The New Nightmare Scenario for the Media | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

The New Nightmare Scenario for the Media

In 2006, The Nation ran a fold-out graphic that visualized the frightening state of major media concentration in America. Just 10 years after the Telecommunication Act of 1996 unleashed mergers under the specious assumption that size and concentration could improve services and spur innovation, large media companies had gobbled up book publishers, television and cable networks, radio stations, and internet ventures.

The chart resembled a pack of six octopi, each with about eight arms, holding dozens of brands each. At the center of the tendrils were News Corporation, General Electric, Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, and CBS. The graphic and accompanying articles portended a threat to democracy: A handful of rich companies would dictate what we saw, heard, read, and perhaps thought.

Now, just 15 years later, that particular threat to democracy seems quaint. It turns out that American media do threaten American democracy—just not because of that model of concentration and not because of too much control. Instead, American media threaten democracy because they produce too much noise.

Such a chart in 2021 would be much more disorderly. Of those six companies, only Disney would still rank a central, dominant position. General Electric is out of the media business, having sold NBCUniversal to Comcast in 2009. Viacom and CBS are one company now, controlling a collection of prime cable channels as well as the mothership television network of old.