The Seizing of the American Broadcasting Company by Andy Boehm
February 20-27, 1987 issue of The LA Weekly.
There is an untold story about the ABC television network. It is about how a company in which CIA Director William Casey is a major player took over the network. The least of the questions this raises is whether Casey used his CIA position to help drive down the price of ABC stock, thereby facilitating the takeover. The most important question it raises is, who really controls ABC, and what can be expected of these people?
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This week network TV hit a new low with ABC’s airing of its 14 and one-half hour, $40-million dollar “epic,” Amerika. The xenophobic red-baiting engaged in by Amerika is hardly new to TV, but never before has a network spent so much time and money in such a blatant attempt to inspire in its audience jingoistic paranoia toward the Soviet Union and the United Nations. Small wonder that Mikhail Gorbachev complained to visiting American bigwigs earlier this month that “forces to which hostility is profitable … use high-powered information media to sow hatred toward the Soviet Union.”
The commotion about Amerika has obscured a much more serious problem about network TV, one that could serve to validate Gorbachev’s complaint for years to come. Despite its length and its crass appeal to the dark side of the American character, Amerika is just a TV show. As such, it’s not likely to have much lasting effect. However, that cannot be said of the changes in network ownership and control that have taken place over the last two years. These have transformed at least NBC and ABC from tasteless schlock-meisters merely striving to sell more ads into powerful information gatekeepers with strong ties to established power blocs that have their own aggressive foreign and domestic political agendas.
At issue in the ABC situation in particular is an extraordinary story overlooked by most of the press and never taken up by congressional investigators: Who actually took over ABC when Capital Cities Communications bought it in March 1985? For “Cap Cities” is no ordinary company, and the takeover was no ordinary case of corporate wheeling and dealing. Specifically, an L.A. Weekly investigation has found that:
Cap Cities’ primary executive Thomas Murphy, his family and some of Cap Cities’ founders had or have a relationship with another firm known to have excellent connections in the intelligence community through one of its subsidiaries. The same firm has also been accused of Mafia ties.
William Casey, the just-resigned head of the CIA and a lifelong maneuverer for that agency in the corporate and Wall Street communities, was and is a major player in Cap Cities. A founder and former director of the company, Casey placed all his stock holdings into a blind trust, except — in violation of his agreement with Congress — for his holdings in Cap Cities.
The CIA challenged ABC’s right to retain its broadcasting licenses just before Cap Cities bought out the company and during the period it was negotiating for the purchase. This attack had the result of driving down the price of ABC stock on the public market.
In the Iran-Contragate aftermath, with some of the manipulations this administration and William Casey are wont to engage in becoming known, the Cap Cities-ABC deal and Casey’s possible role in it have to be considered high on the curiosity list of unexplored events of the last couple of years. For with the Cap Cities takeover, one of the three primary influences on America’s public consciousness was delivered into the hands of a company that may well have its own agenda.
NBC is the most obvious case of just such a potentially political takeover. Until last year, NBC was owned by RCA, whose other interests included consumer electronics, a record label, broadcast equipment and a fair amount of military electronics. Then RCA was acquired by General Electric (GE), an even larger defense contractor. The new GE, containing RCA, is one of the largest, if not the largest, military suppliers in the world. This led Ted Turner to deplore the acquisition because he felt NBC News would have a vested interest in perpetuating the arms race.
Turner’s Cable News Network, of course, competes with NBC News. However, Turner donates much of his time, his money and his cable “superstation’s” prime time to agitating against nuclear escalation. His concern, therefore, can’t be completely written off as business jealousy. In fact, his concerns were echoed by Ralph Nader and Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, who wanted the Senate Judiciary Committee to look into the GE-RCA merger. But the committee, then controlled by ever-sensitive-to-big-business GOP, approved the RCA acquisition despite its clear potential for journalistic conflict of interest, as did Reagan’s FCC. Similarly, the so-called Antitrust Division of the Meese Justice Department continued its love affair with monopoly commerce by raising no objection to what in another era would have been considered an outstanding instance of restriction of trade. (GE and RCA will stop competing with each other in the home-electronics and TV-set market.)
NBC’s outraged declarations of journalistic integrity after the takeover indicate it’s not likely to promote Russophobia actively a la ABC’s Amerika. More likely is a corporate zeitgeist that encourages the killing of or ignoring of stories unfavorable to the parent company and the promotion of a mindset favorable to the company’s interests. GE is also a major contractor for nuclear power plants. One should not, therefore, expect in-depth documentation from NBC on the arms race, nor on defense-contractor cheating, nor on nuclear reactors. One should expect plenty of “hot spot” coverage that makes the world seem an unsafe place for America. One can easily imagine a GE executive saying to an NBC News Executive, “Hey, how come we’re not giving more attention to the threat from Ethiopia?” As Ralph Nader has said, “Self-censorship is alive and well in American media.”
(The influence of the military and nuclear establishments on NBC News is, of course, mitigated by the fact that inherent conflicts of interest are quite obvious to even casual observers. Thus, when the new NBC administration formed a political-action committee that would collect obligatory contributions from all NBC staffers, including those in the news division, a firestorm of indignation erupted. Once other media and the public saw that GE might pressure its journalists to support political causes, the PAC idea was quickly dropped. The incident indicated from the outset how far the parent company was willing to go in pressing its interests.
If NBC is now tied into the defense establishment, ABC control has passed to men who, in the case of Casey, have open or, in the case of other founders and executives, questionable other links to what’s euphemistically known as the “intelligence community.” The potential for abuse at this network exceeds that at NBC because the possibility of spook-driven news manipulation at ABC has never been publicly aired or examined. (Although some may say the decision to air Amerika is one of the first signs of such manipulation, in fact the show was commissioned before the Cap Cities takeover.) On the other hand, despite much public pressure about the series, ABC executives under Cap Cities have remained steadfast in their commitment to the miniseries. While day-to-day politically motivated intrusion by management into entertainment and news decisions is not unusual — see the Mother Jones issue of November 1985 for historical precedents at ABC before the Cap Cities deal — the major impact of Cap Cities on ABC is more likely going to be in its choice of senior news and entertainment executives both at ABC and at stations owned and operated by it. The tone and parameters are set from the top down; control the top levels, and you needn’t concern yourself about day-to-day affairs.
A closer look at Cap Cities shows three areas that beg for deeper inquiry. One is the founders themselves — who they are and what their ties may have been to the U.S. intelligence establishment. Another is the relationship of Cap Cities’ founders and execs to a company called Resorts International, some of whose divisions have been said to be intimate with intelligence agencies. And finally, there is the stock deal and William Casey’s role in it, as well as any ongoing Casey role in Cap Cities.
Cap Cities was founded in 1954 by several men who were or would become prominent. Chief among them, and the principal players in the company, were famed explorer-newscaster Thomas; Tom Dewey, the former New York governor and twice GOP candidate for president (both, like most other Cap Cities founders, now deceased); and William J. Casey, who was Cap Cities’ chief counsel and a member of its board of directors until 1981, when he joined the Reagan administration. He still owns $7.5 million in stock in the now-merged entity called CC/ABC, his largest holding.
Casey should require no introduction. Appointed by Reagan in 1981 as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he brought to the job an early training in intelligence in the wartime Office of Strategic Services (which later became the CIA) and a lifelong network of friends and allies in the intelligence community. Crafty, secretive, an ardent supporter of covert action and a big-time player in corporate politics, Casey is part of an “old boy” network of intelligence hands who have frequently used American companies to help in intelligence or covert-action matters or, as in the case of ITT and the CIA in Chile, persuaded the CIA to help out in corporate affairs. (Using corporations to help out in a variety of ways — from washing money, to providing fake business to CIA “front companies,” to furnishing cover for intelligence agents — was a specialty of the man who did the most to give the CIA its power and covert network: its former director, Allen Dulles, a friend, wartime colleague and, rumor has it, business partner of Casey.)
Lowell Thomas was a larger-than-life figure — an explorer, a broadcast personality, a film documentarist and a best-selling author. The Soviets long accused Thomas of also being an American intelligence agent because he often appeared with photographers and film crews at highly sensitive points of “communist versus the Free World” conflict. Thomas, though he had at minimum good journalistic connections in the U.S. intelligence community, always denied being a spook in the face of published articles questioning his activities. But he made no bones about his staunch anti-communist leanings. (He even appeared with John Wayne, Martha Raye and several U.S. generals in No Substitute for Victory, a denunciation of commie-coddling sponsored by the far-right John Birch Society.)
Thomas lived in a New York state enclave for the rich where one of his neighbors was Thomas E. Dewey. (Another was Lawrence E. Walsh, later to become special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra affair.) Dewey and Thomas later were involved in another company, Mary Carter Paint, which later became Resorts International (more on this below).
Before becoming governor of New York and a presidential candidate, Dewey had been a U.S. attorney and district attorney in New York City, where his biggest success was putting behind bars Mafia chieftain Lucky Luciano, who was Meyer Lansky’s mentor. As governor during World War II, Dewey agreed to a deal to parole Luciano in exchange for Mafia assistance to the OSS and Naval Intelligence. The assistance involved helping with the invasion of Sicily and using Mafia-controlled dock workers to guard against Nazi saboteurs.
This led to a long association between the OSS’ successor agency — the CIA — and the Mafia. According to Rolling Stone investigative reporter Howard Kohn, much of the association passed through Dewey. Kohn has reported that both the CIA (via Dulles) and the Mafia (via Lansky) funneled money and valuable information to Dewey’s political campaigns as well as to Dewey’s protege, Richard Nixon, and to Nixon’s pal Florida Sen. George Smathers, like Nixon a close friend of the shadowy Bebe Rebozo. Kohn alleged that Rebozo and Lansky went on to further profitable associations with Resorts International.
Even before becoming governor, Dewey had close ties to the intelligence community. He was known as “the man” in the U.S. attorney’s office who could be relied on to threaten New York publishers with prosecution if they were to publish books revelatory of intelligence matters. Dewey helped suppress several such books.
Joining Dewey and the Murphy family in Cap Cities ownership were powerful New York GOP leader Alger Chapman and, for balance, John McGrath, who managed Democrat Averill Harriman’s New York gubernatorial races in the 1950s. Also purchasing Cap Cities stock were the following members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Leo O’Brien, Eugene Keogh and James Delaney, all New York Democrats; and Peter Rodino, New Jersey Democrat and presently head of the House Judiciary Committee.
The final important founding player in Capital Cities is its president, Tom Murphy, who Wall Street and media executives widely consider to be among the most talented and successful businessmen alive. (He is also a director of Texaco and IBM.) A very private man, Murphy associates mainly with his relatives and business cronies, while avoiding the public attention cultivated by media moguls like Ted Turner.
In terms of knowing who the players are behind ABC, these relatives and business associates loom large. Chief among them are people prominent in Resorts International, which, as mentioned above, began as Mary Carter Paint Company and was purchased in 1959 by an investment group that included Lowell Thomas and Thomas Dewey.
Rolling Stone in 1977, after being legally challenged by Resorts, retracted a story that CIA Director Allen Dulles was majorly involved in the buyout. Quoting CIA sources, Kohn wrote that in 1958 Dulles gave Dewey and Thomas $2 million in CIA money to set up a front company. With it they supposedly bought Crosby-Miller Corp, which merged with Mary Carter a year later. In its retraction, Rolling Stone noted that while it respected Kohn as a researcher, Resorts International had shown the magazine persuasive evidence that Kohn had been wrong or been misled by his sources.
Tom Murphy was, according to at least one published report, another member of the purchasing group. So was a man named John Crosby, whose sone James would become chief executive of Mary Carter/Resorts International and whose daughter would become Tom Murphy’s wife.
James Crosby, who died last April, was a close friend of Nixon (to whose campaign he donated $100,000 in 1968) and Rebozo, and he played host to the recently deposed Shah of Iran at Resorts International’s hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (The shah, of course, was put on the Persian throne in a coup engineered by the CIA, and maintained close lifelong ties to the agency; it is axiomatic that the agency would have tried to see to his welfare after he fled the country.) John Crosby, according to Kohn, had been, like Casey, a “member of the secret circle that lobbied for establishment of the CIA after World War II.”
During the early 70s, Resort International/Mary Carter’s activities were occasionally cited in the left-wing press as evidence that it had been carrying out CIA business. When similar allegations appeared in a Las Vegas newspaper, Resorts — as in the case of Rolling Stone — threatened suit and won a full retraction.
In 1968, the company changed names, sold the paint business and concentrated on hotels and casinos in Atlantic City and the Bahamas. Later, it acquired its Intertel subsidiary, which specializes in private “security” and in intelligence gathering for corporate and other clients. Among these clients were several with intimate CIA relationships, including ITT, Anastasio Somoza, the Shah of Iran and Howard Hughes’ vast empire of casinos and military manufacturers. Some published reports have alleged that Resorts may have engaged in money laundering, mentioning the mob, Nixon, and Rebozo as possible beneficiaries. Resorts has also been accused of having ties to Robert Vesco and the Meyer Lansky faction of the Mafia that was involved in CIA attempts to kill Fidel Castro. New Jersey state law enforcement officers who unsuccessfully opposed Resorts’ application for a license to run a casino in Atlantic City also claimed that Resorts had suspicious ties to the mob. (Resorts strongly denied this.)
At their New Jersey casino license hearing, Resorts officials also admitted paying $431,000 that went to Lyndon Pindling when he was the Bahamas’ prime minister to obtain gambling rights in that country.
Time magazine has characterized Resorts International as “largely a family affair run by [James] Crosby and some of his relatives.” These include the two Crosby sisters, one of whom, as mentioned, married Tom Murphy, while the other married Murphy’s brother, Henry. A cousin, Charles Murphy, is the corporate counsel. After Jim Crosby died, the Crosby-Murphy extended family inherited some of his stock and voting control of Resorts and Intertel. (The only member of this cozy clan not included in Resorts operations is brother Peter Crosby, an irrepressible swindler with Mafia ties whose Wall Street shenanigans have earned him several prison sentences.)
With Murphy and the other key players now involved in ABC, Cap Cities and Resorts International, it’s useful to explore the significance of their other holding, Resorts’ Intertel subsidiary — the largest private security and spy organization in the U.S.
Spies for Hire
The vast yet secret world of private intelligence was first described at length by Jim Hougan, in magazine articles and the book Spooks (Morrow, 1978), as an unregulated “invisible industry, a security-industrial perplex whose influence is more insidious for the fact that its activities are mostly unseen.” Started largely by CIA and FBI alumni, the private espionage agencies often work for multinational corporations by “guarding ‘proprietary information’ at home, encoding communications, infiltrating governments in the Middle East, or funding counter-revolution in Latin America.”
If this sounds like CIA work, Hougan says it’s because “agents who leave federal service for private employment often take with them not just their special expertise, but their ‘connections’ as well. Frequently, former agents retain informal access to privileged information, and it’s obvious that some even retain an ability to influence the actions of their old agencies.”
According to Hougan, Intertel is “nothing less than the legal incorporation of an old-boy network whose ganglia reach into virtually every nerve cell of the federal investigative/intelligence community.”
When Resorts decided to enter the private-spook biz, it picked two very well-trained and well-connected men to run Intertel. The agency’s first and only president is Robert Peloquin, a former Naval Intelligence agent and veteran of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s “Get Hoffa” squad. Later Peloquin headed up the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force. Peloquin’s first Intertel deputy was James Golden, formerly Vice President Nixon’s Secret Service bodyguard and later security chief of the 1968 Nixon campaign. Golden and Peloquin recruited for Intertel many CIA and FBI veterans, as well as former heads of Scotland Yard and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. After a few years at Intertel, Golden rejoined Nixon to head the organized-crime section of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Peloquin remains in charge of Intertel.
(One other prominent Cap Cities connection is M. Cabell Woodward Jr., who was elected to the corporation’s board of directors in 1982. Woodward was also vice president and chief financial officer of ITT, a multinational corporation notorious for having meddled in the internal affairs of Chile and other nations, sometimes in concert with the CIA. (A well-documented study of ITT and the CIA was made by the Senate Intelligence Committee in the mid-70s.) ITT has long been a client of Intertel. In 1966, ITT tried to buy a TV network, but encountered enormous opposition in Congress and the FCC because of the implications of such a highly visible politicized company controlling a major news organ. The network ITT almost purchased was — you guessed it — ABC.)
The Republican Connection
As crucially important as it is that ABC was taken over by a firm with such a historical and ongoing relationship with the intelligence community, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Cap Cities is also a longstanding active player in the Republican establishment. Although volumes could be written about Murphy’s and Casey’s interlocking corporate/political/government scheming and manipulating — and Crosby’s ties to the Nixon crowd are sufficiently well known to have led to speculation that Resorts International’s casinos may have funneled money to the Watergate burglars — two anecdotes give a taste of the manner in which these people operate.
In 1959, Cap Cities’ political connections led to charges of “political payola at its worst” from Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire, who has also been Casey’s most vehement congressional critic. Proxmire believed that President Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty, had influenced the FCC to grant channel assignments and licenses that were very profitable to Cap Cities. Hagerty, who not surprisingly had earlier been Dewey’s press aide, denied it all, and the Republican-controlled Justice Department ignored the matter. After Ike left office, the scandal fizzled out. Hagerty was then hired by a close friend of Tom Murphy’s, Leonard Goldenson, to run the news department at ABC television.
James Quello, now an FCC commissioner, was for years the general manager of Cap Cities’ radio station in Detroit, WJR. According to Morrie Gelman of Electronic Media magazine, when Quello’s performance at WJR lagged, Murphy decided to kick him upstairs to the FCC. This effort was successful in 1974, perhaps because (according to The New York Times) “Quello’s fellow executives at Capital Cities donated $120,000 to President Nixon’s re-election effort at a time when they were actively campaigning to put a broadcaster on the FCC and to make Mr. Quello that broadcaster.” By law, the empty FCC seat was reserved for a Democrat. Quello got it, even though ex-commissioner Nicholas Johnson noted that Quello had himself given $1,100 to the Nixon campaign.
And then there’s the ABC takeover itself.
On November21, 1984, the CIA asked the Federal Communications Commission to strip ABC of its five TV and 14 radio station licenses. (ABC has hundreds of affiliate radio and TV stations, but it’s legally limited to owning just a few stations, all of which are located in the biggest, most lucrative markets.) The CIA was ostensibly upset because on Sept. 19-20, 1984, ABC News had aired allegations that the agency had contracted for the murder of Ron Rewald, a Honolulu swindler who claimed that his scams were directed by the CIA, of which he claimed to be a secret agent. The story supposedly so enraged then-CIA director William Casey that he asked the FCC to strike the ultimate economic death blow to ABC by revoking its station licenses. In February 1985, the CIA reduced its demands to asking for FCC penalties under the “Fairness Doctrine,” which requires the broadcasters to air at least two sides of “controversial issues of public importance.” In both FCC complaints, Bill Casey’s CIA became the first government agency ever to seek such redress from the news media.
On March 18, 1985, while the FCC considered Casey’s complaints, ABC agreed to be acquired by Capital Cities, a media conglomerate with the lowest profile and highest profit margins in the broadcasting business. It was a “friendly” takeover; ABC chief Leonard Goldenson and Cap Cities president Tom Murphy had been close friends for years. Cap Cities also owns daily papers in Fort Worth and Kansas City, trade journals (including Women’s Wear Daily) and, at that time, 55 cable TV systems.
What might explain the chain of events that began with Casey attacking ABC and ended with Cap Cities buying the network? Of course, Casey may simply have been outraged at ABC for airing a false story about a CIA murder plot. (Even some CIA critics have concluded the story was untrue. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know; the judge at the Rewald trial sealed all evidence relating to the CIA.)
It helps to remember that we’re talking here about Bill Casey, a man whose scruples were never a match for his zest for daring and outrageous adventure. He’s a man who has illegally mined Nicaraguan harbors, and is reported to be up to his neck in Ollie North’s dirty tricks. Proxmire called him a perjurer. The Nation said he “made conflict of interest a way of life.” He’s been accused of shielding ITT and Robert Vesco from federal probes and of arranging to steal debate papers and classified documents from Jimmy Carter when Carter was president, and he was Reagan’s campaign manager. Casey has on several occasions been sued for sleazy stock swindles and once for plagiarizing an author’s work for his own book. Each time, Casey settled out of court in favor of the plaintiffs. As CIA director, he suspiciously unloaded $600,000 in oil stocks just before the bottom fell out of the market. The CIA, of course, prepares the best — if classified — ongoing report in the world on upcoming changes in the oil market.
With that knowledge of the main actor and his associations, here are three speculative explanations of the events of November 1984 through March 1985. They are not mutually exclusive.
Intimidation of Journalists: Casey’s action against ABC may have been intended to make that network’s news division less eager to run stories uncomplimentary to the CIA. Such a chilling effect could extend to the other networks, which also fear for their licenses.
Infiltration of ABC News: Cap Cities’ purchase of ABC could have two non-business purposes. One is to create credible “covers” for spies — CIA and Intertel — posing as TV newsmen. Another is to ensure that one of America’s three largest sources of news refrains from investigating secret espionage activities and doesn’t go overboard in its coverage of certain critical areas. Such infiltration happened in Great Britain, where the BBC admitted in 1985 that employee security checks and promotions were in the hands of MI5, England’s equivalent to the CIA. Studies of its history have shown that the CIA has frequently planted agents as journalists and owned some newspapers and magazines outright while financing others, such as Nicaragua’s La Prensa.
Personal and corporate gain: The CIA’s threat to ABC’s economic lifeblood may have kept down the price of ABC stock so it would sell at “a bargain rate,” which is what the media trade press called the $3.5 billion Cap Cities agreed to pay for the network. Aside from being a major player in Cap Cities since its inception and being its former counsel of record, Casey owns $7.5 million in Cap Cities stock. His challenge to ABC came exactly during the period that Cap Cities was negotiating the buyout. (See accompanying sidebar.)
Most observers originally dismissed charges of personal gain, since Casey had placed all his stocks in a blind trust in 1983. This meant that he wouldn’t even know if he still owned Cap Cities stock in 1985 (although he certainly knew his friends did), as the trustee could have sold the stock without telling him. However, in May 1985 Casey revealed that one of his stocks, his largest single holding, was never placed in the blind trust — due to a “misunderstanding” with the Office of Government Ethics. That stock was in Capital City Communications.
Apparently, the CIA is unwilling even to give journalists public domain material about Casey’s interest in Cap Cities. In October 1985, the Weekly wrote the CIa for information on Casey’s stock holdings, as well as for a copy of a statement Casey issued to the press in March 1985 about his stock in Cap Cities. Many weeks later, the CIA sent us a letter saying that they had enclosed the statement to the press, but that we must make a Freedom of Information Act request for the other information. However, the statement was not enclosed. When we wrote them again, we received an official CIA card on which was printed “With the compliments of the Office of Public Affairs.” Hand-written beneath it was the message “Sorry for the inconvenience,” signed by a public affairs officer named Ann Crispell. However, nothing else was in the envelope.
This is part for Casey’s course. He was forced into the blind trust by Congress originally because he’d invested in firms with which the CIA did business, and in oil companies.
Why the Silence?
There’s no absolute proof that Casey’s attack on ABC and his company’s subsequent purchase of it have any sinister implications or results. Still, the odd coincidences and peculiar connections look a little fishy, don’t they? Even if a Republican Congress and a Republican FCC ignored the matter, one would have expected considerable scrutiny from the “liberal” media Casey and his conservative pals always complain about. But it never happened, and it’s worth considering why.
One might have expected that investigative scourge of the Nixon administration, the Washington Post, would have looked into Casey’s ties to Cap Cities and their relationship to his attacks on ABC. But a closer look reveals conflicts of interest for the Post. It seems that Cap Cities didn’t have all the cash needed to buy ABC. So Murphy invited Warren Buffett to buy 18 percent of the combined entity CC/ABC. Buffett, an Omaha resident with a well-earned reputation as a “Wall Street wizard,” single-handedly controls Berkshire Hathaway, a $2-billion holding company that owns 13 percent of the Washington Post Co., on whose board of directors Buffett sat until the ABC takeover was complete. He was then replaced by Tom Murphy’s friend, financier William Ruane. Berkshire Hathaway also owns a sizable chunk of Time, and the Post owns Newsweek. Once Cap Cities became a network, it could no longer legally continue owning its 55 cable TV systems, so it sold 53 of them to the Washington Post Co.
More generally, there seems to be a gentlemen’s agreement tat big media companies don’t snitch on, or even discuss in public, the affairs of other media combines. That’s why you can read, hear and view the sins of every industry in America except those of the broadcast and publishing industries. As CC/ABC, the Post, Time and other major news organs also own other news media, silence is always likely to greet a takeover of one media company by another.
We now know that two of the three national networks have potentially dirty laundry they’d prefer not be aired in public. Surely CBS, their competitor, would jump at the chance to do a little muckraking over the changes at ABC and NBC, right? Don’t bet on it. The new chief of CBS is Lawrence Tisch, who also heads Loews, Inc., whose 25 percent makes it the biggest shareholder in CBS. (Tisch’s brother, Preston, is U.S. Postmaster General.) Tisch has been involved in non-media co-ownerships (Chemical Bank of New York) with Warren Buffett, who also controls large ad agencies that Tisch would like to have buy time slots on CBS. Also, Loew’s, Inc. manages hotels. For years it managed — you guessed it — Resorts International’s hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
Crashing the Gates
In the Information Age, enormous power lies in the hands of a few information gatekeepers who control the flow of the news and entertainment that shapes the social attitudes and political beliefs of the public at large. The most powerful of these gatekeepers are the three major TV-radio networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, along with the almost exclusively white male corporate elite who control them. It’s bad enough that for years these media giants have exploited government-granted broadcast licenses to serve their private commercial interests. It’s nothing less than intolerable for any of the three to use their powers to fulfill secret political agendas that might run contrary to the “public interests, convenience and necessity” they are licensed to serve. Yet this is at minimum a question about ABC and NBC.
It is high time for the federal government to determine just who owns the networks and what they are using them for. Both houses of Congress have committees that are responsible for seeing that broadcasting serves the public. The Justice Department has the responsibility of investigating the concentration of media control. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is empowered to investigate stock manipulation. It is, of course, unlikely that we will see any action from this FCC, SEC or Justice Department until January 1989 at the earliest.
Congress, however, is ostensibly out of the control of the Reagan administration. Senate and House investigations may not change network ownership, but the information uncovered in such investigations could serve to curb the power of the network owners. Information is a powerful tool, both for the gatekeepers and — when available — for the people and their elected representatives.