Media merger madness

Cap Cities/ABC decision to fire radio host Hightower was a big mistake

One of my problems with Big Bidness is that those folks don't have the sense God gave gravel. What a bunch of cashews.

Here we are, going through this massive, enormous, Gingrich-powered transfer of wealth from the Have-Nots to the Haves, and what does the latest mega-merger media conglomerate do?

Fire Jim Hightower, the only guy on talk radio with the brains to understand what's happening, the grit to speak out about it, and the wit to make us laugh through our pain over it.

Wait'll the Republicans get through with us; people in this country are going to be so mad, they'll be chewing wallpaper. We've been a little distracted by O.J. Simpson and other cataclysmic events, but the truth is that Republicans have been ramming this stuff through so fast no one (except maybe Hightower) has fully grasped the implications of it all. When we see how all this shakes out, a voice like Hightower's is going to be the hottest property in America. And these fools fired him (same fools who own the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the newspaper I work for--hi, suits).

Hightower had a unique concept: investigative talk radio. Instead of just cussing the bad guys, he told us what they were up to every week. His "Hog Report," attractively introduced with much squealing and slurping, gave us the skinny on campaign contributions by corporations and the sweetheart legislation and tax giveaways for those same corporations.

Hightower had two million listeners on 150 stations and a growing audience, but the ABC Radio network quit promoting his program the minute Capital Cities/ABC got engaged to the Disney Co. His contract ran into November, but they canned him on September 22--told him the show wasn't bringing in enough advertising dollars.

Sheesh, no wonder. ABC chased off advertisers like Mother Jones magazine (as though The American Spectator never sponsored Rush Limbaugh) and refused to let unions buy ads on the show. ABC turned away $250,000 worth of union advertising on the grounds that unions are "advocacy" groups. Great Caesar's ghost, who did they think would sponsor Hightower? General Electric? Archer-Daniels-Midland? Some non-advocacy outfit like that?

Hightower, our former agriculture commissioner, is the finest Texas populist of his generation. Fellow Texans will recall that he was rated the most popular politician in Texas just three months before he lost his 1992 election.

He lost after the Republicans, determined to knock him off before he got into higher office, hit him with a television blitz about all these supposed improprieties in his office, which of course came to nothing.

Hightower has always looked at politics not as a spectrum that runs from right to left, but as a scale that runs from top to bottom. "And the vast majority of the people aren't even in shouting distance of the economic and political powers at the top."

One of his ideas for the 1996 presidential campaign is that we should make politicians "like NASCAR race drivers or PGA golfers. Why not require candidates to cover their clothing, briefcases, and staff with the logo patches of their corporate sponsors?"

Because Hightower is so funny (when he heard Governor Bill Clements was taking Spanish lessons a few years back, Hightower said: "Oh, good. Now he'll be bi-ignorant"), some people don't realize how serious his stuff is.

They like to hear him go after the Black Hats (he once called Senator Orrin Hatch "a low-life, butt-kissing industry hack" and described Governor Pete Wilson of California as "George Wallace in a Brooks Bros. suit"), but his program was packed with solid information.

He talks in a soft Texas twang, was never rude to his callers, and never used his wit to hurt people who are in pain. Unlike Limbaugh, Hightower knows that pointing out that the emperor wears no clothes is funny, but pointing out that the beggar wears no clothes is not.

Like Michael Moore's marvelous television program "TV Nation," Hightower's show is unlike anything else on the air. Moore, the populist journalist who did the film Roger and Me, was put on the Fox network as a summer replacement at the ever-inviting 7 p.m. Friday time slot. Moore's antic show developed a cult following, but wasn't seen by enough people for Fox to renew it.

Hightower says: "The basic thing at issue here is that Big Money is now in a position to decide what gets talked about on talk radio, and the one thing they don't want talked about is Big Money. And I found on my show that's just what people are dying to talk about."

Hundreds of politicians are running around this country and talking about street crime, which costs this country $19.2 billion a year. White-collar crime costs us between $175 billion and $230 billion a year, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and Jim Hightower is one of the few people around well prepared to talk about that.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

 
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