August 2013

The New York Times had an interesting piece on ESPN – “To Potect Its Empire, ESPN Stays on Offense”. Although the article talks to just one company, it shines a light on what’s wrong with American politics.

The article details how the cable TV Goliath expanded its reach and protects its turf. Two techniques are paramount – bundling and buying politicians. Bundling is the practice of selling multiple channels as packages, rather than letting the customer order à la carte. Buying politicians is the practice of insuring that bundling remains legal.

Aniother player in the sandbox

Another player in the sandbox

After years of growth, ESPN’s unrivalled success is being threatened on three fronts. People, who are sick and tired of paying expensive cable bills, are abandoning TV for other media. Fox TV established the Fox sports network. And there is a renewed push to outlaw bundling – supporters even include Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT) in whose state ESPN makes its home.

ESPN is included in most cable providers’ basic package, so everybody with cable is paying the $5.54 monthly that ESPN charges – four times the next most expensive bundle. To most people being forced to buy something you don’t use, would seem to smack of socialism. But not to Disney (ESPN’s parent company). It claims that if they couldn’t sell ESPN in a bundle, people who wanted ESPN would have to pay $15. Well why not?

America is supposed to be a country of free markets. But when it comes to cable (and cell phones, airlines and banks) we are approaching monopoly. A monopoly protected by politicians.

You do not want to mess with the mouse. Disney has some powerful allies in Congress. Typical is Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has purview over television legislation.

You don't mess with the mouse

You don’t mess with the mouse

As the NY Times reports, he was flown to Orlando during the 2005 Superbowl and feted by Disney executives. Mr. Barton’s travel disclosure form for Feb. 5 to 7, 2005, shows that Disney spent $3,354 on the Bartons’ lodging, $1,616 for airfare and $1,200 for meals. He recorded the purpose of the trip as “Speak to executives and fact finding.”

Barton presumably has a telephone, so it is unclear why he would have to go Florida. Except, of course, it was a big old bribe. Two nights in a hotel for $3,354 – that’s some pretty luxurious speaking and fact finding. But let’s give Barton the benefit of the doubt – perhaps his position is a result of a dispassionate analysis of the facts.

OK, you can stop laughing.

Barton’s  love affair with corporate America and his disdain for the individual was best highlighted by his apology to BP – when he characterized the agreement between the Obama administration and BP, to put $20 billion into an escrow account for cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, as a “shakedown”.

He has long been a poodle for energy companies, whose cash he has gladly taken. He once said, “Global warming science is uneven and evolving.” And argued that climate change isn’t man-made by using the biblical flood to show that climate change is God-made.

Of course, it isn’t just Barton. It isn’t even just Republicans. It is every politico in DC who, because of friendly Supreme Court decisions, now funds their campaigns with oceans of corporate money. Politicians may go to Washington with every intention of being Mr. Smith but they soon end up as Senator Paine.

If there is any chance for the government to be “for the people” again Disney and every other corporation will have to be banned from giving any money to any politician. But as long as politicians write the rules that will never happen – especially if this Supreme Court has anything to say about it.

 

 

 

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