AP Board Chairman Singleton

AP Board Chairman Singleton

Clearly Mr. Boehlert is right – the AP has a Ron Fournier problem. The question is, why does the AP have a Ron Fournier problem? Could it be because William Dean Singleton, the Chairman of the AP Board and a man who owns a lot of newspapers, has a Democrat problem?

Both McCain and Obama attended this year’s Associated Press Annual Meeting and Luncheon, but they were treated somewhat differently.

This was the welcome McCain got

McCain’s moderators, the AP’s Ron Fournier and Liz Sidoti, greeted McCain with a box of Dunkin’ Donuts. "We spend quite a bit of time with you on the back of the Straight Talk Express asking you questions, and what we’ve decided to do today was invite everyone else along on the ride," Sidoti explained. "We even brought you your favorite treat."

McCain opened the offering. "Oh, yes, with sprinkles!" he said.

Sidoti passed him a cup. "A little coffee with a little cream and a little sugar," she said.

And this is how William Dean Singleton, the Chairman of the Associated Press board and the founder, chair, and stakeholder in one of the largest newspaper chains in the country, greeted Obama:

A strict freudian might sense a touch of hostility there, I suspect. So might someone who’s been following the news.

See, Mr. Singleton has a bit of a Cause. He’s a big fan of relaxing the FCC regulations banning cross-media ownership. Here, he discusses Michael Powell’s short-lived rules change allowing people who own a lot of newspapers, like, say, Mr. Singleton, to also own a lot of TV stations in the same market:

There is no more vocal cheerleader for convergence than William Dean Singleton — vice chairman and CEO of MediaNews Group Inc., and past chairman of the board of the Newspaper Association of America. He has spoken and written frequently about the issue over the past year, becoming a go-to guy for comment from the perspective of media owners.

Singleton, like many who advocated for cross-media ownership, said people who criticize the FCC’s decision are being timid about embracing the future.

"This rule change is a win-win for everybody," he said in an interview following the June 2 decision. "Those who opposed the change were doing nothing more than playing Chicken Little.

One Solon who decidedly did not play Chicken Little: the current Republican candidate for President

In 2003, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) sponsored a resolution condemning the Federal Communications Commission’s massive relaxation of its media ownership rules. It passed the Senate by a big but not overwhelming margin: 55 to 40. Thirty-eight Senate Republicans voted against the measure, including Republican John McCain.

And really, it’s no wonder

It was McCain who personally and aggressively promoted Michael Powell to serve as FCC chair, and who defended Powell’s attempts in 2003 to rewrite media ownership rules according to a script written by industry lobbyists. While other senators objected to those rule changes after more than 2 million Americans communicated their opposition, McCain sought to preserve them. And he remains joined at the hip with Powell, who unabashedly thinks the job of government is to promote the interests of the largest communication firms. In May Powell represented the McCain campaign on a panel discussion at the annual conference of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Of course, the rules change didn’t last. Mr. Singleton wasn’t very happy about that:

The FCC tried accommodate them by loosening ownership rules in 2003. A federal court threw out the first attempts. Now, in a last chance effort, FCC chairman Kevin Martin is trying to push through a compromise.

But newspaper executives say Martin’s plan is too little, too late.

“I think the commission missed the boat,” William Dean Singleton, chief executive of Media News, one of the nation’s largest newspaper chains, told the “Washington Post.”

Media News, based in Denver, had hoped to buy TV stations in markets where it owned newspapers in 2003, but had to abandon those plans when the court threw out the FCC’s first set of rules. Now, Martin’s proposal won’t help him buy stations, Singleton said.

That’s right – it’s back. Or, at least, it was. The Republicans don’t control congress any more:

With a White House veto threat looming, the Senate voted Thursday night to throw out a new Federal Communications Commission rule allowing a newspaper in any of the nation’s top 20 media markets to own a TV or radio station in the same market. The measure, introduced by North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, passed on a voice vote.

Earlier in the day, the Bush administration defended the FCC rule, saying it "modestly and judiciously modernizes decades-old media ownership regulations that highly restrict cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations."

Officials said President Bush’s advisers would urge him to veto the measure should it pass the House, where a companion resolution has been introduced.

The Senate measure drew 27 cosponsors, including Democrats Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois. Republican John McCain of Arizona, another presidential hopeful, was not a cosponsor.

As a matter of fact, a couple of prominent Democrats went a little further than that:

Sens. John Kerry and Barack Obama issued an ultimatum to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin about moving ahead with a vote on media ownership changes next week: If he proceeds, they’ll try to block any government money being spent to implement the new rule.

The Massachusetts Democrat and the Illinois Democrat previously have been critical of Mr. Martin’s request to alter media ownership; Sen. Kerry confronted Mr. Martin at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday. However, this latest move steps up the rhetoric as the FCC readies to vote Tuesday on a change.

Mr. Martin has proposed the FCC ease its current ban on cross-ownership, or newspapers and broadcasters buying each other in a market. Under the proposal, the FCC generally would allow cross-ownership in the top 20 markets and not allow it in other markets; however, media companies may be granted waivers in smaller markets if cross-ownership would lead to more TV news. A newspaper could buy only a TV station that is not among the top four in the market.

Sen. Kerry on Thursday questioned whether enough consideration had been given to the impact of the proposal on minority- and women-owned businesses and their ability to acquire broadcast properties.

Others have questioned whether the FCC had adequately researched the impact that consolidation and loss of local ownership might have on the availability of local programming and information.

In today’s letter, the two senators again called for the FCC to delay its vote, warning the change “could have a direct and detrimental impact on the state of media diversity,” but they added a kicker: They will ask the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee to add to an appropriations bill language banning the FCC from spending any money implementing any changes.

‘Nuf said?

So what’s the big deal which, or how many, rich folks own your TV station and your newspaper? Common Cause has some thoughts about that

The very reason that merging newspapers and broadcast outlets under one owner makes economic sense – the ability to maximize the productivity of news staffs by sharing resources, reducing competition, and cutting costs – often fails to serve the public interest when it reduces the amount of independently produced news and information available in a local community.

A cross-owned media offers the following dangers:

  • Giving the community inadequate coverage of the media business itself
  • Ignoring diverse voices, particularly critics
  • Avoiding enterprise reporting
  • Confusing promotion with substantive journalism
  • Choosing synergy over a quality product
  • Compromising editorial values for business reasons
  • Sharing resources and staff in ways that dilute, rather than enhance the quality of the cross-owned news staffs

Which, you’ll be amazed to hear, is precisely the problem Fournier’s critics have with the brave new world o’ journamalism he’s running over there at the AP

Jane’s e-mail action to tell the AP and the newspapers which subscribe to it how we feel about all this is here. Be respectful, remember that the person who reads your e-mail almost certainly isn’t in a decision-making role and may well agree with you, and happy hunting.