News you can’t use

The problem with national media, apart from the fact that television looks pretty much identical whether you’re in Concord or Capistrano, is that they make for national causes and national haranguing on behalf of same. You could ignore the lot of them, I suppose — apart from the random afflictions on the set in the office breakroom, I watch basically nothing anymore except basketball and ponies — but the tube has insinuated itself so far into the culture that for all I know, I may be the last remaining outlier. (We all know people who say they “never” watch television; want to guess what’s in their Netflix queues?)

There’s probably no cure for this, either:

I could suggest that we start more locally-oriented papers, radio, and television stations, but such things have been made into guaranteed losing propositions: acts of civic charity that few persons will bother to read, listen to, or watch. Similarly, I could suggest that the civic-minded resolve to ignore the nationalized media, but in our era that’s like asking a man to hold his breath for a week. Now that all politics is national — sorry, Tip ol’ buddy — inattention to the national news would be catastrophic for such freedom-loving Americans as still remain. For now, all I can do is point at the cancer; I know of no tool capable of excising it.

The FCC destroyed “locally-oriented,” at least the over-the-air type. Consider these rules, in effect through the 1970s:

  • No entity could exceed the rules known familiarly as “7-7-7″: seven AM stations, seven FM stations, and seven TV stations (no more than five of which could be VHF — channels 2 through 13);
  • No owner of three VHF stations in the top 50 TV markets could purchase other such stations without a showing of compelling public interest;
  • Newspaper owners could not acquire radio or television stations in the same market;
  • No owner could operate more than one station of the same service in the same market.

“VHF,” of course, is meaningless today: the vast majority of stations claiming a channel between 2 and 13 are actually out in the same UHF cloud as their no-longer-lesser brethren. And the chances that these rules will be reinstated are essentially nil. But other than doing my part to encourage the wielding of the sword of bankruptcy, I don’t see any way to untie this particular knot.

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