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[casi] Behind pro-war protests, a company with ties to Bush



New York Times

Paul Krugman: Behind pro-war protests, a company with ties to Bush

Paul Krugman
Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Channels of influence

NEW YORK By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven't drawn nearly as many
people as anti-war rallies, but they have certainly been vehement.

One of the most striking took place after Natalie Maines, lead singer for
the Dixie Chicks, criticized President George W. Bush: A crowd gathered in
Louisiana to watch a tractor smash Dixie Chicks CDs, tapes and other
paraphernalia. To those familiar with 20th-century history it seemed eerily
reminiscent of ... But as Sinclair Lewis said, it can't happen here.

Who has been organizing those pro-war rallies? The answer, it turns out, is
that they are being promoted by key players in the radio industry - with
close links to the Bush administration.

The CD-smashing rally was organized by KRMD, part of Cumulus Media, a radio
chain that has banned the Dixie Chicks from its playlists. Most of the
pro-war demonstrations around the United States have, however, been
organized by stations owned by Clear Channel Communications, a behemoth
based in Texas that controls more than 1,200 stations and increasingly
dominates the airwaves.

The company says the demonstrations, which go under the name Rally for
America, reflect the initiative of individual stations. But this is
unlikely: According to Eric Boehlert, who has written revelatory articles
about Clear Channel in the online magazine Salon, the company is
notorious - and widely hated - for its iron-fisted centralized control.

Until now, complaints about Clear Channel have focused on its business
practices. Critics say it uses its power to squeeze recording companies and
artists and contributes to the growing blandness of broadcast music. But
now the company appears to be using its clout to help one side in a
political dispute that deeply divides the United States.

Why would a media company insert itself into politics this way? It could
simply be a matter of personal conviction on the part of management. But
there are also good reasons for Clear Channel - which became a giant only
in the last few years, after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed
many restrictions on media ownership - to curry favor with the governing
party.

On one side, Clear Channel is feeling some heat: It is being sued over
allegations that it threatens to curtail the airplay of artists who don't
tour with its concert division, and there are even some politicians who
want to roll back the deregulation that made the company's growth possible.
On the other side, the Federal Communications Commission is considering
further deregulation that would allow Clear Channel to expand even further,
particularly into television.

Or perhaps the quid pro quo is more narrowly focused. Experienced
Bushologists let out a collective "Aha!" when Clear Channel was revealed to
be behind the pro-war rallies, because the company's top management has a
history with George W. Bush. The vice chairman of Clear Channel is Tom
Hicks. When Bush was governor of Texas, Hicks was chairman of the
University of Texas Investment Management Co., called Utimco, and Clear
Channel's chairman, Lowry Mays, was on its board. Under Hicks, Utimco
placed much of the university's endowment under the management of companies
with strong Republican Party or Bush family ties. In 1998 Hicks purchased
the Texas Rangers in a deal that made Bush a multimillionaire.

There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear, but a
good guess is that we're now seeing the next stage in the evolution of a
new American oligarchy. As Jonathan Chait has written in The New Republic,
in the Bush administration "government and business have melded into one
big 'us.'" On almost every aspect of domestic policy, business interests
rule: "Scores of midlevel appointees  now oversee industries for which
they once worked." We should have realized that this is a two-way street:
If politicians are busy doing favors for businesses that support them, why
shouldn't we expect businesses to reciprocate by doing favors for those
politicians - by, for example, organizing "grass roots" rallies on their
behalf?

What makes it all possible, of course, is the absence of effective
watchdogs. In the Clinton years the merest hint of impropriety quickly blew
up into a huge scandal; these days, the scandalmongers are more likely to
go after journalists who raise questions. Anyway, don't you know there's a
war on?

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com




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