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How Clear Channel Communications is bringing the United States dangerously close to state-controlled media
Original artwork by Amy Staats
On November 16, 2006, Clear Channel Communications announced their sale to the investment partnership of Boston-based Bain Capital Partners, LLC and Thomas H. Lee Partners, LP. The deal bought Clear Channel and all its assets for $26.7 billion, which included hoisting the media glutton from their $8 billion of net debt. This transaction upped the stakes of corporate-sponsored media consolidation in the United States, and brought us closer than ever to the nightmare of state-controlled media.
As for Clear Channel's Mays family, they're still sitting pretty and shall remain in place at the helm of their companies. Going from a publicly traded stock to a privately owned conglomerate, they have less people to answer to while they tighten up their lucrative function as an advertising medium at the cost of artistic expression. It's business as usual for the monsters of media...but this recent transaction lumps them in a crowd bigger and more dangerous than Clear Channel could ever dream of being alone.
Thomas H. Lee Partners is a major political contributor, donating millions of dollars mainly to the Democratic Party. Dogmatic liberals might see this as a good thing, but it all goes back to the rich paying their way into control of this country.
While they're sucking it up with the Democrats, they also own stakes in: Warner Music Company (along with Bain), the world's fourth largest music company; Univision Communications, the leading Spanish-language media company in the U.S., with television, radio, internet and music divisions; and VNU, a global information and media company, which includes the leading market research firm (AC Nielsen), and 140 periodicals, including Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. This is just a taste of their booty.
As for Bain Capital Partners, well...they were formed by a nice Mormon lad named Mitt Romney in 1984. Romney, who by all accounts has a lovely singing voice, was recently the governor of Massachusetts, until he jumped into the running for presidency in 2008. He is a staunchly conservative Republican, who advocates building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep those filthy foreigners out. Unfortunately for ole' Romney, the Boston Globe recently pointed out that he employs illegal aliens to tend the grounds at his 2.5 acre spread in Belmont.
Romney left Bain in 1999, but as the company's founder he still has a strong influence. The Bain crew has done well for themselves through the years, for in addition to Warner Music, they've bought AMC Entertainment (the #2 movie theater chain in the U.S.), Texas Instruments, and Domino's Pizza. Again, these are just a few companies purchased by Bain Partners.
All three companies have been accused of illegally conspiring to hold down the prices they pay when taking companies private. On November 15, 2006, Bloomberg reported of a lawsuit filed against the companies in a Manhattan federal court, which alleges "the firms broke antitrust laws by forming 'clubs' to make offers, sharing information and agreeing not to outbid each other."
The same article added that all three companies are also under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for antitrust behavior. "They've also come under fire in Europe and the U.S. for burying the companies they buy in debt while recouping their costs with dividends."
With any luck, this will mean that the Mays boys will take it in the ass hard, with no Vaseline.
Until then, the web gets stickier. Bain & Thomas are both bidding for purchase of Tribune Co., the nation's #3 newspaper publisher in circulation (and #2 in revenue). Tribune Co. includes Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, eight other dailies, 25 television stations, a radio station, some internet operations, and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
If all goes according to plan, one relatively small group of crooked people, some of which are politicians (at least one of whom is working to be President), will control the majority of radio stations, live entertainment venues and billboards in the U.S., Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, AC Nielsen and Univision, among a vast lot of other prominent forms of media. It's not too much of a stretch to see how this is a bad thing. Sure, there are laws in effect to prevent this kind of thing, but the reality is that while we have built-in checks to government control in this country, there is very little restriction to corporate control. Furthermore, the boundaries that are in place are easily bypassed or manipulated with the right twisting of legal structure, and more importantly the right amount of money.
What this is leading to is a vicious homogenization of media, specifically music but undoubtedly all forms of art that hope to reach out to the masses. For example, in order to make the most of their investments, it would make fiscal sense to help out Warner Music by giving them first dibs on radio time, promotion, concert slates, etc. Plus, with Clear Channel running that part of the game, they will continue to "encourage" record labels to produce the most shallow, radio-friendly music in order to reap the largest gains.
As the great philosopher Shlomo Sher said in an interview with 3am Magazine in 2003, this industry creates "products that have mass-appeal in the sense of saying so little that there's not much to be able to say against them. It's pretty packaging, but without a lot of content and a lot of character, it's hard to find reasons to reject them. Therefore, it's easy to promote them. And what you get out of it is a packaged society, with not much inside, because it's the package being sold, not the content."
It is dangerously blind to assume that Clear Channel won't continue to sanitize the media landscape for their own gains, and now that they're part of a more powerful group, they will find more dominant ways to suck up to the Powers That Be, so in turn they can make more and more money.
On December 13, 2006, the Associated Press wrote about Clear Channel shutting down a progressive talk radio station in Madison, Wisconsin, with plans to replace it with Fox Sports Radio. The station- 92.1 FM, WXXM (aka The Mic)- mixed nationally known talkers (such as some from Air America) with local hosts. WXXM earned the second highest ratings in Madison for news talk according to Arbitron, and was one of Air America's highest-rated affiliates in the country, said Terry Kelly, a Madison businessman and investor in Air America Radio.
Nevertheless, Clear Channel switched the format, primarily because of the CONTENT. Jeff Tyler, Clear Channel's market manager in Madison, bluntly admitted The Mic made some advertisers uneasy. "There are many advertisers, local and national, who have been at conflict with the programming or stay away from controversial programming," he said.
As Clear Channel moves into the next stage of their domination, they are now just a part of a larger imperial fleet. They have already made a business of watering down all the forms of expression they handle, to not only provide pretty packaging that's hard to contest, but also to support those politicians they work hand-in-hand with, who in turn allow Clear Channel to dominate more of the landscape. Not only do they now have more money and politicians on their side, but they are in fact owned by as much. The likes of Mitt Romney won't find it hard to figure out how to exploit that, and this is what has opened the door to state-controlled media.
The rich will always get richer, but by shutting the general public out of access to the media, they empower a means of suppression that disables people from exposing the ills of a society. Minimizing dissention enables them to make more money at the cost of social progression, because those they drain have no way to effectively speak out. As this cycle continues, the poor grow more and more complacent whilst their hope diminishes in the whirlwind of greed.