the airplay of artists who don't tour with its concert division, and there are even some politicians who want to roll back the deregulation that made the company's growth possible. On the other side, the Federal Communications Commission is considering further deregulation that would allow Clear Channel to expand even further, particularly into television.

Or perhaps the quid pro quo is more narrowly focused. Experienced Bushologists let out a collective "Aha!" when Clear Channel was revealed to be behind the pro-war rallies, because the company's top management has a history with George W. Bush. The vice chairman of Clear Channel is Tom Hicks. When Bush was governor of Texas, Hicks was chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., called Utimco, and Clear Channel's chairman, Lowry Mays, was on its board. Under Hicks, Utimco placed much of the university's endowment under the management of companies with strong Republican Party or Bush family ties. In 1998 Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers in a deal that made Bush a multimillionaire.

There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear, but a good guess is that we're now seeing the next stage in the evolution of a new American oligarchy. As Jonathan Chait has written in The New Republic, in the Bush administration "government and business have melded into one big 'us.'" On almost every aspect of domestic policy, business interests rule: "Scores of midlevel appointees now oversee industries for which they once worked." We should have realized that this is a two-way street: If politicians are busy doing favors for businesses that support them, why shouldn't we expect businesses to reciprocate by doing favors for those politicians - by, for example, organizing "grass roots" rallies on their behalf?

What makes it all possible, of course, is the absence of effective watchdogs. In the Clinton years the merest hint of impropriety quickly blew up into a huge scandal; these days, the scandalmongers are more likely to go after journalists who raise questions. Anyway, don't you know there's a war on?


Copyright 2003 The International Herald Tribune

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