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


          On the domestic front, President Bush is backing into a
     buzz saw.

           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
     in sight.

           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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