Trib in League With Satan?

On a recent episode of The Critic Jay Sherman is interviewing prospective film critic partners. He talks to one handsome, jut-jawed guy, who with wide eyes and a beatific smile rattles off a stream of praise for some piece of filmic shit. “You’re really Satan, aren’t you?” asks Jay, and sure enough, the other critic morphs into a snorting satanic bull.

I felt like Jay Sherman as I read the Tribune editorial page Sunday morning. Looking out for its own corporate benefit, as it admitted, the paper said the FCC should let the Trib buy more TV and radio stations in Chicago. Its reason: “Newspapers face increasing cost pressures.” The Tribune didn’t mention that the biggest cost pressure it’s faced over the past decade has been from corporate budget slashers determined to drive up profits; the paper’s demonic efficiency at this game is gruesomely detailed in Read All About It! by former editor Jim Squires.

The paper was specifically arguing for the elimination of federal regulations that prevent any person or corporation from publishing a newspaper and owning TV or radio stations in the same town. (The Trib is allowed to retain the ‘GNs because of a grandfather clause.) If you agree with the way the government has lifted ownership restrictions for most other media conglomerates, this does make a sort of cockeyed sense. If terrible, creepy companies like Evergreen Media and Infinity Broadcasting are allowed to make tons of money with dozens of bad radio stations, many in the same city, why not the Tribune Company? There are two answers to that argument. The first is that Infinity shouldn’t and neither should the Tribune. But second, there’s a good reason to keep TV and radio out of the hands of the press and vice versa. Daily newspapers remain uniquely powerful institutions: Allowing them to combine with TV and radio stations in one city consolidates that power and makes it less likely that they will come under attack or challenge.

The paper’s eyes got wide and the beatific smile came out as the editorialist contended, “Far from consolidating, America’s mass media are fragmenting, and at a cost to society. Despite their faults, the media provide a commonality of experience, a unifying thread. Without strong voices to bind us together, there’s danger that we may splinter as a society into small racial, ethnic, economic and other groups.”

Now here’s a novel argument. ABC merges with Disney, Time Warner with Turner; independent newspapers are shut down or swallowed up by faceless and implacable profit engines like the Tribune Company; TV and radio stations face similar predators, who by definition have no stake in the community and absolutely no reason to do anything that’s not in their own corporate interests. While cable, digital or Internet radio, and the World Wide Web offer some hope that these companies’ hegemony will not be total in coming years, the fact remains that the free and low-cost media available to the widest number of Americans are being eaten up at a ferocious rate. The Tribune’s position is on the face of it fascistic. The United States was built on a fragmented press; we need it to survive. The sweeping dishonesty, unholy arrogance, selfish disregard for a key element of our democracy, and astonishing contempt for its readers’ intelligence embodied in those few sentences is as strong an argument as any for keeping the Tribune Company off the airwaves.


A few tidbits from the Mosh Pit, our on-line discussion of all things musical: “Only you can turn a simple song about a piece of pie sitting on some counter in the local greasy spoon into something ‘shaggily risque.’ What is shaggily risque and what is it doing in my Pecan Pie?” (Mark Macbeth on my comments on the song “Pecan Pie” in a Golden Smog Critic’s Choice). . . . “A lot of times we rock crits get lost in proving how cool we are, how above the mass tastes we are, and lastly, how utterly left of center we are. I dearly would like to burst the bubble of anyone who thinks that these three things mean anything–anything at all–to anyone who is not a rock critic. And it shouldn’t mean anything to rock critics, our legitimacy is based on having something to say, not [on] having a position to say it” (Martin Johnson). The Mosh Pit is at . . . The Smashing Pumpkins left town this week for an Asian tour that includes stops in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Australia. Europe and the States will follow this summer. . . . Steve Albini’s lagging fortunes as a major-label producer might be turning around: last Hitsville heard, negotiations to have him produce the next Bush album are nearly final. . . . Photog Philin Phlash just had a scare. A fire hit his darkroom; he’s still cleaning negatives and assessing the damage to nearly 20 years of work. You can see some of his newer stuff at two openings Friday. One is at the group show at the David Leonardis Gallery, 1352 N. Paulina (another participant is Motor-home’s Kristen Thiele), from 6 to 11; the other’s at the South of North Gallery, 1552 N. Milwaukee, from 6 to 10.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter Barreras.