by Hart Williams © 1998
originally appeared in THIS WEEK WITH TEETH May, 1998
But isnt it fair to ask WHY our political
process has been shanghaied by the televised elite, who not only process our perceptions,
but who -- in a CLEAR conflict of interest -- are FINANCED throughout the election cycle
BY the contributions that you and I dig into our pockets to give to our favorite
An audible groan from the audience in the hearing room followed, as, one imagines, an audible groan fills living rooms across the nation at the mere mention of campaign finance reform. And who can blame the Public for cynicism at a process that demands prosecution on the one hand while blocking reform with the other?
But heres what youre NOT hearing: while the Republicans raised $558 million and the Democrats raised $336 million for the 1996 election, the vast MAJORITY of that money went directly for media ads. And, by media, you can read: TeeVee.
Or, on the home front: in the current battle to overturn Oregons "Death With Dignity" law, or Measure 51, the Catholic Church reportedly (AP) has contributed $1.3 million to the fight (guess which side?), as did the Mormon Church contribute $50,000. But NOWHERE has it been reported that most of that money will go directly TO the broadcast media.
It is, however, soberly reported by the Eugene REGISTER-GUARD that KEZI in Eugene and KDRV in Medford (same company) will NOT run a "pro-Measure 51 ad, which involves a dramatization of someone named Billy." The reason given for the arrogance of the television barons control of OUR political debate (and, know that I am utterly AGAINST the stance of the pro-Measure 51 supporters, but I acknowledge their unfettered RIGHT to a voice in the debate): "It just crossed over the line and we arent going to air it," states Bruce Liljegren, general manager for the stations owners.
What I would like to know is: who the hell elected Mr. Liljegren arbiter of OUR political process? Since, in fact, access to TV IS political process, Mr. L has an unaccountable control OVER that process and whats worse, WE (through our political contributions) pay his salary DURING that process.
It seems utterly unimaginable that in the past election cycle, the American public has financed through direct contributions ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, et al, when we, The People, just finished GIVING AWAY the digital TV spectrum to those selfsame broadcasters. When we speak of political "fat cats" we invariably think of the Corporate PACs, lobbyists, the professional fund-raisers. We think of the Corporate Jet-Set, but we never think of Dan Rather or Peter Jennings.
But isnt it fair to ask WHY our political process has been shanghaied by the televised elite, who not only process our perceptions, but who -- in a CLEAR conflict of interest -- are FINANCED throughout the election cycle BY the contributions that you and I dig into our pockets to give to our favorite candidates? Wherein is it written that my political "capital" MUST, of needs, go to give the telegenic Rick Dancer of KEZI a raise?
If there is a core malaise in the campaign finance mess, this must certainly be it, but is there any doubt that it WONT be reported by the smug and fatuous phosphor-dot pundits? Of course not. They know upon which side their bread is buttered. The disservice is not to THEM, but to US.
Or, to give another example: every time I have seem Ron Wyden (among others) in the past couple of years, the pompous and clueless buffoons with their shotgun mikes, their tripods and their oversized VIDEO cameras (frankly, digital cameras could do twice the job at a quarter the size, but the IMPRESSIVENESS, the POWER would be gone) have (in many cases, quite literally) thrust their pampered asses in the faces of those INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS, while they dictate the nature of the political event. (Camera angle, you understand.) During the Al Gore appearance at the U of O last year, this reporter watched in horror as the TV paparazzi literally chased an entire bleacher section OUT OF THEIR SEATS, trying to get camera angles that were never used in that nights local TV news.
Is it too much to ask that they not merely NOT leech away every spare cent of our political process (all the while on OUR airwaves), but that they politely OBSERVE events, and dont DICTATE those events?
No: thats the story you will never see on TV, or hear on radio. We talk about the "public airwaves," but thats the finest abuse of our language since Watergate. Its dubious that youll ever read about the astonishing amount of capital spent on TV election ads in the "straight" print media.
But, unless we do something about it, and quickly, the concept of campaign finance might as well be called by its true name: television financing. I wonder if the good Bishops of the Catholic Church thought they were engaged in a Holy Crusade to get more money to KVAL for Shelly Kurtz hairdresser?*
*NOTE: Nearly all stations mentioned have been sold to someone else in 1999.