By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
While some groups such as Public Knowledge and Common Cause are concerned about the anti-competitive aspects of the proposed merger between Time Warner and Comcast, and how it will affect consumers, Accuracy in Media questions the impact this will have on news and information distributed to viewers. By putting Time Warner’s networks, CNN and HBO, under the control of Comcast, will it pull them even further to the left so that they come to resemble even more the outlook and agenda of MSNBC and NBC?
The two companies recently announced that they will be merging in an approximately $45 billion deal. “The merger will face regulatory review by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and probably the Department of Justice,” reports The Los Angeles Times. These reviews could take about a year. “The combined entity would control approximately 38 percent of the high-speed internet market, with 32 million customers,” reports the National Journal. “Consumers could face adverse effects including increased prices, slower data speeds, and more-limited programming offerings.”
Comcast, which owns NBC and MSNBC, has long since thrown in politically with the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. We have repeatedly demonstrated that MSNBC doesn’t Lean Forward, as their slogan claims. Instead, they Lean Left. Way left. MSBNC President Phil Griffin even went so far as to say that the news organization doesn’t have an ideology, just a “progressive sensibility” that guides their news-casting. When the far-left journalist Glenn Greenwald appeared on MSNBC and remarked that the people on this news channel “defend President Obama and his officials and Democratic Party leaders 24 hours a day,” substitute anchor Kristen Welker inadequately replied, “Not everyone on MSNBC does that 24 hours a day.” Granted, not 24 hours a day. They do show endless re-runs of crime and prison shows on weekends.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, the leftist editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, and a columnist for The Washington Post, opposes the deal. In a Post column, she cites the size of the new company, and the potential for anti-competitive practices hurting consumers. But she also cites marketplace-of-ideas concerns: “The protection of free speech under our Constitution depends on citizens having access to many ideas, many sources, many ways of getting ideas and information. Letting mega-corporations consolidate control of key parts of the media infrastructure is a direct threat to that access.”
Is the Obama administration likely to approve the Comcast/Time Warner deal, just as it did the Comcast/NBC Universal deal? The answer is probably yes, if it sees the merger as being favorable to how they will be covered and treated by the new conglomerate. And a lot of people connected to the administration will profit handsomely as they go back and forth between the revolving door.
Not long after Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal was approved by the FCC, Meredith Attwell Baker, “one of two Republicans on the five-member Federal Communications Commission” became “senior vice president of governmental affairs for NBC Universal,” reported The Washington Post back in 2011. “Comcast said it did not begin discussions with Baker about a possible job until after the transaction had closed,” reported the Post. Baker, an Obama appointee to the commission, had voted in favor of the merger, and then left after serving only two years out of a five-year term.
Comcast also apparently has lots of influential relationships with antitrust regulators. Lee Fang writes for the Republic Report that “The recently installed head of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, William Baer, was a lawyer representing GE and NBC in their push for the merger with Comcast.” And, “Maureen Ohlhausen, one of four commissioners on the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees antitrust enforcement, provided legal counsel for Comcast as an attorney just before joining the FTC.” Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Joshua Wright is connected as well. “According to his disclosure, obtained by Republic Report, Wright was on a [Charles River Associates] team that had been retained to secure ‘antitrust clearance from the DOJ and FCC’ for NBC Universal’s merger with Comcast,” writes Fang.
We also know that Brian Roberts of Comcast held a party for the Obamas at Martha’s Vineyard in August 2011. And Comcast continues to allow the current MSNBC line-up to exist, and be mingled with NBC News, to create the propaganda arm of the Obama administration and the DNC. Now, add to that Time Warner, home to shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, a show devoted to vile bashing of all things conservative and Republican. Maher, a media fat-cat, bought access to Obama with a million dollar donation to a SuperPac in 2012, something he regularly brags about.
Turning over CNN to the same people who own and run NBC/MSNBC will be a fascinating experiment. CNN is now run by former NBC executive Jeff Zucker, who has been openly moving the network toward infotainment, and away from hard news. The three networks—one broadcast (NBC) and two cable news networks, which are in constant competition to be runner-up in ratings to Fox News—would have the same corporate owner, and their combined weight and influence could easily sway elections. All three are in the tank for Obama and the Democrats, so this should be viewed as if it were a SuperPac. If the past is a good indicator, this new conglomerate would certainly continue to ignore the many Obama administration scandals.
Surprisingly, Katrina vanden Heuvel also cites the coziness between the Obama administration and Comcast, and all that implies: “[Comcast’s] chief executive, Brian Roberts, has golfed with President Obama on Martha’s Vineyard. Its chief lobbyist, David L. Cohen, raised $1.2 million for the president in a Philadelphia fundraiser in 2011.” He has also been a major bundler for Obama.
In addition, the recently confirmed FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, was the chief lobbyist for the cable industry before moving on to his new position. By the way, Comcast paid out $18 million to lobbyists in 2013 alone.
Currently, CNN does offer some diversity, in terms of news points of view, at least by comparison to MSNBC. If the content, particularly of CNN, starts to resemble even more the agenda driven, left-wing NBC/MSNBC conglomeration, the real losers will be the consumers of news. In that regard, this merger is a threat to the purpose of news networks: to provide unbiased information so that people have enough information to make informed decisions, and to fairly represent two or more sides of an issue, rather than be in the service of one particular political party’s agenda.
On the other side of the issue, Bloomberg Businessweek offers up a spirited defense of the merger, citing the claim that the two companies don’t compete for customers in any market, and that the economy of scale will better afford the new company—and the cable industry—a chance to thrive: “More important,” they argue, “both companies are limping along, victims of big changes in the television industry that may make them irrelevant within a decade.”
In the end, this is more about liberal fat-cats making a bundle of money and peddling influence—while the liberal media come together and cozy up under the same roof—than it is about free markets, anti-trust and competition.