Dover Bitch

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The McCain Media Conundrum

Jane Hamsher at her excellent blog, firedoglake, has issued a blog challenge -- to paint an accurate picture of John McCain, a mission the traditional media has already demostrated a propensity for avoiding.

At the risk of amplifying the McCain lovefest, DB has decided to show some examples of McCain at what this blogger feels is his finest. Why, for the love of God? Well, because DB is curious about the "McCain Media Conundrum."

Half of the MMC is no secret -- the media loves McCain.

The other half of the MMC, however, has eluded most casual observers. McCain has been one of the few Senators to openly criticize the broadcasting lobby. Readers may remember that this was one of the few blogs that tried to figure out why our government was content with an F grade from the 9/11 Commission when it came to communications and equipment for our first responders. Consistently, research revealed that Senator Ted Stevens and Congressman Joe Barton played big roles in prioritizing business interests over national security interests. But in this particular battle, McCain fought more vigorously for an immediate upgrade to our communications systems than any other national figure.

DB is not a big fan of McCain, but an honest blogger must give props where they are due. Senator McCain was fighting a good fight.

But that leaves the conundrum. Why does an industry shower one of its only powerful critics with affection? It will take a smarter blogger to figure that one out. DB is just putting the MMC out on the table.

Here are some examples, DB dug up while researching the DTV transition (all emphasis mine):

Example 1: McCain on the Senate floor, Nov. 2, 2005

During a hearing held just last year by the Senate Commerce Committee, then-chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, predicted it could be even ``multiple decades'' before the turnover of spectrum to first responders under existing law. That provision, which required 85 percent of homes to be available for high-definition television, would have effectively prevented the analog spectrum from ever being returned, and that provision was never run through the Commerce Committee that I was chairman of at the time. It was never debated or discussed. It was snuck into a bill by individuals at the request of the National Association of Broadcasters . It could have been no one else. That is a terrible way to do business. Unfortunately, more and more we are doing business by adding little lines into appropriations bills which never see the light of day.

I am sick and tired of it, and the American people are sick and tired of it. We are sick and tired of all the earmarks, and we are sick and tired of the billions of dollars of pork-barrel spending that occurs. We are sick and tired of mortgaging our children's futures.

I am, most of all, sick and tired that the National Association of Broadcasters is able to prevent this transition from taking place at the risk of American lives, our bravest Americans, our first responders.

Example 2: Senator calls for quicker digital TV transition

McCain complained that Congress has too often sided with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in the DTV debate. NAB has until recently opposed a DTV transition deadline. Under current law, broadcasters are required to give up their analog spectrum by the end of 2006, but only in television markets where 85 percent of homes can receive digital signals.

In December 1997, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted to reallocate some frequencies in the band for TV channels 60-69 to public safety and new commercial uses, in exchange for the digital spectrum TV stations received. Most television markets would never reach the 85 percent digital threshold now in law without a hard DTV deadline, say critics including McCain.

"It's not a proud moment" when the NAB continues to exert influence over Congress in the DTV transition debate, McCain said. An NAB spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Example 3: Crushing the Little Guys

In February a congressionally commissioned FCC report came out, debunking the notion that chaos loomed and saying the risk of interference from low-power signals is trivial. As for Congress' plans to study the matter further:Don't bother, the report advised. It called any other inquiries a waste of money. "It was just an exercise in raw political power on the part of the National Association of Broadcasters to squeeze out people who have little or no voice here in Congress," says Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). "It's no more complicated than that."

In June McCain and Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat, introduced a bill to overturn the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act and let more stations on the air. The NAB is violently opposed and has backed an amendment by Senator Conrad Burns, a Republican representing Montana, to spend $800,000 doing just what the last study recommended against: more studies.

Senator McCain assesses the chances that Congress will ever buck the broadcasters and let in more radio competitors this way: "Dim. Extremely dim."

Example 4: Broadcast Bullies

The power comes in part from connections. Ed Fritts went to the University of Mississippi with former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and they remain close; the NAB's general counsel, deputy counsel and regulatory director who led the antisatellite effort are FCC veterans. Far more power, however, comes from the fact that the NAB represents owners of just about every large and small broadcast outlet in the country--and you can't get elected if you can't get on the air.

"There are no threats," says Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). "There's no coercion. It's just the people who represent the best way of getting your image and message across to the people in your state." This reality, he says, is why NAB is "one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington--and one of the most arrogant."

Example 5: McCain Stakes Claim on DTV Transition Bill

McCain blamed last year's defeat on broadcasters.

"Our efforts were thwarted by the powerful National Association of Broadcasters," he said. "This year, I hope we can all work together and to pass a bill that ensures the country is not only better prepared in case of another attack, but also protects the vital communications outlet of broadcast television."

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