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Clear Channel : Corruption Up High

Corruption Up High
BY: Jake McGee

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union were quite distraught when their plan for a billboard was shot down in April, 2005. Clear Channel Outdoor refused to adorn one of their signs with the image of a Godzilla-style monster next to the dreadful warning, “The Wal-Monster will destroy Staten Island business and devastate our quality of life, citing their policy to “reject creative content that is misleading, sexually explicit, overly suggestive, or in any way reflects upon the character, integrity, or standing of any organization or individual.

Nothing wrong with that...but just two months prior, Clear Channel had no qualms with approving and designing a sign for white supremacy group Nation Alliance (aka National Vanguard), which read, “Stop Immigration – Join the National Alliance. Hooray! They even put this sign up high on a billboard smack in the center of one of Las Vegas’ Latino communities, to emphasize the point.
Clear Channel Outdoor (and, of course, the rest of the Clear Channel organization) has sided with fascism since even before they were CCO.  The billboard company started as Floster & Keller in 1901, and quickly became the founders of the outdoor advertising industry by sucking up to the Powers That Be.
Back then, though, nobody argued about supporting war. Indeed, the first two World Wars are considered righteous and just by most of our society even to this day. So it was natural that, in 1917, F&K artists assisted in forming camouflage units for military and civilian projects. The same year, the company started mobilizing its facilities for war service recruiting, among other things to help with the war effort.

Two years later, President Wilson and the US War Department publicly thanked F&K for their outstanding service during WWI. From then on, the company worked hand in hand with the US Government. In 1942, they created the largest camouflage project ever completed in the history of war, with their protective concealment of a Boeing aircraft plant in Seattle.
As the industry boomed, so did their working hand-in-hand with politicians. If a politician succeeded in pushing the limits for more billboards, the billboard company would then promote the politician, often calling such a “public service message.

When Clear Channel Communications bought the company (at the time called Eller Media Company) in 1997, this trend exploded. In addition to business and entertainment advertisements, CCO gives their billboard space to political initiatives, not based on community merit, but rather on how much leverage it would give them with the respective politician.

It’s no secret that Clear Channel has long-standing ties with corrupt politicians, above and beyond the Bush family. But it should also be taken into account that groups like Clear Channel are often the ones who initiate the corruption in the first place. “Loosen the billboard regulations, and we’ll ‘independently’ support your next campaign, would be what the agreement amounts to.

In 2001, Clear Channel Outdoor ran their own campaign in support of Rocky Delgadillo’s bid for Los Angeles Attorney, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an indirect (and therefore hard to prohibit) contribution to the candidate. Maybe it was because he was that good of a man (in April, 2005, the Associated Press reported that Delgadillo worked out a deal which let about 50 crooked cops off the hook for gross abuse of power, at the tax payers’ expense). Or maybe it was because Degadillo supported more flexibility with billboards, whereas Degadillo’s opponent, Mike Feuer, supported tougher regulations.

In 2002, CCO was accused of donating more than $10,000 in free billboard space to Reno City Council candidate Dwight Dortch, who had voted to increase the number of billboards in the city. In 2005, CCO worked on promoting Ignacio De La Fuente in his bid for Mayor of Oakland, against Nancy Nadel, a frequent billboard critic.  According to the East Bay Express, in 2002-2004, CCO spent $374,445 on “billboards that urged voters to support a specific candidate or cause. And that was just in Oakland, CA.

Doing this on such a scale seems wildly against the rules of fair play, but Clear Channel executives are masters at bending the rules, by either attributing sponsorship of the billboards to other entities, or just calling them “public service announcements. From time to time they get busted for it, like in 2005 when the Los Angeles Ethics Commission fined them for the Delgadillo incident, saying, “Failing to fully disclose its sponsorship of the political advertisements...had the potential to mislead large numbers of voters about whether candidate-controlled committees rather than [Clear Channel] paid for the billboards. It’s a small price to pay for political clout, especially when it stretches all the way up to the White House.

Clear Channel is in deep cahoots with the Bush administration.  In 1995, when G.W. was Governor of Texas, he appointed investment bulldog Tom Hicks (former Vice Chairman of Clear Channel Communications) head of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., also known as Utimco. Lowry Mays (founder of Clear Channel Communications) was even on the board. Under Hicks, Utimco directed much of the University’s public endowment to the management of companies connected to the Republican Party, and with companies directly tied in with Bush himself. The Carlyle Group - then run by the likes of George Bush Sr. - was one of the organizations who reaped in on this cash cow.
Then there’s the Texas Rangers, who Hicks bought from G.W. and a group of investors in 1998, netting Bush a cool $14.9 million. Since Bush took office in 2000, Hicks has been part of the elite “Bush Pioneers, which is kind of like the Cool Club for people who give Bush $100,000 or more in contributions.

It makes sense, then, for Clear Channel to maintain good standing with the head honchos of this country, even tossing them goodies from time to time. Two of the more infamous examples of this were in 2004, with two marvelous billboard crusades. One series was in Arizona, where the sign read, “One Nation Under God – A Reminder From Clear Channel Outdoor. The other popped up around spots in Florida, and next to a picture of G.W. proclaimed, “George W. Bush – Our Leader. Sure, it resembles the images of numerous foreign countries, where pictures of dictators are splattered across billboards - it invokes totalitarian undertones - and it should. But beneath the message, there was a disclaimer, “Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. A public service message brought to you by Clear Channel Outdoor.

Maybe I’m a pessimist, but this is one of those dilemmas where there seems to be no diplomatic or congenial solution. Even when community leaders and regular citizens try to work with Clear Channel Outdoor on things, they get slapped in the face. In 2004, Seattle-based artist Linda Thomas worked out a deal with CCO, that gave her billboard space for one of her projects. It was a blown-up charcoal drawing of a sleepy baby cradled in an adult’s hand, and every day a new piece was put up, until the billboard was complete. The work “represents the passage of time, Thomas told The Stranger, and it stood on its own, with no title or explanation.

Then she found out that on the other side of the billboard, CCO has plastered up another shot of a baby, but this one had a message: “Cherish Life!  It begins at conception. It was an ad attributed to Pro-Life America, which is fine and all, but to put it on the back of Thomas’s work was completely avaricious, if not demeaning. They eventually took down the anti-abortion ad, replacing it with some other business promotion, but their point was made.

And of course, let’s not forget that awesome “Stop Immigration sign. When it assuredly pissed off the residents, executives at CCO said the company did not know what the National Alliance stood for. Which is funny, because if you look up the website listed on the front of the billboard, one of the first things you see is, “National Vanguard is White Families, and then it talks about how someday the Mexicans are going to outnumber the humans in this country, and things of that nature.

©Jake McGee – Kotori Magazine
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