! Senate vs. FCC—Fight!
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 V.17 No.19 | May 8 - 14, 2008 

Thin Line

Senate vs. FCC—Fight!

A Senate committee is making the first steps to do battle with the Federal Communications Commission's decision to relax media ownership regulations. The commission voted in late December to lift the rules that banned the same company from owning newspapers and TV stations in the top 20 markets. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was accused of rushing the vote on lifting the cross-ownership rules.

A resolution sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota passed the Senate Commerce Committee and is the beginning of a process that could overrule the FCC decision. Dorgan says he's got the votes to get this measure through the Senate and House. There is not yet a date scheduled for the bill, but it should be added to the calendar soon, he said.

The Senate committee also passed bills that would devote $65 million to help low-power TV stations switch over to digital.

It's not yet clear whether President Bush will veto the measures should they make it through Congress. The FCC decision to weaken the ownership regulations was a nicely wrapped present to Bush after all. It's great to see someone in Congress stand up for variety in our media-drenched society. More media options mean more information and more decision-making power in the hands of the people.

Journalists Shouldn't Sleep with Politicians

The story's three decades old but was first aired on “Oprah” last week. Barbara Walters’ memoir reveals she had an affair with married Sen. Edward Brooke. And neither of them said anything about it, because it would have "ruined" them—as well it should have.

This is not a moral issue. Who cares if Brooke was married? Who cares what public personalities do out of their underpants? Most of the time, I don't. But there's a clear conflict of interest here. At the time, Walters was a co-host of NBC's "Today" show. Why haven’t any members of the press asked Walters if she got tips from Brooke, or if she was covering issues Brooke was involved in while sleeping with him? Truly, that's the only reason this matters.

Maybe it's hopelessly naive of me to put forth an opinion on this. And the rule is such a fundamental one, why even bother defending it? Because each time this happens, it's normalized a little in the eyes of the public—a public that trusts media less and less.

Letting the cat out of the bag will likely help Walters sell books. Every couple of years there's some scandal involving a member of the media jumping in the sack with a politician. In some cases, it's someone he or she is covering. We shouldn't just accept that this kind of thing is likely to happen. The basic rules of journalism demand independence and clear-mindedness—the kind that flies out the window when you're half of the beast with two backs.

 
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