Common folks displayed the virile potency of public opinion at the meeting. Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now!" declared Americans would no longer tolerate being the "silenced majority."
Despite desperate efforts by Big Media to hide what's happening and to asphyxiate debate, The People thronged the hearing, which was cobbled together by Creative Loafing, WRFG 89.3 FM and a ragtag band of citizens and media activists. Doctors and professors, lawyers and little old ladies in sneakers, mechanics and unemployed workers. Students, laborers and a gent from "old Europe" who said that continent was sadly watching as American democracy hit the rocks. A 17-year-old girl from the inner city came because "I had to do something" to voice opposition to the awful media climate in America.
Adam Shapiro, a blind journalist with WRFG, managed to find his way to the meeting. But all of the WSB/WAGA/WXIA/WGCL blow-dry guys and perky blondes were missing in action, reflecting their self-imposed blindness to the anger of citizens at the media. And none of the suited factotums who are thralls of Atlanta's wealthiest potentate, Coxopoly billionairess Ann Chambers Cox, could be found. Rub shoulders with the icky masses? Be real.
Oh, there was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, trying to be inconspicuous in the crowd. But no story the next day in the daily newspaper, no attempt to take advantage of the opportunity to grill two heavy-hitting Washington officials, or even to introduce herself. (See AJC defense below.)
Big Media was limp, impotent, afraid to thrust itself into a debate in which the conglomerates are using stealth manipulation to create monopolies that will pocket billions by raping democracy's handmaiden, open and free communication. The public, which, incidentally, owns the airwaves, isn't invited to the orgy. Although denied a traveling budget by Bushite FCC Chairman Michael Powell, the two Democratic commissioners came to Atlanta and fired up the audience.
"This is the most important domestic policy decision facing the nation," said Commissioner Michael Copps. Noting the unbreakable link between media and democracy, he asked: "Who is going to control the media?"
His colleague, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein told the cheering crowd: "Most people have no idea what's going to happen." Why the public ignorance? Adelstein answered with a question: "Where are the TV stations from Atlanta?" They weren't there, of course. Throughout the nation, Big Media has slammed the door on information about a scheduled June 2 FCC meeting at which almost all restraints on media consolidation will be lifted.
"The company that owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not on the same side as the people," Adelstein said. "Their job is to let people know what's happening. If they don't, that's a warning that we'd better watch out."
The commissioners stunned the audience with the revelation that FCC Chairman Powell (Colin's son) had demanded they keep secret the final 250-page package of media giveaways. Ignorance is strength in Bush's regime.
Decrying the press' cowardly coverage of social ills and the Iraq war, Cobb County NOW President Vicki Pierce said: "Just imagine how bad it's going to be if Powell gets his way."
The afternoon following the "we're the people and we're damn sure going to be heard" meeting at Emory, I got a call from a tres miffed Hank Klibanoff, managing editor of that aforementioned Daily Newspaper of Dramatically Declining Circulation.
I've been trying to get some comment from the Cox-ers for weeks. Silence. So, I baited the field with a message to Supreme Editor Julia Wallace about some nasty tidbits her own staff had sent to me. Klibanoff bit.
My points in recent columns have been that the AJC hasn't reported on the FCC deregulation. Considering the Coxopoly's daunting dominance of the city's media, it has had a professional and ethical obligation to do so. Compounding the offense has been the total blackout of information regarding Cox's own self-interest in the FCC deregulation.
Cox and other big newspaper publishers want to own TV stations in their cities. Or, as in Atlanta, where Cox was granted an exemption to the 1975 "cross-ownership" ban to control WSB-TV, it longs to gobble up several more stations. Aren't you thrilled at the thought of Ann Cox Chambers dictating what you read, what you see on Channel 2, what you view when you turn to, say, Channel 11 and Channel 46, maybe some other channels, and what you hear on six, eight, 16 or more radio stations? And let's not forget that they intend to dominate the local Internet, and they'd sure as hell like to put Creative Loafing out of business.
Well, Klibanoff contended that this curious lack of news (on a matter worth billions to his employer) was a simple oversight. He was shocked, shocked I say, at any suggestion of premeditation. No, the AJC reporter didn't write a story, Klibanoff conceded, but he assured me she will. And she probably will -- now that CL and many hundreds of citizens have been denouncing for weeks the AJC's betrayal of the public trust and corruption of journalism ethics. Adelstein even took the unusual step of calling the AJC editors to lambaste them for their lack of coverage.
I asked Klibanoff, isn't it really too late? The FCC has all but stopped taking public comments. The debate is all but over. "Do I wish we had covered the story two months ago?" Klibanoff said. "Yes I do."
He added: "There's no conspiracy."
What the editor tried to get me to agree to do was not to run Adelstein's scorching comments about Cox. Since, Klibanoff said, the AJC was going to run a story, clearly Adelstein was wrong.
Not quite. The AJC obviously knew about the FCC hearing; it had a reporter there. But it did nothing to alert readers to the meeting. Ditto with WSB. Cox didn't want you to get the unfiltered truth. Moreover, the AJC and WSB have known for months about the looming FCC decision -- and they chose to keep the lid on the story and Cox's planned grab at windfall billions.
On a national scale, if there wasn't so much media consolidation, we'd be having more debates about media consolidation. And if there's more consolidation, we'll have even less debate than we're having now. Cox is merely marching in lockstep with the rest of the monopolists.
Adelstein told me he has been pressured by Cox lobbyists, and he told the crowd at Emory: "Entrenched media lobbyists are very powerful." Do you really think Coxopoly is going to clue us in on their lobbyists' smoky-room deals in Washington?
Klibanoff seems like an honorable guy, but he isn't sufficiently high on the food chain to know about the "conspiracy." And the conspiracy is probably more of a tacit understanding among the media Mafia dons, who give each other that look and a slight nod. Truth sleeps with the fishes.
Despite Klibanoff's protestations, the conspiracy is real. Big Media hasn't reported this story, and the uniformity of that blackout is pretty good proof of collusion. I'm sure there will be many last-minute, "see, we're reporting it" stories by Big Media -- long after the public's chance to react has passed.
As Commissioner Copps told me: "That people even found out about these meetings" -- the dozen or so citizen-inspired public hearings across the nation -- "is a miracle. People have told me they got the news by watching BBC, not the American media."
So, as Adelstein says, "We'd better watch out."
More than 150 members of Congress -- from both parties -- have asked the FCC to delay its decision on deregulation and to reveal Powell's secret proposals. About 160,000 people -- an unprecedented number in FCC history -- have bombarded the agency, and the numbers are running 99 percent against deregulation.
For more information on the specific proposals and how you can still make your voice heard:
Senior Editor John Sugg says: "I was damn proud to be a speaker at the FCC hearing, and even prouder that Creative Loafing got a standing ovation. And I wasn't at all surprised that when I asked 500 people if they thought the AJC was a great paper, only one person raised a hand." You can reach Sugg at 404-614-1241 or at email@example.com.
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