Every little thing is gonna be all right

By Justin Reedy

Freedom continued its long, slow, painful death this week, but nobody seemed to care.

We were too busy keeping up with the latest American Idol, watching "The Matrix Reloaded" or (for those of us feeling really dark and depressed) the ongoing saga of the Laci Peterson murder.

Should we be glad that Ruben won the nationwide talent search despite his Rubenesque figure, in a testament to the fact that maybe all is not superficial in pop culture? Sure, though I'd wager a female counterpart equally as talented would not have triumphed despite being overweight.

Certainly it's fun to go to a summer blockbuster in which you can either check your brain at the door (as in "Spider Man") or get lost in the labyrinthine plot and esoteric themes contained within (like "The Matrix," though I've heard the new one is a crappy facsimile of the same) as the case may be.

And obviously we should be outraged at the brutal murder of a woman and her nearly-born baby allegedly at the hands of her beloved, though one wonders if anyone would care – least of all CNN and the misnamed Fox News – had Laci Peterson been a black woman from the inner city.

But while the mass media satiated our society's need for the news of the moment – the latest explosion in the West Bank, the newest developments in the missing suburban white girl case, a feature on Tom Cruise's upcoming movie – our ability to prevent the erosion of real news was being quietly eliminated.

The Federal Communications Commission, the government agency charged with regulating media and its ownership, voted this week to drastically relax the rules that have, in some cases, prevented one company from owning many media outlets in the same market.

The FCC vote, which split its five members along party lines (care to guess which party voted to ease the restrictions?), will allow a media company to own up to three television stations, eight radio stations, a daily newspaper and a cable television provider in some of the largest cities in the country.

That means that in Atlanta, for instance, Cox Communications could continue owning the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Channel 2, and WSB radio, and also buy up Channels 11 and 46 (the NBC and CBS affiliates, respectively), and virtually every news radio station in the city. That single company can now own the vast majority of media outlets in the city of Atlanta, with only one of the four TV stations left to its own devices.

During the days of the Fourth Estate, when the news industry was supposed to be driven by desire to monitor the three branches of government and represent the public's best interests, such nefarious collusion wouldn't have been quite as bad. But now that media is more interested in boosting profits by stimulating our vacuous minds with their ever-shortening attention spans, changing the rules to allow central ownership of the media is one of the worst things we can do.

Imagine a situation in which three of the four local TV stations have exactly the same news every night, processed and dumbed down and emasculated of any news items critical of the government that enabled this media consolidation. (Why bite the hand that feeds you, after all?)

If you think the news is bad now – this week CNN actually dedicated minutes of airtime to a two-headed turtle born in a small town somewhere – just wait until one company owns all of the media in your town.

The lead story on the TV news and the city's only major newspaper might be about the latest victorious reality show contestant, making us all forget for a little while longer about the bad things going on in the world around us.

Why worry about the fact that the world community views us as a deceptive, money-grubbing superpower bent on dominating other countries for their cheap resources and labor? Or that our allegedly elected president is running our country's economy and finances into the ground despite being the head of the party that claims to be fiscally conservative?

Don't sweat it – someone just like you won a million bucks by wooing an eligible bachelor while trapped on a desert island.

But wait, the accused perpetrator of the worst terrorist attack in our country's history is still roaming free, and his organization is still striking targets around the globe at will!

Don't worry?we've got a titillating piece about Nicole Kidman's sex life – we guarantee you'll be shocked!

How about the disturbing facts that government agents get more and more powers above and beyond the watchful eye of those pesky judges every day and that our civil liberties are now a mere shadow of what they used to be?

Calm down – we've got a feel-good story on a cancer patient overcoming adversity and knitting a sweater. Or for the more home-minded of you, a feature on how you can get disposable wipes to clean your floor, your counter, your hands, almost anything!

That's right, just relax, don't worry your pretty little head about anything – we'll digest everything for you, protect your sensitive palate from anything unpleasant.

What's the point in being concerned about problems you can't fix or wrongs you can't right? Just sit back in your recliner and think about how easily you could be there in that remote location with those busty women or buff men, lying and deceiving your way to a million bucks so you never have to work again.

Let us worry about the bad stuff for you. Trust us – would we lie to you?

Justin Reedy covers county government for the News Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 281 or via e-mail at jreedy@news-daily.com.