Communicating Power
George Szamuely
New York Press


It was hilarious to witness the widespread horror at Time Warner’s decision last week to keep ABC’s channels off its cable systems. "[T]he shutdown of any major news outlet is a kick in the head to the public interest," thundered William Safire. A powerful corporation throwing its weight around? What a horrifying notion!

The dispute had started with Disney trying to shake down Time Warner, demanding that the cable company provide the Disney Channel as a basic rather than a premium service. In addition, Time Warner should pay more to carry ESPN. And to top it off Time Warner should either carry two new Disney channels (Toon Disney and Soap Network) or pay for the ABC stations that it currently carries for free. A lot of haggling ensued until Time Warner finally got fed up and pulled the plug.

Happily, the republic survived. If you wanted to, you could still watch ABC. All you had to do was disconnect the cable. Moreover, as an article in Slate pointed out, while cable companies "have considerable power locally…nationally, there are many significant players. No single cable system controls what most Americans can or cannot see… Who Wants To Be a Millionaire posted pretty respectable numbers on Monday night despite the several-city blackout." Yet who cares? America’s networks are virtually indistinguishable from one another. CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox – it’s the same mindless entertainment and spoon-fed "news" to fill space between ads. A "market-driven TV system that delivers an unbelievable array of entertainment at affordable rates" – in the breathless words of a Washington Post editorial writer. Even editorial writers are now in the marketing business.

When Time Warner and America Online announced their proposed merger a few months ago the hacks could barely contain their joy. Time Warner would get access to the Web – now almost totally dedicated to the important business of buying and selling, rather than information and research. And AOL would get access to Time Warner’s high-speed cables to make Internet usage really fast. And there was lot of inane futuristic – and pointless – guff about film, tv shows, videos and whatnot becoming available on the computer screen.

The one thing that was not discussed is who would control the Internet. Government regularly censors cable television. It would surely do the same to Internet content going through cable. As a matter of fact, government is not necessary: Internet content producers will have to shell out big bucks to get access to the high-speed cables. Those unable to come up with the money will inevitably be marginalized. Moreover, even those with money will find themselves subjected to careful supervision by AOL. As explained in AOL’s Terms of Service: "[O]ur content partners are expected to ensure that their content on the service reflects our community standards. We reserve the right to remove content that does not meet those standards… In most places on AOL, vulgar language or sexually explicit conduct are no more appropriate online than they would be at Thanksgiving dinner… If you see it, report it.. Hate speech is never allowed."

What is particularly irksome about these strictures is the suggestion that the Internet somehow "belongs" to the Internet providers. Internet providers like AOL provide nothing. They are in fact parasites. Contrary to conservative fantasies about America’s computer industry being a vindication of entrepreneurial capitalism, the Internet was the creation of the U.S. government – the Pentagon. Just as AOL is largely about buying and selling wares, so its politics are shaped by its desire to turn everyone in the world into an online consumer.

Naturally, AOL embraces the globalism of our ruling elite. Currently, the government is preparing to intervene in Colombia on the pretext of fighting drugs. One of the leading cheerleaders will be AOL. In March, Jim Kimsey, chairman emeritus of AOL, went down to Colombia and met Manuel Marulanda, founder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). "He understands…that foreign investment is critical to the prosperity of this country and I think is willing to negotiate and to discuss possible solutions that will move this country into the 21st century," Kimsey cooed after the meeting.

Read George Szamuely's Exclusive Column

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from the New York Press

Communicating Power

Law as Ordered

What Threat?

Peculiar Yet Brave

Closed to Debate

Arrogance of Power

Prison Love

Gore's Oil

Rough Justice

Race Race

Al the Coward

Intruder Alert

McCain's Money

Haider Seek

Out of Africa

Prosecute NATO

Villain or Victim?

Intervention, Immigration, and Internment

Home-Grown Terrorism

Who Benefits?

Laws of Return

Embassy Row

Selling Snake Oil

Chinese Puzzle

That Was No Lady, That Was the Times

The Red Tide Turning?

Pat & The Pod

United Fundamentalist States

Let Them All Have Nukes!

Liar, Liar

Gangster Nations

Puerto Rico Libre – and Good Riddance

Leave China Alone

A World Safe for Kleptocracy

Proud To Be Un-American

All articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press

Recently, AOL and Venezuela’s Cisneros Group created a joint venture to make sure that AOL will be the dominant Internet provider in Latin America. And the bucks are rolling in. In January AOL Latin America offered $575 million in stock to investors. The stakes are high. Politically discordant voices could soon find themselves escorted out or blocked by those sinister "AOL guides."

A few weeks ago in New York Rupert Murdoch gathered together a bunch of out-of-work politicians, now with their snouts in the corporate trough. Newt Gingrich was there. So was former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. And the ubiquitous Henry Kissinger. Kissinger and Murdoch upbraided the presidential candidates for not saying enough about foreign affairs. The Hideous Harridan of Foggy Bottom – aka Madeleine Albright – was there spouting drivel about "the goodness of America’s power." No doubt these political "heavyweights" solemnly nodded in agreement as she spoke these words. American power is "good." Certainly it has been "good" for them – bullying other countries to make them safe for "market democracy" has made them all rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

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