After being away from Lake Stevens for a few weeks I tuned I tuned my radio to AM 1090 to pick up Thom Hartmann, a favorite talk show host. Alas, no Hartmann, just sports babble. I checked the frequency. Yup, it was 1090. Where had Hartmann gone?
So I checked the web. Not only was Hartmann gone from Seattle’s KPTK Radio 1090 but from Portland’s radio KPOJ and also WTDY of Madison Wisconsin and he also turned up missing in San Francisco and Bangor, Maine. It seems that progressive radio is being selectively shut down in areas where the last election tipped strongly toward Democratic candidates. Might these changes be due to random broadcast economics or could something else be at work?
So I did some checking. In each case, the stations involved were controlled by Clear Channel and its subsidiaries — the ones that feature Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. The Clear Channel name refers to Class-A ratings which means they enjoy maximum freedom from interference from other stations and nighttime atmospheric issues. Another characteristic is that Clear Channel invented Fox News.
This level of media control sounds so ... Italian! In Italy, four-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi owns half of Italy’s TV channels, most local stations, the biggest advertising and publicity agency, Italy’s top publishing house, the nation’s most popular news magazine, major newspapers, banks, insurance, cinema, video distribution and Italy’s best soccer club, AC Milan. With that clout, it wasn’t difficult for Berlusconi to promote himself into high office. He recently hinted that he might be aiming for a fifth election as Prime Minister.
With time and practice, Mitt Romney might do the same. His investment firm, Bain Capital owns Clear Channel and its subsidiary, CBS. Total holdings include 1,200 radio stations that dominate American markets from sea to shining sea. Clear Channel owns four stations in the greater Seattle area, including KPTK 1090 where Hartmann once held the 1:00 to 3:00 slot.
The fact that Boston-based Thomas Lee Partners Inc., also holds an interest in Clear Channel weakens my argument. That firm has a record of large contributions to Democratic candidates including Obama. Nevertheless, the patterned erosion of progressive radio can’t help but raise suspicions in conspiracy-theory nuts like me.
There was a time when government thought that owning two stations or newspapers in a single market was unhealthy. Such limitations were relaxed in the 1990s rush to de-regulate, opening the door for Clear Channel to control four radio stations in Seattle. Current limitations hold a broadcast empire to less than 39 percent coverage of the nation but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that shrewd distribution can make that 39 percent a telling influence on public opinion.
I make a point of listening to conservative broadcasters to know what the Right is trying to do and how they’re trying to do it. As a lapsed Republican, I appreciate certain of their arguments. Likewise, I like to listen to progressive radio to get a sense of where leftist policies might lead — but now that’s been made unavailable to me.
For those who have never tuned in to his show, Thom Hartmann is a psychotherapist, entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist who has a global grasp on not just politics and economics, but the pushes and pulls that move society. He is an interviewer who shows unfailing courtesy to his guests, no matter how strange their beliefs. Then he leaves it to us to form opinions. Hartmann is also an ordained Coptic priest.
Given FCC laws, or the lack of them, GOP strategists are making a smart move. They lost the last election by a large enough margin to call for a revised game plan. Since voting trends ride tides of public opinion, the GOP is directing its planners to paint the party’s agenda in more friendly colors. I expect that its strategists are doing whatever it takes to mute voices that poke holes in certain conservative arguments. Silencing Hartmann would help.
The GOP’s backroom boys found Mitt Romney licking his wounds. “Sure,’ he said. ‘What can I do?” Coincidentally, Romney’s firm, Bain Capital, owned Clear Channel, the nation’s most potent radio empire. Coincidentally, that empire moved to silence progressive programming across the map.
The GOP doesn’t like to lose. They had thought they had a full quiver, leaving little to chance. They were sure that gerrymandering of voting districts, purging rolls of qualified voters, shorting Democratic districts of voting machines, losing ballots, scare tactics, throwing millions from the Republican National Committee’s war chest at touchy local elections and, if necessary, backup from the Supreme Court, would win the day. But they lost, big time.
What took them down was that voters believed that Obama was the better choice. It is as simple as that, a matter of what voters believed. That being the case, the GOP’s mission is to make the public believe otherwise. Thom Hartmann and friends are in the way.
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