It is important for diversity proponents to understand that very little of a local station's programming—its so-called voice—is truly local. Most major-network affiliates produce just four to six hours of local programs a day, 75 to 100 percent of which is local news consisting of traffic, weather, sports, and emergency incidents (police/fire). Needless to say, local news is a format that allows little room for diverse expression—the purported goal of having a variety of voices. The balance of a station's schedule outside of local news is consumed almost entirely by network and syndicated programs, regardless of market or station ownership.
The most vocal opponents to raising the national cap are those network affiliates not owned by the companies that own the broadcast-TV networks. These affiliates do not want the networks to own a larger percentage of the networks' footprints, because the affiliates believe that would give the networks more leverage to end the lucrative "affiliate compensation" payments of $100 million to $150 million that the major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) pay their affiliates each year. The broadcast networks have tried to unwind the outdated affiliate-comp system, created in an era before cable networks began their assault on broadcast-TV ratings. But the networks have been foiled by a concentrated affiliate group that accounts for 65 to 75 percent of each broadcast network's national reach. The affiliates fear that if the networks were to acquire more affiliated TV stations, the balance of power would shift to the networks. Eventually the networks would have enough leverage to eliminate affiliate comp, a key source of revenue and profits for many affiliated stations.
The affiliates have found serendipitous allies: the diversity crowd. The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade and lobbying group consisting mostly of affiliates, disingenuously drapes itself in the self-righteous rhetoric of diversity, public discourse, and free speech, when in fact it is pursuing economic self-interest so nakedly it would make Charles Beard blush.
James Fallows replies:
I appreciate Colin Campbell's points. They illuminate one reason why the FCC ownership struggles of last summer were so intense and politically so strange.
In themselves many of the rule changes being debated had only modest impact. As Mr. Campbell points out, the change in the 35 percent cap would matter much more to local broadcasters than it would to most viewers. A more consequential change was the dramatic lowering of barriers to cross-ownership between newspapers and TV stations. Under the new rules, in most cities the dominant newspaper could own the dominant TV station or vice versa.
But even that change would not by itself have explained the ferocity of the discussion. For reasons I tried to explain in the article, a debate that could have been narrowly technical instead became an arena for concerns about the historic shift toward a corporatized, highly concentrated media business. That is also why Rupert Murdoch became an icon in this fight. He was not seriously affected by the rules being discussed, but he personified the concentrated media power that many critics feared.
Advice & Consent
I loved Cullen Murphy's September piece on unheralded inventors ("On Second Thought"), successful and failed. A category he might have included is inventors who almost, but not quite, succeeded. I remember Victor Borge's story of the beverage chemist who developed 4-Up, 5-Up, and, finally, 6-Up, but died alone and broke, never realizing how close he had come ...
Jack Beatty's "The One-Term Tradition" (September Atlantic) contains a number of surprising assertions. For example, "We now know that everybody in the Administration above the rank of messenger—except the President—knew that the documents linking Saddam Hussein to an effort to obtain uranium from Niger were forgeries." So what? The President never said anything about uranium in Niger. He said British intelligence had learned that Saddam was trying to obtain it from Africa. This is quite true, and both British and American intelligence still believe that. This opinion never rested on the forged document from Niger, and Niger was never one of the primary suspects, as anyone can see who bothers to read Tony Blair's remarks on the African issue before the war.
"We know that the intelligence agencies cast doubt on Saddam's continued possession of WMD and on his supposed ties to Osama bin Laden." No, what we know is that it was the consensus of the intelligence agencies that Saddam had WMD. Beatty says "the intelligence agencies doubted" when what he means is "somebody or other in the State Department is supposed to have doubted." Nobody in the Administration ever claimed that Saddam had direct ties to Osama. There is plenty of evidence that he had some ties to al-Qaeda.
"If Bush had leveled with us" he would have said, according to Beatty, "We are pretty sure he has no current ties to al-Qaeda." That would have been a lie. The true and relevant way of putting it would have been "We are sure he has supported terrorist networks, and has some kind of relationship with al-Qaeda"—which happens to be what Bush essentially said. "We know he had nothing to do with 9/11." No one in the Administration ever said he did. Beatty thinks the President should have "leveled with us about the millennial strategy behind his war." But Bush did make it clear long before the war that the modernization and democratization of Iraq was part of his strategy. He put more emphasis on WMD because he had decided to go through the UN Security Council, all of whose resolutions against Saddam had been concerned with eliminating Saddam's WMD (whose existence the UN inspectors did not doubt).
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a lie?" So far the American public does not appear to care beans about the phony issues raised by Beatty. They know Saddam had to go, that the President acted in good faith, and they attribute the so-called "scandal" to partisan smears. It might be added that to raise accusations of "lying," when what is meant is "maybe the President acted on faulty intelligence, though we can't prove even that much," is to poison the wells of public discourse in a fashion one does not expect from a journal with the reputation of The Atlantic.
Professor of Asian Studies
Seoul, South Korea
The "primary source" of the September Agenda piece on climate change was a study funded by the oil industry that casts doubt on the mainstream view of how recent global warming, primarily caused by air pollution, compares with natural climatic changes over the past 1,000 years.
This study, headed by the Harvard astrophysicists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, has been sharply criticized by the scientific community. The recently appointed editor in chief of the journal that published the study declared that it never should have been printed. He and two other editors have resigned over the issue, as recently described in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
The most striking aspect of this study is that in evaluating temperature records derived from tree rings, corals, ice cores, and other proxies, it does not calculate global average temperatures but instead applies vague and inconsistent criteria to determine whether each location supports "unusual 20th century warming" and a "Medieval Warm Period." The many flaws in this study are described in recent issues of Scientific American, New Scientist, Discover, and EOS, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. The latter cites several quantitative studies concluding with 95 percent confidence that current temperatures for the Northern Hemisphere are higher than any in the past 1,000 years, with an unprecedented rapid rate of warming for the past few decades.
Careful scrutiny of the oil-industry study is called for, especially since it was embraced by Senate leaders and by political appointees who attempted to insert its conclusions into an EPA report after removing scientific data on global warming. The news media should actively investigate their sources and avoid being a passive conduit for flawed "studies" designed to advance the agenda of special interests.
Oregon State University
In "Waterworld" (July/August Atlantic), Jen Joynt and Marshall Poe explain that tempering demand and expanding supply can resolve water shortages, and that in the case of rivers we can build more dams and reservoirs. Unfortunately, this will not solve the problem of the Nile.
The human populations completely dependent on the Nile will more than double by 2050. Joynt and Poe point out that today its waters are almost completely drawn off before the river reaches the Mediterranean. The population of Ethiopia, source of the Blue Nile, grew from five million in 1900 to more than 71 million today, and is projected to reach 173 million in 2050. Ethiopia's forests have all but disappeared, water scarcity is severe, and in the 1990s its government announced plans to build 110 dams on the Blue Nile. The Sudan, with the White Nile flowing through it, has 38 million people, and its projected 2050 population is 84 million. Egypt, at 72 million, is projected to reach 127 million by 2050. Collectively, these three countries are expected to grow from 181 million today to 384 million in 2050.
In response to the many people who say we just need to manage our natural resources better and population growth is not a central problem, we have here a situation where water management and more dams (many proposed Ethiopian dams would be a disaster for Egypt) will not solve the problem, which is almost purely about human population growth. In all these countries women's access to family planning is constrained in a number of ways. Competition over the waters of the Nile is not likely to be resolved by any regional water authority; more likely the growing scarcity will contribute to strife in the region, as water scarcity does elsewhere. If we were less timid about letting people, particularly women, have all possible means to achieve the number of children they want (which is always fewer than the current average), we might avoid a great deal of pain in the future around water.
University of California
I opened the September Atlantic! I had just returned from a family reunion in Indiana. The short story "Mudlavia" was indeed a sentimental journey. Beautifully written. It truly caught that era to perfection.
Mqudlavia," by Elizabeth Stuckey-French, is the best story I've read in a long time. I'd love to see more of her work in The Atlantic Monthly.