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The Dean of All Media
by Jonathan David Morris
10 December 2003Howard Dean, Metrosexual

Howard Dean's promise to use the FCC to protect democracy sounds less like democracy and more like social engineering.


I've got an idea: Let's regulate people's viewpoints.

No, wait. That wasn't my idea. That was Howard Dean's. My idea was to stop by ShopRite for eggnog. Sorry. Wrong Post-It Note.

But while we're on the subject, it appears the Thought Police union is, indeed, a Dean constituency now. At least that's the impression you'd get from his comments on a recent edition of Hardball. Pushed by Chris Matthews to answer whether he'd "break up [the Right-leaning] Fox," Dean -- who moments earlier noted that "11 companies... control 90 percent of what ordinary people are able to read and watch" -- said, "What I'm going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one."

Translation: "Who knows what I'll do? I'm crazy, Chris Matthews. Crazy like a Fox."

When Matthews remarked that such a policy is "not capitalism," Dean shot back that "the essence of capitalism… is you got to have some rules." Now, I'm not going to fault the man for believing in rules -- if, in fact, he believes in them -- but to say regulation is the essence of capitalism is flat-out wrong. You don't have to take my word for it, either. Look up "capitalism" and "mercantilism" in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. One's built on "strict governmental regulation of the entire national economy." One isn't.

And here's a hint: Capitalism isn't.

Eventually, the interview turned to matters of foreign policy, at which point Dean asserted, "The Soviet Union is supplying much of the equipment that Iran, I believe, most likely is using to set itself along the path of developing nuclear weapons." Which comes as quite the shock to those of us who remember the Soviet Union collapsing in 1991.

Now, obviously, this was an innocent tongue flub, and we all know he meant to say Russia. But rest assured, if Dean wore the GOP label, Al Franken would call it a "lie" and write a whole chapter about it.

Which brings me back to the issue of Fox and Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

When the name of Franken's current bestseller -- Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right -- was announced a few months back, Fox filed a suit to prevent the former SNL'er from using their "fair and balanced" catchphrase. It was a frivolous move -- fueled by Bill O'Reilly's personal feud with Franken more than anything else -- and the judge was right to rule against the network. But this wasn't exactly an isolated case of big media bullying the little guy. The Left's been pretty relentless in its efforts to topple Fox News.

Dean, for example, joked that he'd break up Fox "on ideological grounds," when pressed by Matthews. While it would be disingenuous to take an obvious joke seriously, his protectionist tendencies are real. In mid-November, for instance, he said he'd re-regulate utilities, telecommunications, and media companies, if elected (and if you compare this to Bush's steel and underoos tariffs, next November's a regular pick-your-poison picnic for those in favor of free trade).

But this is what politicians do. They use bogeymen to prove that we, the people, need protection -- and more importantly, to prove that we need them to tinker with our lives. The Left's obsession with the Fox News Channel is just the latest in a long line of similar such crusades. People act as if FNC has an ill-gotten, vice-like grip on the hearts and minds of average Americans. They also question the quote/unquote fairness of talk radio, which, like Fox, represents a reemergence of mainstream conservative thought. Thus, Al Gore can come along and start up an all-liberal cable network (as if MTV's chopped liver), while another group works on an all-liberal radio station anchored by Al Franken.

Pretty convenient, don't you think?

Fox may not be as balanced as it is fair, but it's worth noting one of the brightest leftwing stars is their own Alan Colmes. Colmes rants and raves a lot less than his conservative co-host, Sean Hannity, which is why his new book, Red, White, and Liberal, isn't selling quite like Hannity's or Franken's. Polemics sell and these men know it. Colmes knows it, too, but hasn't quite caved in.

Either way, though, these are the people -- the sensationalists -- who have commandeered the media. Some are conservatives (i.e., Ann Coulter). Some are liberals (i.e., Michael Moore). Still others are right-of-center libertarians (i.e., Who, me?). Contrary to leftist opinion, however, conservative outlets like Fox aren't exactly taking over. As Jonah Goldberg wrote a few weeks ago for National Review, "I don't see Harvard, Yale, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Hollywood, the Episcopal Church, or the Courts, getting demonstrably more conservative."

And, indeed, Fox News isn't beating CNN on account of some rightwing conspiracy. It's winning because CNN's shows stink, and because there's a market for conservative television that, to some degree, went untapped for a long time. But that's the beauty of capitalism. The markets are problem solvers.

As easy as it is to sell something people don't need, it's pretty much impossible to sell something they don't want. That's a problem for the gatekeepers. The free market of ideas isn't fun when you're sitting in the bargain bin.

Between Bernard Goldberg's Bias and Arrogance on the Right, and Franken's Lies and Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? on the Left, both factions spend an awful lot of energy blaming each other for "controlling" the media. It's enough to make you wonder whether either of them do. The way I figure, with 500 channels available on any given cable or satellite system, Anytown, U.S.A., is big enough for both parties' points of view. Competition is the true "essence of capitalism." What we ought to be concerned with isn't whether the Democrats or Republicans control the media, but rather the fact that they sound enough alike for it not to matter.

And I'm not going to tell you media consolidation isn't scary. It is, or at the very least can be. But Howard Dean's promise to use the FCC to protect democracy sounds less like democracy and more like social engineering (sort of like when Bush said, "There ought to be limits to freedom," in response to an online parody). So instead of regulation, here's a better idea: Abolish the FCC and get the government out of the news business. How can we have a vigorous and independent press when free speech itself costs millions in regulatory fees?

If you want to know why the rich keep getting richer, there's your answer. They're the only ones who can afford it.

The best the rest of us can do is start a Web site.

Jonathan David Morris is a political satirist based in New Jersey. His website is Read JDM
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