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News ::
pro-war rallies (english)
26 Mar 2003
clear channel and pro-war rallies
we've known this for a while, but it is nice to see the New York Times finally starting to report some actual news - too bad it is in the "opinion" section.

Channels of Influence

March 25, 2003

By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven't drawn nearly
as many people as antiwar 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 Bush: a crowd gathered in Louisiana to
watch a 33,000-pound tractor smash a collection of Dixie
Chicks CD's, tapes and other paraphernalia. To those
familiar with 20th-century European 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 country have, however, been
organized by stations owned by Clear Channel
Communications, a behemoth based in San Antonio that
controls more than 1,200 stations and increasingly
dominates the airwaves.

The company claims that 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 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 nation.

Why would a media company insert itself into politics this
way? It could, of course, 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 ruling 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

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, whose name may be familiar to readers of this
column. When Mr. Bush was governor of Texas, Mr. Hicks was
chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management
Company, called Utimco, and Clear Channel's chairman, Lowry
Mays, was on its board. Under Mr. Hicks, Utimco placed much
of the university's endowment under the management of
companies with strong Republican Party or Bush family ties.
In 1998 Mr. Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers in a deal
that made Mr. 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?
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