Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/29/2001 8:00:00 PM
Take that, Mr. Hollings
Having faced the Soviet army in Cold War Germany and having narrowly survived a jeep accident, FCC Chairman Michael Powell apparently finds little to fear in Washington, certainly not Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings. Last week, the Powell-led Republican majority blew right through Hollings' stop sign on broadcast deregulation. It approved Fox' purchase of the 10 Chris-Craft stations, granting temporary waivers of the station-ownership cap and newspaper/television crossownership ban. Powell also made clear that he isn't going to play Hollings' game of using the public-interest obligation to impose all kinds of conditions on broadcasters when they ask for permission to swap licenses. If a deal complies with the FCC ownership rules, Powell said, it's in the public interest. Powell's bold action deserves the praise of broadcasters and cable operators who want the federal government out of their business. On the short end of the 3-2 vote, Democratic Commissioner Gloria Tristani said the majority action "effectively eliminates the requirement that merger applicants demonstrate license transfers serve the public interest." Let's hope she's right.
And, now, what you've been waiting for
Under intense pressure from the rest of the media, we are reluctantly ending our moratorium on critiquing TV-news coverage of the Chandra Levy affair. Here goes. It doesn't take a William Randolph Hearst to know that, when the attractive young woman is missing and the lover is a blow-dry congressman who poses for beefcake calendars, you've got a pretty good story on your hands—good enough even to knock Survivor off The Early Show. So why, you might ask, is CBS Evening News downplaying the story? The network has a lot of highfalutin reasons, having to do with fairness and journalistic responsibility. But we don't really care. We just hope Rather and company keep ignoring the story for one reason only: It's driving Rupert Murdoch's minions nuts. When CBS finally did a brief story on Levy and Condit two weeks ago, the New York Post made it front-page news. And Fox News Channel—particularly marquee player Bill O'Reilly—seems as obsessed with Rather's indifference as it is with the story itself. And that's saying something. Fox News' blanket coverage last week culminated when one of the network's talk-show hosts interviewed a psychic and, we are not making this up, asked him whether he had spoken to Chandra. (Unfortunately for Fox, he had not; it would have been a hell of a scoop.)
We don't understand Fox' CBS fixation. Perhaps it's a symptom of an inferiority complex. Or perhaps Fox is seeking validation for all the time and attention it has invested in the story. But while we find that the Condit-Levy story easily clears the hurdles for newsworthiness, we encourage CBS to stay its course. It's journalistically defensible, it's not hurting the ratings, and it's just great fun to watch the Post and Fox News hopping around in high dudgeon.
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