It’s hard to believe that at a distant time the US Congress exercised some legislative common-sense over ownership of media. The 1934 Communications Act codified diversity of ownership as fundamental to the public interest. Then, forty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the public interest is served by media ownership that represents “diverse and antagonistic sources.”
So what happened? Debates over the fundamental issues of media control have vanished from public forums. There was no outcry or even much analysis as to how and why Time merged with Warner to create the world’s largest media conglomerate. In the recent past we have seen a nefarious marriage between Capital Cities and ABC, NBC gobbled up by behemoth General Electric (perhaps to be sold soon to Time-Warner? Disney?), and who cares to know the fate of CBS?
How did Thompson Newspapers came to own over 120 daily and Sunday newspapers around the country, Gannett 77 (including USA Today) and Knight-Ridder three of the top twenty highest circulated papers in the country? And while the likes of Disney and Ted Turner prowl for broadcast networks, Rupert Murdoch becomes increasingly powerful, chewing on his expanding cud of international media outlets until we are flecked daily with the spittle of his ego-brand conservatism.
This is the state of media ownership: execs and egomaniacs laughing their way to becoming Titans of Dissemination while Americans sit and passively observe the jolly proceedings. As it stands the media is an industry like any other and can be as lucrative as tobacco or pharmaceuticals. But it also has an additional allure: power over information. Media power equals power squared.
When ownership changes hands, we hear little but the business/gossip pages prattle about how CEO’s like Barry Diller think (like Citizen Kane) that it “would be fun” to own a network or how beneficial it would be to the corporate parent’s portfolio to own this or that media outlet. The “responsibilities” major media uphold to the public—providing accurate and diverse information in order to enlighten the democratic process—are considered dull and are left to be residually fumbled by anchors or the occasional columnist. Legislation like the 1949 Fairness Doctrine was eliminated by the Reagan-Bush FCC in the late Eighties as “burdensome” (with a bit of help from CIA Director-cum-major stockholder in Capital Cities/ABC, William Casey). The notion that the airwaves and other conduits of information belong to the public, and are therefore subject to regulation, seems to be long gone.
According to media scholar Ben Bagdikian, presently about twenty corporations control and collect the revenue from most U.S. newspapers, magazines, TV, books, and movies. You can be sure this number will dwindle as eighties-style conglomeration and legislative inaction continue. Right now, while 98 percent of American cities that have newspapers have only one, and while New York City has four major dailies (two of which cannot be said to provide any extensive issue-oriented analysis), Rome has eighteen dailies, Tokyo seventeen, London and Paris fourteen. Instead of leaving mammoth network news shows and local monopoly papers to claim “social responsibility” in their “objectivity,” these countries retain a relatively partisan media environment.
Which serves the “truth” better? You be the judge. It’s a debate you won’t hear much about elsewhere. Major media has a hard time reporting on major media. Enjoy.
References: Editor and Publisher Yearbook 1994; Directory of Corporate Affiliations 1994; Who’s Who 1994 Unreliable Sources by Martin A. Lee and Norman Solomon; The Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikian, and reporting on media that ranges from The New Yorker to Extra! and other assorted books and articles.
Circulation given is weekday as of 9/94 (a * refers to last available circulation information, which was 9/93)
1) Wall Street Journal—circulation: 1,780,422 (four regional U.S. editions)
Owner: Dow Jones and Co., inc. group.
Also owns Barron’s magazine, domestic and overseas news wires, Asian and European editions of the Journal, National Business Employment Weekly, American Demographics, Telerate, Inc., international marketing services, economic reviews (including Far Eastern Economic Review), Ottaway Newspapers (a wholly owned subsidiary which publishes twenty-three daily community newspapers), a joint venture in Bear Island Paper Co. and information services in Asia, Europe, and South America. Dow Jones also broadcasts radio and television news reports.
The “Bible of Business” as the Journal is called, is always editorially conservative and saturated with lingo-laden financial news. Occasionally, there will be an admirable in-depth piece thrown in. But, according to a Columbia Journalism Review study, more than half of the Journal‘s news stories in one issue “were based solely on press releases.”
2) USA Today—1,465,936
Owner: Gannett Co. Inc. Group.
Gannett also owns seventy-seven daily (some Sunday) newspapers across the country, non-daily publications in twenty-one states, the magazine USA WEEKEND, ten television stations, fifteen radio stations, and the largest outdoor advertising company in North America. Gannett has shared boards of directors with Merrill Lynch, Standard Oil of Ohio, 20th-century Fox, Kerr-McGee (oil, gas, nuclear power, aerospace), McDonnell Douglas, Kellogg, and others. Top Gannett boss, Al Neuharth, said, “Wall Street didn’t give a damn if we put together a good paper in Niagara Falls. They just wanted to know if our profits would be in the 15-20 percent range.”
Only in America has there been such a successful attempt to transfer TV into newsprint. USA Today, chock-full of neon, is filled with articles that read like (and are about as long as) the sides of cereal boxes. And for those of you who watch Entertainment Tonight, this seems to be the paper where the daily transcript is included.
3) The New York Times—1,114,905
Owner: The New York Times Company Group.
The NYT Company owns half The International Herald-Tribune, and wholly owns the Boston Globe, twenty-two dailies in the East and Southeast, eight non-dailies in Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi and Tennessee, eighteen magazines (including McCall’s, Family Circle, and, oh yeah, many golf magazines), five TV and two radio stations. It has equity interests in two Canadian newsprint mills and a partnership interest in Madison Paper Industries, which produces supercalendered paper for magazine. One of these is called the New York Times Forest Products Group.
The “Paper of Record” is an extremely influential institution with connections to government and business. The board of directors includes the ex-CEO of Phelps Dodge, a company involved in uranium mining, and directors of banks which have credited many nuclear-energy projects. The board has also been interlocked with Merck, Morgan Guaranty Trust, Bristol Myers, Charter Oil, American Express, Bethlehem Steel, IBM, Scott Paper, and, of course, many others.
4) Los Angeles Times—1,089,690*
Owner: Times-Mirror Co.
This company also owns Long Island Newsday, New York Newsday, Baltimore Sun Newspapers, and four other dailies. It also owns cable systems, book publishing, agricultural land, urban real estate, printing plants and other non-journalistic items. Its newspapers have a combined daily circulation of more than 3 million.
5) Washington Post— 810,675
Owner: Washington Post Company Group.
Washington Post Company Group owns Newsweek, Inc. (which publishes Newsweek) the Post-Newsweek Cable Division, four television stations, four television stations, Terminal Warehouse Co., The Everett (WA) Herald, Kaplan Educational Test Prep, and owns 50 percent of The International HeraldTribune, 50 percent of the LA. Times-Washington Post News Service, 26 percent of Cowles Media Company, a third interest in Timberiands Co., and half of Bowater Mercey Paper Co. in Canada.
thePost, as one might expect, has extensive connections with government. Catherine Graham, the chair of the company, has been longtime friends with Nancy Reagan and others and has said,“There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t.”
6) New York Daily News—753,024
Owner: U. S. News and World Report Group
The Daily News was bought from the Tribune Company and is the relatively new baby of Mort Zuckerman (who is the copublisher). Besides a real estate mogul, Zuckerman is the editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report. He also sits on the board of Atlantic Monthly, Inc., the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and is the chairman of Boston Properties. After buying the News, Zuckerman promptly engaged in union busting and was accused of racist firings.
7) Long Island/New York Newsday—693,556 (circ. -7.26% from a year ago)
Owner: Times-Mirror Co. Referenced above under L.A. Times.
8) Chicago Tribune—678,081
Owner: Tribune Company Group.
This group owns eight dailies around the country, including The Columbia Tribune (MO), News and Sun Sentinel Co., Sentinel Communications; Tribune Media Services, seven television stations (including WPIX in New York), four radio stations, a television programming company, the Chicago Cubs baseball team and the Q and O Paper Co. in Canada which produces $462 million in newsprint and forest products.
During the Iran/Contra Scandal, Chicago Tribune editor James Squires warned his reporters not to repeat the “excesses” of Watergate. Nuff said.
9) Detroit Free Press—544,606
Owner: Knight-Ridder Newspapers Inc. Group.
Knight-Ridder owns twenty-eight dailies around the country, including three of the top twenty dailies in circulation, making its combined circulation around 2 million daily. In terms of circulation it is the second largest chain, after Gannett, in the country.
When a chain buys a paper some of the first things they do are trim-down on the staff and replace them with many different wire-services. While this allows international news for some smaller papers, an obvious consequence is that many, many papers publish the SAME stories with the SAME angle, opinion, coverage.
10) San Francisco Chronicle—509,548 (-6.38% circ. than a year ago)
Owner: Hearst Newspapers.
Hearst also owns The Sunday S.F. Examiner and Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, ten other dailies, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Town and Country, Redbook, and Popular Mechanics, seventeen monthly consumer magazines, more than twenty business publications, seventeen television and radio stations, two book companies (including William Morrow and Co.), is also partners in Lifetime and A&E, and owns King Features, as well as real estate in San Francisco, Maine, and Canada and the National Magazine Co., Ltd. in the U.K. Founded by William Randolph Hearst (“Citizen Hearst”) who helped create the Spanish-American War in 1898, Billy Graham in 1950 (who preached “Either Communism must die, or Christianity must die”), and Senator McCarthy. Now run by his son, W. R. Hearst, Jr., who was a personal friend of McCarthy. The dangers of conglomerated media power were in many ways proven by Hearst and his partner Henry Luce, who virtually created a national atmosphere of paranoia in the 1950s.
11) Boston Globe—507,647*
Owner: New York Times Company Group.
This paper was purchased by the NYT Company Group last year after having been family-owned for decades.
12) Dallas Morning-News—491,480
Owner: A. H. Belo Corporation
A. H. Belo owns Dallas-Ft. Worth Suburban Newspapers, seven community papers, five TV stations around the country, and 50 percent of a TV production company. The Dallas Morning-News once fired a reporter who did a piece on a pre-S&L bank which was floundering. The reporter and the editor who okayed the piece were never rehired—even though the bank folded two weeks after the piece was published. Also, according to one study, the Morning-News was one of the first papers to take real estate reporting out of the hands of reporters and straight into the advertising department.
12) Philadelphia Inquirer—478,999
Referenced under Detroit Free Press.
14) Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger—473,553*
Owner: Newhouse Newspapers; Parent: Advance (Newhouse) Publications, Inc.
Newhouse Newspapers own nineteen daily or Sunday papers across the country including the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Its subsidiaries include Booth Newspapers (seven papers), Alabama Group (three papers), and UNTY which owns papers in New York and New Jersey.
Advance Publications owns Conde Nast Publications, which publishes Allure, The New Yorker, Conde Nast Traveler, Details, GQ, House and Garden, Mademoiselle, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. It also owns Random House (approx. sales: 1 billion). Random House imprints include Fodor’s, Fawcett, Ballentine, Times Books, Pantheon, Crown, and Knopf as an affiliate.
Si Newhouse was friends with none other than Roy Cohn. Looking at what is owned by Newhouse makes the term “guilty by association” take on a new, quite ominous, meaning.
15) Houston Chronicle—413,448*
16) Minneapolis Star-Tribune—410,754*
Owner: Cowles Media Company.
Subsidiaries include Cowles Magazines, Scottsdale Publishing, and Cowles Media Business Co., and Cowles is more than a quarter owned by The Washington Post Company Group. Cowles owns only one other paper—the Scottsdale (AZ) Progress.
17) Miami Herald—403,555*
Under Detroit Free-Press.
18) Cleveland Plain-Dealer—395,791*
Under Newark Star-Ledger.
19) New York Post—394,431*
Owner: News America Publishing; Parent: The News Corporation, Ltd. CEO: Rupert Murdoch
In the U.S., Murdoch also owns, among many other things, The San Antonio Express-News, TV Guide, Mirabella, Fox Broadcasting Corp., Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., eight major TV stations (with 140 affiliates and growing), Harper-Collins Publishing, Barnes and Noble bookstores, a newspaper insert company, Delphi Internet Services Corp., Fox Video, Educational Publishing, Basic Books, Benson Music Group, the Zondervan Corporation (publisher and distributor of Christian books and music, including eighty-two religious bookstores), Ballinger Publishing Co., and nonvoting shares of New World (twelve TV stations). The Boston Herald was just bought by the president of News America Ltd., not a very far cry from Rupert himself. Murdoch is, of course, CEO of the parent firm, News Corporation Ltd. of Australia, which owns Star TV in Hong Kong (which broadcasts satellite programming into China and India, a damn huge market), B Sky B (another satellite network throughout Europe), many truly revolting tabloids in England, and other media holdings around the world, including Fox Video in Spain, the Far East, France, Germany, UK, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.
What can one say? Murdoch is probably the only media mogul that has consistently been covered in the press (probably because of his reactionary, “I’m The Man” attitude). The New York Post, basically a conservative tabloid, was recently kept by Murdoch on a “temporary” basis even though FCC regulations forbade it because of his Fox ownership. The asset level of all his holdings is in the double-digit billions and, quite unfortunately, his media holdings have reactionary and conservative agendas as seen especially in the New York Post and his London newspapers. Like a Hearst, Murdoch doesn’t pretend to have much of a conceit about fairness or responsibility and uses his global network to espouse his own rather unsophisticated political agenda. When asked how he influences the editorial postures of his media holdings, he said:
“Considerably … The buck stops on my desk.”
20) San-Diego Union-Tribune—383,827
Owner: Copley Newspaper Group Press, Inc.
Copley also owns ten other newspapers in Illinois and California and the Union-Tribune Publishing Company.