Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Boob Tube 

Courtesy of Zemblan patriot M.L.: Kathleen A. Cox, former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, was chased out of her job after it transpired that two female characters on an unaired episode of the children's show Postcards from Buster were suffering from Mary Cheney Disease. Her replacement, Ken Ferree, is an ideologue who appears to know little or nothing about the job he's inherited -- which, we suppose, makes him an archetypal Bush nominee:
The CPB, of course, is responsible for allocating funds not only for NPR and PBS, but also Public Radio International. In an interview yesterday in the New York Times Magazine, Ferree, when asked what PBS shows are his favorites, admitted that "I'm not much of a TV consumer." He then tossed off some of names of a few PBS staples, like "Nova" and "Masterpiece Theater" before admitting "I don't know." Ferree has also apparently tuned in once or twice to the "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," because he confides to Solomon that "the Lehrer thing" is "slow."

And it just keeps getting better. Asked if he perhaps prefers listening to NPR to watching PBS, he states flatly: "No. I do not get a lot of public radio for one simple reason. I commute to work on my motorcycle, and there is no radio access."

While this jaw-dropping obliviousness is unlikely to make Ferree a popular figure among his employees, they've got some company. Ferree has long aroused the ire of media activists due to the pivotal role he played in the FCC's attempt to relax media consolidation rules in 2003.

Until the CPB gig came along in March, Ferree was head of the FCC's media bureau, a position to which [Michael] Powell appointed him in 2001. While there, Ferree was assigned the task of putting together the commission's ill-fated attempt to demolish restrictions banning newspaper/television cross-ownership in single markets, and to encourage consolidation of media conglomerates across the country. The proposed rule changes caused a massive outcry from private citizens, with over 3 million Americans writing the FCC to voice their opposition to the plan. Despite this, Powell and Ferree pressed on, refusing to schedule public hearings on the topic, which Ferree dismissed as little more than "an exercise in foot-stomping." A federal court eventually shot down the FCC's plan.

Given Ferree's disdain for public opinion, it's no surprise that Chellie Pingree, president of the activist group Common Cause, labeled him "dismissive of the public interest obligations of broadcasters," and "an unlikely choice to steer CPB in a way that would protect public broadcasting's editorial independence."
Ms. Pingree has plainly misunderstood the brief: the Bush administration has no desire to protect the editorial independence of public broadcasting. Mr. Ferree's job will be to shrink public broadcasting until it can be drowned in Grover Norquist's bathtub.

On the private-broadcasting front, our revered colleague Billmon offers an inspired analysis of new FCC chief Kevin Martin's recent grunts and moans about boosting fines for indecency, restoring "family hour," and regulating both the quantity and the quality of simulated humping you can see on Cinemax After Dark:
Martin, of course, is the new FCC chairman -- compared to whom baby Powell was a flaming libertine with his mind squarely in the gutter. Since taking over, the new guy's been very vague (ominiously vague, from the NAB's point of view) about just how far he plans to take the New Censorship. But the industry clearly fears the worst.

It's not so much the fines that might result from future "wardrobe malfunctions" -- the $7.9 million the industry paid last year would have barely covered Michael Eisner's bar tab. But the broadcasters are terrified they'll be pushed back to the days of double beds for married couples and at least one foot on the floor at all times, while the cable channels continue exploring the outer limits of soft porn in their bid to steal away the rest of the TV audience that isn't taking Geritol yet . . . .

But of course it didn't take me too long to realize that if the broadcasters are scared of being left at a decency disadvantage, they're probably already lobbying to have the cable guys shackled and chained too. And so it turns out:
Broadcasters anticipate a move in Congress this year to raise fines for indecency. Some industry executives argue that if they can't stop that, they will at least try to persuade Congress to extend the rules to cable and satellite broadcasters who are now exempt. Senate and House leaders have signaled interest in extending indecency rules to cable and satellite providers, but there has been no agreement on timing for doing that.
So now you have different players in the same industry trying to buy as much regulatory protection as they can -- even if it's at the expense of each other. Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff could both tell you what kind of a sweet spot that creates for the influence peddlers.

Given the money at stake -- both in potentially lost ad revenues and the costs of buying GOP congressmen by the freight car load -- it wouldn't surprise me if the corporate suits started pushing the editorial hacks [including those in the TV news departments] to come up with more pro-conservative, pro-"family values" content . . . .

As an aficionado of organized crime, I have to admire the way the Rovians design their scams to do double or even triple duty. And this is a classic example: By threatening a morals crackdown in the media's red light district, the gang not only extorts political cash and fawning coverage from the corporate news pimps, it also earns brownie points with the Bible fedayeen at the same time.

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