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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

June 9, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 45




Tom Fox Serving up more than Wonder Bread

Tom Fox NCR publisher

The voice of the National Catholic Reporter became even more vital last week. Yet you don't see me celebrating.

NCR provides news and analysis you simply cannot find elsewhere. We are an independent voice in American journalism, providing a platform for discussions that shape church, society and the global community.

It is too bad there aren't more voices like NCR. The problem is that voices in American journalism are not growing; they are being restricted. The reach of Big Business Media is expanding. Money rules. Dissenting values are being marginalized. Corporate America is shaping America.

Government was supposed to assure this would not happen. Now government is assuring it will increasingly happen. Government was supposed to regulate to avoid the monopoly of information and ideas. Now it works to harness information and ideas it does not especially like.

It turns out that our "bring us together" president, George Bush II, is the most divisive in recent history and the most radical in memory. He is doing in a government "of, by and for the people" and, instead, assuring us of a government "of, by and for" a small segment of the people, the wealthiest and most powerful in the land. His Big Bucks buddies.

Under the second Bush administration, government has stepped out of any regulatory capacity and is letting powerful corporate forces have full sway over the nation, its resources and people. The Bush administration has become the number one cheerleader for consolidated, corporate interests.

This is having a direct effect on U.S. journalism, as the June 2 ruling by the Federal Communication Commission to increase the reach of Big Media attests.

It should come as little surprise that savvy Iraq War watchers, in search of accurate and largely impartial coverage did not tune to ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN or FOX. They searched, instead, for sources outside the United States and, when they could, they went to the BBC or the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The American corporate-driven media, especially the broadcasters, failed to examine the presuppositions of war, as presented by our government. To do so would have meant delving deeper into some of the corporate and government interests supporting the war.

A democracy thrives on both an informed public and vigorous political debates. The curtains, I am afraid, are going down on both. The result, America's two-century plus experiment in democracy is in jeopardy.

Let me quote from a passage you probably did not read in your local newspaper. It comes from a statement issued after the FCC decision by one of its dissenting commissioners, Johathan S. Adelstein.

This is a sad day for me, and I think for the country. I'm afraid a dark storm cloud is now looming over the future of the American media. This is the most sweeping and destructive rollback of consumer protection rules in the history of American broadcasting.

The public stands little to gain and everything to lose by slashing the protections that have served them for decades. This plan is likely to damage the media landscape for generations to come. It threatens to degrade civil discourse and the quality of our society's intellectual, cultural and political life. I dissent, finding today's Order poor public policy, indefensible under the law, and inimical to the public interest and the health of our democracy.

In the end, this Order simply makes it easier for existing media giants to gobble up more outlets and fortify their already massive market power. It capitulates to many of the longstanding demands of the media companies we oversee.

This approach shatters most of the last vestiges of the consumer protections that weren't eliminated in the 1980s. This decision pulls the teeth out of the remaining rules, leaving the FCC a toothless tiger. As big media companies get bigger, they're likely to broadcast even more homogenized programming that increasingly appeals to the lowest common denominator. If this is the toaster with pictures, soon only Wonder Bread will pop out.

It may take a while for the public to feel the full effects of today's decision. Consolidation in the media markets could take place over a number of years, just as it did in radio. But people will notice every time a new merger goes through that eliminates a voice in a community. Their anger will flash as they surf through their channels only to find more sensationalism, commercialism, crassness, violence, homogenization and noticeably less serious coverage of news and local events, just as many Americans warned me they expected to happen if we allowed further consolidation.

As I said, NCR and other alternative news voices have our work cut out for us. We are determined that our readers will be served more than Wonder Bread. However, we are bucking powerful currents and for the moment, Big Media are having their way. It is sad to see our dream in democratic governance dying slowly.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

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