The portents are not good for those who fear the evolution of America into a one-party, one-ideology society, as a recent news item illustrates. The Gannett Company, a corporate newspaper chain of 75 newspapers and nearly 3 million circulation, has acquired Combined Communications Corp., which publishes The Oakland, Calif., Tribune and The Cincinnati Enquirer, in addition to operating seven television and 13 radio stations and several outdoor advertising firms.
The degree of corporate concentration of mass media ownership is described by Ben Bagdikian in the June issue of progressive magazine: "The 50 largest broadcast chains already have three-quarters of the audience. The 50 largest cable television companies have two-thirds of all subscribers. The 50 largest newspaper chains have more than two-thirds of all daily newspaper sales."
Corporate newspaper chains aren't necessarily synonymous with bad journalism, though no newspaper generally regarded as great has ever been established by a corporate chain. But a group like Knight-Rider (32 papers and almost 4 million circulation) has been known to buy an undistinguished property and upgrade it considerably.
Mostly, however, chains run blind, noncontroversial organs, wherein care is taken not to arouse, excite, anger or disturb the reader. They may not do much good, but they don't do much harm and they make pots of money for the stockholders.
What may change this is a recent Supreme Court decision endowing corporations with civil rights. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said this is necessary lest corporate regulation be extended to corporations that print newspapers and operate broadcasting situations. The effect of the decision, however, is to invite corporate America to buy communications properties and use them as a way around the laws limiting corporate participation in politics.
How can a conglomerate like Western Pacific Industries, Inc., be prevented from inundating the nation with propaganda if it is successful with its current takeover attempt of Houghton Mifflin, the book publishing company? Western Pacific can skip around the laws relating to political advertising merely by printing what it wants to say in book form, distributing the books free or nearly so and claiming any interference is a violation of the corporation's right to a free press. But the opportunities to do this effectively through book publishing are nothing compared to what a corporation like GM could do by buying out a chain like Knight-Ridder.
As it is, Americans are getting almost as much pro-corporation claptrap stuffed down their gullets as Russians get Marxist claptrap stuffed down theirs. Although businessmen have dominated and controlled the boards of trustees and most of our colleges and universities since the turn of the century, the drive is on to make these places even more institutions of indoctrinations. Hence Kent State University actually has the poor taste to have accepted money to create a Goodyear (tire) professor of Free Enterprise.
The Wall Street Journal reports John Ward, holder of the not-so-academic title of director of free enterprise activities at Loyola University of Chicago, as saying 20 universities have or will have such professorships. Corporations like Dow and Ralston Purina are sponsoring private enterprise contests for undergraduate students from 200 colleges. Taking a little different tack, the Hammermill Paper Co. is pushing a course on free enterprise for high school teachers.
At the same time that both school curricula and mass media are being run from the board rooms of multi-billion-dollar corporations, we're repeatedly told that antibusiness opinions are being amplified everywhere. Who are these voices? Ralph Nader and a dozen or so underfinanced groups worrying about nutritions, ecology and occupational safety. If these few impecunious organizations die of starvation and lack of mass media access, there will be no voices to be heard other than those of the professors of free enterprise.
Woe betide anyone, whilst this universal Hallelujah Chorus is being sung, who tries to do as much as return a defective toaster to the customer complaint department. The purchaser will have to apologize to the manufacturer and then choose between taking an adult education course in free enterprise or having his charge account canceled.