How big money controls the stories the media tells

Thom plus logo "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."
- Thomas Jefferson in 1786, to his close friend Dr. James Currie

In 1983, 90% of the American media landscape (including magazines, books, music, news feeds, newspapers, movies, radio, and television) was dominated by 50 conglomerates.

Just 36 years later in 2019, a mere five conglomerates dominated 90% of the media that Americans consume (Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom). Looking at terrestrial radio in particular, the radio network that airs Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity - iHeartMedia - owns 850 radio stations in 150 markets across the country.

After Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Supreme Court started using Bork's strict interpretation of antitrust, there was an explosion of acquisitions and mergers in every sector of the economy.

Thirteen years later, Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which led to an even more startling concentration of media in a very few hands by eliminating rules about the maximum number of media outlets a family or company could own. As a result, freedom of the press in America today is as much an economic issue as a political one.

In 2003, after Louise and I sold our last business in Atlanta and retired to rural Vermont, we drove to Michigan to visit family for Thanksgiving. All the way there, we searched the radio dial for an intelligent conversation to listen to, but city after city all we found was Sean Hannity at a Habitat for Humanity site (he called it "Hannity for Humanity"), telling us that "no liberal" was ever going to live in the house they were helping build.

It was a bizarre experience. Having worked in radio back in the '60s and '70s, I had some knowledge of the industry, so when we got home from Michigan, I wrote an article, "Talking Back to Talk Radio," about how liberal talk radio might succeed, if done right. Sheldon and Anita Drobny, a pair of progressive venture capitalists, read my article online, and as Sheldon noted in his book Road to Air America: Breaking the Right Wing Stranglehold on Our Nation's Airwaves (in which he reprinted the article), it became the template for a business plan for that ultimately ill-fated network.

But rather than wait the almost two years it took the Drobnys to launch Air America, Louise and I, with the help of a local radio guy and friend, Rama Schneider, looked around Vermont and found a station in Burlington that was willing to put us on the air. The slot was Saturday mornings at 10 a.m., right after the swap-and-shop, so many of our callers, instead of discussing politics, wanted to know, "Is that John Deere still available?"

Ed Asner was kind enough to come on as a guest, helping us make a tape that caught the interest of the i.e. America Radio Network, run out of Detroit by the United Automobile Workers. Suddenly, broadcasting from our living room in Montpelier, Vermont, in a studio I'd thrown together for a few hundred dollars mostly from parts bought on eBay, we were on the air nationally, including Sirius satellite radio, taking on Rush Limbaugh (and beating him in some markets) in the noon-to-3-p.m. slot to this day.

In 2004, when Air America was finally rolled out, it was successful for as long as it was in large part because its programs were carried by stations owned by what was then Clear Channel and is now iHeartMedia: we were on more than 50 Clear Channel stations in the nation's major markets.

Following a string of Democratic victories in cities and states where Clear Channel was carrying Air America shows, the company was purchased in a leveraged buyout by Mitt Romney's Bain Capital and Thomas Lee.

Around that time, Clear Channel began pulling Air America's progressive programming off the air, dramatically cutting Air America's audience and their advertising revenue. The new progressive network was soon bankrupt, and two years later so was Clear Channel (because of the debt load dumped on it by Romney's business model), then reincarnated as iHeartMedia.

Meanwhile, the right-wing media machine continues to elect Republicans with big funding from right-wing corporations and the billionaires who own them and fund right-wing think tanks. As Ken Vogel et al. pointed out in a 2011 article for Politico, "The Heritage Foundation pays about $2 million [a year] to sponsor Limbaugh's show and about $1.3 million to do the same with Hannity's - and considers it money well spent."

To the best of my knowledge, none of the talkers on the left have ever been funded in such a fashion. Small wonder that Hannity now owns a real estate empire worth tens of millions, and Limbaugh can brag of an eight-figure net worth or more. But more important, the influence of those two well-financed talkers has altered America's political landscape in less than three decades. What this shows is that the movers and shakers on the far right, the libertarian billionaires, understand the power of media (and took Lewis Powell's advice).

Those of great wealth who are aligned with the left in America, however, have always largely ignored media, probably because they grew up in an America with the Fairness Doctrine and before the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and they always just assumed that "the truth will eventually be known."

But investing in political media can produce a huge return on investment and transform the politics of the nation. That's certainly what Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch thought when they lost an average of $90 million a year for about five years before the Fox News Channel became profitable.



Richard Smith's picture
Richard Smith 3 years 40 weeks ago

I Just read your essay about your own history, as to talk radio, since 2003. AT&T is seeking to put up a 250' communications tower right next to my home in Naples Fl. On the small chance you might have time to read it, I attach a copy of my brief essay, called "Frangipani", Thanks, Richard


It’s somehow difficult for some folks, the first time they look at the word. All kinds of different sounds are mouthed, which would really require a different spelling: “FRING GUEE PAIN EYE”, “FRACK KEY PAR KNEE” is another, and countless more.

It's like when you first heard: “When the shit hits the fan”. It took you at least a little bit of time to wrap your mind around it, but once you did, you never forgot the image. It stood out like a sore thumb in your mind. It helps once you’re told it's a beautiful Hawaiian flower, very delicate and with an aroma so distant from what hits the fan, your whole life takes on new meaning.

It always is a wonder for those of us in our civic association, that if only folks pronounced it just like it's, spelled, “FRANGIPANI”, the sound of the word, like its aroma, is intoxicatingly pleasant and not at all harsh.

When in Naples, Florida, very few people visit FRANGIPANI Avenue. Those that do for the first time are not impressed. Many will experience a fan hitting feeling. For those of us who know FRANGIPANI Avenue, what we see as we look across its wide navigable canal, is raw evidence of its history. Here we are looking at a deep trench, or river, cut for miles out of Old Florida’s everglades. Across from us, on the other side of the river, is the world's largest publicly recorded and platted residential area.

FRANGIPANI Avenue is on the edge of what remains of those everglades. It is the north boundary of what Collier County officially named the “Urban Fringe”, a natural resource protection area stretching south to Alligator Alley. Twenty three sections of land, fourteen thousand seven hundred and twenty (14,720) acres. The platted residential area surrounds all this acreage, on all sides, except for Alligator Alley to the south.

Back to FRANGIPANI. Who named it? It is, after all, an official street name in the records of Collier County. It turns out the name was chosen by a then duly elected Collier County Commissioner who, with her family's help, built a gorgeous dome residence, designed by the late world recognized architect, Buckminster “ Bucky” Fuller. We call it “The Dome of the Glades”, established in 1971.

The Dome sits on thirty acres purchased 50 years ago by the current owners and has been in a protected area, which to this day, has remained pristine. Until the 21st century, The Dome was so remotely located few people even knew of its existence.

Today, that county commissioner is gone. A second county commissioner built his unique charming A-frame home within a football field's distance from The Dome. Thus not one, but two Collier County commissioners within yards from each other lived on FRANGIPANI Avenue.

Now, Collier County has apparently raised the white flag of defeat. They are abandoning the Urban Fringe. The County, until now, was so proud to tout “The Urban Fringe” as an innovative, affordable way for local government to ensure that our natural “Old Florida” remains intact, Where rare and endangered species and fauna not only survive, but thrive. Each year innumerable flocks of migrating birds fly in and out of this paradise. Indeed, with enough public will and local government insight, Collier County had, up until now, managed to ensure that while necessary well regulated and desired human habitat growth continues, sufficient areas, like the urban fringe, are recognized as natural resource protection areas. It is not too difficult to imagine that the 14,720 acres of land bordered to the north by Frangipani Avenue, would become a world recognized achievement of local government, displaying how nature and humans truly are not separate entities.

Should President Trump become aware of this challenge, he might well ensure that “the world's greatest, largest, most significant urban park” will be saved for generations to come.[our quotes] No place on Florida’s southeast coast, from Palm Beach to Miami Beach can make such a claim, not now or ever, but here we can. Central Park in New York City required some vision. Now it's our turn.

Back to the “white flag”. Within feet of FRANGIPANI Avenue, Collier County is now processing permit requests for the construction of a 250’ high tower to be used by the United States Federal Government as part of Homeland Security. Another similar tower, if allowed, would be built only one block away. If Collier County permits these towers, they will trigger a cancerous process, perhaps dooming our county to the fate Florida's development has imposed on the other end of Alligator Alley. While New York's Central Park is flanked by Trump Tower, that structure is not WITHIN its boundaries. Our towers, right in the center of the “receiving area”, evoke a sense of injustice and constitutionally questionable dual standard by the county in exercising its police powers.This is especially noticeable by imagining the placement of two such towers right in the center of Ave Maria, which, after all, is also a “receiving area”. As to the stated purpose of the towers, they likely are not even needed: see

With necessary federal help, we too can create a Central Park, perhaps to be named “Trump Park”. It would stand in sharp contrast to what may become known as “Trump Towers” should we fail. Mr. President, Mr. former Vice Pesident, we urgently need your help.

Thom, Collier county is 2/3 Republican, so I hope, by Nov. 3 we can peel

off a few with this Tower issue. Your fan,


whatabout's picture
whatabout 3 years 40 weeks ago

The source of the problems in democrat party run states and cities.

Growing numbers of district attorneys are out to undermine the law

"One reason for the surging, often protracted violence in US cities is the rise of a host of progressive prosecutors who actually tilt against law and order.

The trend is most glaring in places known for their kooky left-wing politics, like Portland and San Francisco, but extreme leftists have also taken over as district attorneys in cities like Chicago and Boston. Many owe big thanks for their elections to funding from far-left fatcat George Soros.

In Portland, violent “protests” have dragged on for months, thanks to the idiocy of Mayor Ted Wheeler, who let hoodlums drive him out of his own condo — but also to Multnomah County DA Mike Schmidt, who dropped charges against hundreds of people arrested for offenses like interfering with cops, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass and rioting. Schmidt also made it harder to prosecute assaults on cops."

A little history on San Francisco's top cop. If this doesn't tell you what is wrong with America...

Raised by radicals in Chicago, he’s about to become San Francisco’s new top prosecutor

After his parents went to prison for murder, Chesa Boudin was raised in Hyde Park by former Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

Legend 3 years 40 weeks ago

This is how Fox (so called) News covered the Bob Woodward book. Makes you realize how much people that watch Fox News are brainwashed.

Legend 3 years 40 weeks ago

whatabutt, Constant ranting about a minor issue is a sure sign of senility. They have a much larger issue in Oregon, that is Fires caused by climate change. 10% of the state population has had to evacuate their homes.

stopgap's picture
stopgap 3 years 40 weeks ago


Maybe its just me, but the evidence keeps piling up and up that Trump is not trying to control the virus. In fact, he’s doing everything possible to spread the virus and make it more and more catastrophic, and has since early January.

The Woodward tapes give credence to this. He knew the danger of Covid-19, but rather than taking action to contain and control the virus and keep it out of the country and minimize the danger, he has done just the

opposite, and is doing so even to this day.

Its not surprising that Trump would call those that go to war “suckers and losers.” That’s exactly what he thinks about his adoring lemming like supporters that he uses as pawns to attend his super spreading event, clan rallies. No doubt resulting in endangering themselves, guaranteeing eventual exposure to the virus ultimately spreading it to their friends and communities and insuring that the pandemic gets worse and worse, snowballing the turmoil and hardship the nation is reeling under.

After all, "what’s in it for them?" What is this Trumptopia? A shattered economy, high unemployment, moves to ending Social Security by eliminating the Payroll Tax, soaring eviction rates, polluted water and unbreathable air, crumbling infrastructure, working for lower wages, billionaire corporations that merge merge and merge snuffing out any would be competition, unaffordable healthcare, racial strife, pissing on the Constitution over and over, the end to fair elections, soaring deficits, running up debt used mostly to further line the pockets of himself and his billionaire cronies, making the US the laughing-stock of the world, an end to the great American democratic experiment, a leader totally incapable of truth, unbridled effects of climate change. All this apocalyptic insanity and infinitely more just so hid supporters can fly their bigot flag high and feel liberated to strut around with their AKs strapped to their shoulders and indulge themselves in their Hee-Haw basest hate fantasies at his shit-head rallies.

His supporters rail on and about how much they hate Big Government Socialism, yet they smugly charge headlong into an autocratic trap, ceding their right to free and fair elections, living at the mercy and whims of a single, irrational incompetent dictator…The Great All Knowing…All Powerful Trump. Do these shit-heads really think that Trump gives a flying fuck about them? Do they really think that four more years of Trump will magically reverse his disastrous, seat of the pants, fly by night policies that he rips out of his ass and foists on to the citizenry without even the slightest consideration of any possible down sides or negative effects that might result from them? His 2016 campaign statement “only I can fix it,” that alone should have automatically disqualified him with any rational thinking voter.

In fact, everything we see from the Trump administration is not to create an environment conducive to “Making America Great,” but unleashing total chaos and turmoil…and they are just getting warmed up for November.

So, what is the point of the Trump administration purposely doing everything they can to sabotage the Postal Service, exacerbate the worst pandemic of the modern era, foment racial strife, turn American against American and so…what is the end goal?

Imagine Trump, Barr, Steven Miller, realizing that Trump could never fairly be reelected and that they would likely end up in prison if Trump is not in the White House. After all, Trump actually lost the popular vote of the 2016 election and nothing has gotten better. Consider that Trump has never done anything to reach out to anyone other than his unwavering, goose-stepping base. Even though Trump has blown through a billion dollars of campaign money, he has only used that money to make his base angrier and angrier and to ramp up chaos and vitriol in an effort to solidify their animosity towards non Trumpers.

At this point I have no doubt that Trump could care less about the results of the election, no matter what. The October surprise will likely be declaring a NATIONAL EMERGENCY or whatever twisted excuse Bill Barr and his cronies can fathom to negate the results of the election and install Trump as the intermediary…wink wink…President for life, during the endless time of their self-imposed national unrest. Everything they are doing points to this direction and this conclusion!

Still, an over whelming turnout at the polls by Democrats and lovers of democracy is imperative to counter those that would consider abetting this treasonous administration. Our democracy is surly in the balance.

Legend 3 years 40 weeks ago

You forgot his desire to dismantle Social Security and the Healthcare System.

stopgap's picture
stopgap 3 years 40 weeks ago

I’m sure I’ll be ridiculed for saying this but it is time for the Biden campaign to lighten up on the political correctness and “man up” a bit. Forget about the fuckin’ issues for a while. Issues are how you keep the base. Biden has the base, now its time to get the the votes of those outside the base that are needed to win the election. Victory in a presidential election is not just about the base. It’s about Perception! Perception! Perception! And Trump is starting to win that war with the independent voters.

It’s time for Biden to stop being the “nice guy” and start being the “angry liberal.”

During the Kavanaugh hearings, Kavanaugh was losing the battle until they took a break. Sure enough, during the break he was told by his advisors, that if he didn’t go back out there and start acting angry as hell, he was gonna lose. As soon as I saw him walking back down the hall into the hearing room it was obvious to me that he had been coached to paste an angry scowl on his face and stomp back into the battle. His demeanor had immediately turned from polite to confrontational. That was all it took for him to win the hearing and then the nomination.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day and I fear that Trump, even though his remark about Latinos liking a tough guy was considered by some to be racist stereotyping, may have some credence. When I was in college in California, though this was over 40 years ago, during a Latin American Studies class my gringo essay was compared by the Latino professor to another Latino in the class on the same subject. The gist was, that Chicano was a culture rooted in “machismo” and mine was just purely white bread academic. Just saying this for whatever it’s worth.

I just heard Trump telling Latinos about how great he was for them and about how many jobs he got for them. Would it hurt for Biden to paste and angry scowl on his face stomp out in front of a camera and shout to the world that Trump is personally responsible for the massive unemployment in the Latin community and they have millions of fewer jobs than when he took office. That Trump came into office and rode the Obama economic train until he crashed it into the Covid-19 virus, that he downplayed and lied about.

That Trump is personally responsible for the high rate of Covid-19 in the Latin community!!!

Goddammit, get out there and make some noise!!! Perception! Perception! Perception!

Another thing. Trump may have a point about always wearing masks. If wearing masks is patriotic, at least get some masks that are red, white and blue with stars and stripes. Perception! Perception! Perception! You’re not fighting to win the votes of the base anymore. You’re fighting to win the votes of the independents!!! And at least drop the “if elected I will impose a mask mandate.” Telling independent voters that they will be forced to do something that they resent is Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Now, get out there and kick this corrupt, pig-faced, pathological lying blowhards stinking’ ass!! The future of the free world depends on it.

stopgap's picture
stopgap 3 years 40 weeks ago

Legend, Unaffordable healthcare and ending Social Security are in my #8 rant. Incidentally, I said this before, Whatabout is not a real person but probably computerised thinktank propaganda. You may notice that he never responds to any posts other than Thom's and then only the one time.

stopgap's picture
stopgap 3 years 40 weeks ago

One more thing that drives me crazy is when I hear Trump talking about forest management and clearing out all the old dead leaves and fallen trees. As insane as that is, it doesn’t bother me as much as of those that I hear rightfully criticizing Trump, I've yet to hear anyone of them point out that even if you could actually rake up all the forest floors and clear out all the dead brush, the forests would cease to be. They would likely all die off or cease to florish because the forests rely on all those fallen leaves and trees to decompose into compost and feed the new growth as well as the older trees. Without this process, forests would be gone. It’s not fucking rocket science. No food! No trees!

God almighty! How stupid are these idiots???

Legend 3 years 39 weeks ago

Remember last winter when Australia was burning. Now our west is burning. Maybe there is a link.

stopgap's picture
stopgap 3 years 39 weeks ago

Legend, Re: Caputo, Very, very, interesting! Sadly, not surprising.

vetinla's picture
vetinla 3 years 39 weeks ago

@#8; I hear ya', and totally agree. But, it's time to acknowledge the DNC doesn't play to win. With few exceptions, they serve the same crowd as COVID-45 (DJT).

Game, Set, Match!! Sad, but true......

Legend 3 years 39 weeks ago

You have a choice. 4 more years of Trump or supporting the Democratic Party in a positive way. Vote.

GregoryOusley's picture
GregoryOusley 3 years 14 weeks ago

Yep, want to hope so

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