WS>>Bush can reholster his media veto gun
carl william spitzer iv
cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Wed Nov 5 18:01:29 MST 2003
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
On the domestic front, President Bush is backing into a
The sleeper issue is media giantism. People are begin-
ning to grasp and resent the attempt by the Federal Communi-
cations Commission to allow the Four Horsemen of Big Media
-- Viacom (CBS, UPN), Disney (ABC), Murdoch's News Corp.
(Fox) and GE (NBC) -- to gobble up every independent station
Couch potatoes throughout the land see plenty wrong in
concentrating the power to produce the content we see and
hear in the same hands that transmit those broadcasts. This
is especially true when the same Four Horsemen own many
satellite and cable providers and already influence key
sites on the Internet.
Reflecting that widespread worry, the Senate Commerce
Committee voted last month to send to the floor Ted Stevens'
bill rolling back the FCC's anything-goes ruling. It would
reinstate current limits and also deny newspaper chains the
domination of local TV and radio.
The Four Horsemen were confident they could get Bush
to suppress a similar revolt in the House, where GOP disci-
pline is stricter. When liberals and conservatives of both
parties in the House surprised them by passing a rollback
amendment to an Appropriations Committee bill, the Bush
administration issued what bureaucrats call a SAP -- a
written Statement of Administration Policy.
It was the sappiest SAP of the Bush era. "If this
amendment were contained in the final legislation presented
to the president," warned the administration letter, "his
senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."
The SAP was signed by the brand-new director of the
Office of Management and Budget, Joshua Bolten, but the hand
was the hand of Stephen Friedman, the former investment
banker now heading the president's National Economic Coun-
Reached late Wednesday, Friedman forthrightly made his
case that the FCC was an independent agency that had fol-
lowed the rules laid down by the courts. He told me that
Bush's senior advisers had focused on the question "Can you
eliminate excessive regulation and have diversity and compe-
tition?" and found the answer to be yes. He added with
candor: "The politics I'm still getting an education on."
The Bush veto threat would deny funding to the Com-
merce, State and Justice departments, not to mention the
federal judiciary. It would discombobulate Congress and
disserve the public for months.
And to what end? To turn what we used to call "public
airwaves" into private fiefs, to undermine diversity of
opinion and -- in its anti-federalist homogenization of our
varied culture -- to sweep aside local interests and commun-
ity standards of taste.
This would be Bush's first veto. Is this the misbegot-
ten principle on which he wants to take a stand? At one of
the White House meetings that decided on the SAP approach,
someone delicately suggested that such a veto of the giants'
power grab might pose "a communications issue" for the
president (no play on words intended). Friedman blew that
objection away. The SAP threat was delivered.
In the House this week, allies of the Four Horsemen
distributed a point sheet drawn from Viacom and Murdoch
arguments and asked colleagues to sign a cover letter read-
ing, "The undersigned members ... will vote to sustain a
presidential veto of legislation overturning or delaying ...
the decision of the FCC ... regarding media ownership."
But they couldn't obtain the signatures of anywhere
near one-third of the House members -- the portion needed to
stop an override. On Wednesday afternoon, the comprehensive
bill -- including an FCC rollback -- passed by a vote of
If Bush wishes to carry out the veto threat, he'll
pick up a bunch of diehards (now called "dead-enders"), but
he will risk suffering an unnecessary humiliation.
What next? Much depends on who is chosen to go into
the Senate-House conference. If the White House can't stop
the rollback there, will Bush carry out the ill-considered
Sometimes you put the veto gun back in the holster.
The way out: A president can always decide to turn down the
recommendation of his senior advisers.
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