Clear Channel's pro-war rallies
are good ways to butter up the Bush administration
by Ana Marie Cox
In These Times magazine,
There was a time you could safely assume
that anyone calling skeptical coverage of the war in Iraq "un-American"
was probably also speed-dialing Rush Limbaugh. Now it seems that
calling skeptical coverage of the war "un-American"
is probably correct, if only in the most literal sense. With the
American press largely distracted or enraptured with the spectacle
of combat, the duty of examining the motives behind the war has
fallen to the world's other media outlets.
The audience for these un-American stories
is becoming more and more American. In the past month, foreign
news Web sites have seen large volumes of traffic from computers
in the United States. Wired reported that almost half of the visitors
to the Guardian Web site were Americans. Americans have also been
flocking to Arab news sources, particularly the Qatar-based news
channel Al Jazeera. The channel reaches 150,000 households in
the United States via satellite, but their Web site reaches anyone
with a modem. During the first week of the war, "Al Jazeera"
rounded out the top three terms searched for on Google.com (along
with "CNN" and "Iraq.").
This trend has been building steadily
since the New Year, but the war has brought it to new heights.
A media metric called "Blogdex," developed by MlT's
Media Lab, ranks Web sites by the number of independent-and mostly
American-Web diarists, or "bloggers," linking to them.
It's a fairly reliable indication of what people on the Internet
are reading. Since the war began, almost every other site has
been a foreign news source.
What kind of stories have the bloggers
pointed to? The Financial Times reporting on the invasion of Umm
Qsar, "a small but politically significant battle that has
become an embarrassment for the invasion force." And the
BBC reporting on a British jet downed by a "friendly fire"
Patriot missile. One doesn't have to rely on professional news
sources to hear about Iraq, either: "Salam Pax" (http://dear_raed.blogspot.com/)
blogs from Baghdad itself.
It's heartening to find that Americans
in large numbers thirst for alternatives to the narrow spectrum
presented by our native news outlets. It's even more heartening
to discover that these alternatives exist. Want to read an A-section
article about who supplied Iraq with its arsenal of weapons? Canada's
Globe and Mail will have your answer (the United States, of course).
What about an investigation that builds upon Seymour Hersh's reporting
on the individuals likely to make a profit off the war? The Guardian
linked Bush hawk Richard Perle to a software company selling terror
The relative tenacity of the foreign press
was clear, of course, before the war began. The Globe and Mail
broke the story regarding the falsified documents used in Colin
Powell's U.N. testimony on the Iraqi regime's alleged bid to purchase
nuclear materials from Niger. The Guardian took the lead in following
up on allegations that the United States had bugged offices of
several E.U. delegations to the United Nations. (There's a special
irony here, since the U.S. press largely reported without comment
President Bush's citation of Iraqi surveillance of U.N. inspectors
as an 11th-hour casus belli.)
The mere existence of these articles illustrates
that the true story of this war continues to be choreographed
as much in the boardrooms and the backrooms as it is on the battlefield.
The American press in Iraq enjoys unprecedented access to military
personnel and actual battles, and can't stop crowing about it.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer continues to stonewall inquiries
into the president's own views and opinions on the war, and gently
chides his flock in the West Wing that "the best place to
go get operational information about the war is not from the White
House." Only in America would this disavowal of executive
involvement in national defense be a comfort.
The Internet's audience can hardly be
said to be represent the nation as a whole. Yet increased interest
in foreign coverage of domestic matters sparks some hope that
the Chicago investors intent on starting a liberal radio news
network have an audience waiting for them. Whether the network
will succeed in reaching that audience is another matter.
Radio has the most concentrated ownership
of all broadcast media: Just four companies take in 90 percent
of all ad revenue. The largest company, Clear Channel, owns more
than 1,200 stations, takes in 20 percent of all radio advertising
dollars, and every day reaches 54 percent of all people in the
United States ages 18 to 49. This is hardly, as one of the Chicago
backers put it, a "hole in the market you could drive a truck
Clear Channel maintains its stranglehold
on the American market in large part due to the willful deregulatory
campaign waged by FCC Chairman Michael Powell. For Clear Channel,
the corporation behind Rush Limbaugh, the series of "support
our troops" rallies it sponsored across the country might
have just been a way of saying "thank you" to the administration
that has helped them so much. Then again, it might be just more
buttering up. Regulations on media ownership are under review
this year, and ginning up support for the administration's war
is a good way to sweeten the $100,000 the company donated to Republican
candidates in 2002.
Speakers at the Clear Channel rallies
have a word for people who make such speculations. At a rally
in Richmond, Virginia, Rep. Steve King (R-lowa) called them "un-American."
Media's Threat to Democracy