The Threat of Corporate Power

by Mike Ewall (November 21, 1995)

When one first conceives of creating another human, one must put in considerable thought and commitment, wait nine months, and spend the next 18 years dedicated to that investment. When one decides to create a corporation, one may hire a lawyer, fill out some papers and, almost instantly, create an immortal entity with more rights than humans. One can also choose to kill this entity without consequence and create a new one if things don’t go the right way. In doing so, debts and liability can be eliminated, while profits can be transferred.

In East Liverpool, Ohio, home of the world’s largest commercial hazardous waste incinerator, 48 separate corporate entities were used in the illegal creation of this environmental atrocity. Entities named Waste Technologies Inc. and Waste Technologies, Inc. (notice the comma) and Waste Technologies (Ohio), Inc. were all separate entities. Some were being incorporated in one city while others were being disbanded in other locations. There can only be one reason for this corporate behavior. Known mafia ties and political connections all the way up to the White House may have had something to do with it. In essence, this is a liability escape mechanism.

Corporations didn’t used to be allowed to own other corporations. Today, you’ll sometimes see commercial advertising for Dorito’s (with Taco Bell advertising embedded in the commercial by having the logo visible on the bag of chips), followed by Pizza Hut (courtesy of Rush Limbaugh), followed by KFC, and then followed by Pepsi. The unsuspecting viewer would never imagine that the same company just advertised at them 5 times in a row (PepsiCo owns all of the above companies).

Corporations with extensive criminal histories will start new subsidiaries in order to look like they have no violations because government officials will often just look at the history of the corporation they’re dealing with, not the parent company. Sometimes it works in reverse. In effect, this is like saying "well, my hand killed that person, but I didn’t." More commonly, we’re talking about criminals with "clean new hands," though.

Some of these corporations own the mass media. Ownership of media outlets has been consolidating rapidly over the years. When Ben Bagdikian first wrote his book Media Monopoly in 1983, he observed that only 50 corporations controlled the majority of all media in daily newspapers, magazines, television, books, and motion pictures. When his book was republished in 1990, that number was halved to 23. Now the estimate is in the low teens. There are over 25,000 media outlets in the United States, yet the control over the content (via ownership) is governed by this small elite.

At one time any single corporation could own no more than 7 AM stations, 7 FM stations and 7 broadcast stations, according to a 1953 law. This was known as the "rule of 7s." This was the case until 1985, when that limit was increased to 12 of each, even though the rules were being broken and went unenforced. Westinghouse owned 15 broadcast stations when the limits were still 12. In 1994, the limits got bumped up to 20 AM stations, 20 FM stations and 12 broadcast stations. An additional stipulation demanded that no one corporation could own a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same town. Corporations had two years to divest from any such cross-ownerships. Gannett is violating this law.

In the summer of 1995, Congress increased that limit to infinity. Attempts to amend such a bill in the Senate to cap ownership off at 50 each were defeated. Any single corporation now legally has the right to own up to 35% of all media outlets in the country, allowing as few as 3 corporations to own the mass media as we know it. Given that the existing rules aren’t being followed and that corporations often have cross-linked boards of directors, control of the media could become even more centralized than a mere 3 corporations.

Without even waiting for this Telecommunications "Reform" Bill (complete with Internet censorship amendment) to become law, criminal corporations went ahead, prematurely pouncing on TV stations, eager to consolidate their hold on the mass media. Disney bought Capital Cities’ ABC. Westinghouse swallowed up CBS the next day. Add this to the fact that GE bought NBC in 1986 and you might notice that 2 of the 3 primary TV stations are owned by military defense contractors who build nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors and incinerators, dump massive amounts of toxic and nuclear waste and defraud our government, while poisoning their workers.

"Editor & Publisher" (Jan 16, 1993) reported that virtually all 150 newspaper editors in a 1992 Marquette University study acknowledged interference by advertisers. 93% of editors said advertisers tried to influence the content of their newspaper articles. 71% of editors said advertisers tried to kill certain stories outright. And 37% of editors were honest enough to admit that they actually had succumbed to this advertiser pressure. More than half (55%) said there was pressure from within their own newspaper to write or tailor news stories to please advertisers.

A recent anonymous survey of Society of American Business Editors and Writers found that 75% were aware of growing pressure by advertisers to influence the content of their sections. 45% of the respondents admitted that this pressure has influenced their editorial decisions. So much for "unbiased" dissemination of factual information, an essential basis for the efficient market hypothesis we hear so much about.