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Nightmares of depravity.

Yes! Yes! Yes!" gushed Lisa Marie Presley in what journalistic giant Diane Sawyer billed as "the interview we've been waiting for." Presley and her husband, Michael Jackson, do "do it," and anyone who has doubts about their marriage, can, as Presley put it, "eat it." I trust your mind is finally at ease over this pressing issue.

Here's where Bob Dole's recent pronouncements on the media come in handy. Forcing millions of Americans to visualize this coupling surely must qualify as one of Dole's "nightmares of depravity." The depravity doesn't stop here, though. As Walter Goodman noted in a delightfully catty review in The New York Times, ABC news and its $8-million-dollar woman, under the guise of presenting a "news" magazine, simply turned over an entire hour of air time to the promotional department of Sony, which is reported to be spending $30 million to repair Jackson's image and flog his new, lackluster CD.

Prime Time Live delivered to Sony an audience of approximately 60 million, and Sawyer coolly served as PR agent for Sony's new, allegedly improved commodity. "You cannot ignore what he has achieved," she instructed her viewers. Connie Chung, having been canned from the CBS Nightly News for flirting too frequently with tabloid journalism, must have thought life a bit unfair. (By the way, have people forgotten how Dan Rather, in the 1980s, sported red suspenders and then sweater vests in an effort to improve ratings?)

But let's get back to Bob Dole, who, free marketeer that he is, would certainly bless the union of Sony and ABC (and never criticize a dishy former Nixon aide). Dole tried to persuade us that fellow Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's splattorama, True Lies, was a "family-friendly" film, while Natural Born Killers and most rap music are the aforementioned "nightmares of depravity" glutting the nation.

The cynicism of Dole's tirade was so bald and obvious it was embarrassing. He wants to repeal the ban on assault weapons, but keep guns and violence out of Oliver Stone's movies. He singled out Time-Warner, which even The Wall Street Journal noted is a major contributor to the Democratic Party, and spared fellow Republicans like Bruce Willis and Rupert Murdoch, whose profits from relentlessly violent fare are enormous.

He attacked gangsta rap, while every piece of legislation he is championing will make life for urban black folks more miserable and violent. He praised The Lion King and Forrest Gump, films that promote, respectively, the divine right of kings and stupidity as a survival tactic. He bemoans the dearth of good family fare, but wants to pull the plug on Sesame Street, Nature, and even Barney. Time, known neither for its liberalism nor its investigative reporting, took pleasure in revealing that the speech was written by George Will's wife. So Dole and the media must be on the outs after this, right?

Barely had the ink dried on this story when we learned that, behind the scenes, there was plenty of kissy-face between Dole, Time-Warner, and other media giants like Viacom, the networks, and the Baby Bells. Sweeping away decades of telecommunications regulation, the Senate voted to eliminate all restrictions on the number of radio and television stations a person or organization could own. This will accelerate the already rapid concentration of the media into even fewer hands. Price regulation on most cable programming was eliminated. Other provisions extend the terms of stations' broadcast licenses from five years to ten, and make it much more difficult to challenge a station's license at renewal time. Access to the media will be even more restricted, as will the ability of ordinary people and citizens' groups to talk back.

Dole was one of the major players advancing this corporate free-for-all. The very man who sought to court the conservative wing of his party by attacking the greed and irresponsibility of media moguls has, at the same time, pandered to that greed, and ensured that profits in media-land, already inflated, will bloat even more. The same man who, in public, urges the mainstream media to treat the audience like citizens instead of consumers, in private advances the very economic conditions that ensure the further degradation of media content and stupefaction of the public.

Dole himself seems to have the moral compass of a pit viper. But he has struck a nerve with millions of people, and the left has been too quick to dismiss the message because of the messenger.

While the evidence about whether watching a Stallone movie, say, makes certain viewers go right out afterward and behave violently remains inconclusive, other studies about media effects are indeed worrisome. The area of research pioneered by George Gerbner and known as cultivation analysis shows that heavy television viewing over time cultivates fear and paranoia. The more you watch violent media fare, the more you perceive the world to be mean and dangerous. This, in turn, contributes to a highly punitive mindset that increasingly endorses capital punishment, longer jail terms, and more prisons. In addition, TV and movies insist - in the stories they tell about right and wrong, good guys and bad guys, justice and vengeance - that violence is often the cleanest and most effective solution to a host of complex problems.

The greatest irony in Dole's attacks is that most media fare buttresses Republican politics. And much of it really does exert an intellectually and morally corrosive influence on modern life and public discourse. Most of us adamantly oppose censorship. But should we simply invoke the First Amendment and leave it at that? It's time for progressives to take this issue away from the conservatives, who damn the media in public and gorge on the profits in private. It's time for our discussion and debates about the real "nightmares of depravity" to begin.
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Title Annotation:Bob Dole's attacks on media
Author:Douglas, Susan
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 1, 1995
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