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Interview with Ralph Nader, Fred Smith

Aired May 29, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE -- monopolizing the media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're very concerned about media consolidation.

ANNOUNCER: If the government allows fewer owners, will you see fewer choices and more bias?

And should presidents get a third term?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The 22nd Amendment should probably be modified to say two consecutive terms, instead of two terms for a lifetime.


ANNOUNCER: Today, on CROSSFIRE. Live from The George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. The Bush Administration is getting ready to play Monopoly, allowing corporate Goliaths like Rupert Murdock's Fox TV and our own owners, AOL Time Warner, to buy up as much of the media board as they can.

We will debate whether corporate concentration of media is good for democracy with Ralph Nader and a leading free market theorist in just a minute. But first, you'll always find diversity of opinion here on CROSSFIRE, beginning with the best political briefing in television, our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

President Bush promised that every American family would benefit from his tax cut. A reading of the fine print of the newly signed law, though, proves he was fibbing. Experts cited in today's "New York Times" reveal that families making $26,000 a year or less will not get the $400 child tax credit Mr. Bush promised them. One out of every six children in America are getting the shaft from George W. Bush.

Why? To make room for tax cuts for the idle rich -- even though poor families need the money more and would spend it faster, thereby stimulating the economy.

Read my lips. President Bush fibbed. Shame on him.

ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: Let me try to explain this to you, Paul. Those of us who believe that there should be tax cuts think they should go to people who pay taxes. People who make less than $26,000 don't pay any taxes. Therefore, they shouldn't get a tax credit. I'm honest enough to tell you that. That's a redistribution of income.

BEGALA: They pay tons of taxes. They pay sales tax, property tax. They pay the payroll tax. They pay excise taxes. They pay lots of taxes. But Mr. Bush only cares about the rich. That's why he cuts taxes for the rich.

NOVAK: We're talking about the income tax. They pay no income taxes. I think they should pay some.

BEGALA: Why should President Bush make a promise and then break that promise? He should be a man of his word.

NOVAK: Do you think Bill Clinton is restless as a rich, private citizen after eight years of demeaning the presidency? Any doubt should have been removed yesterday when he appeared at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

The former two-term president said he would like to see a modification of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution -- the two-term limit. He suggested a young president elected at age 45 or 50 should be able to come back some day.

Bill, let me break it to you gently. The Constitution is not going to be amended to permit a third Clinton term.

BEGALA: Well, I hope it will be. The 22nd amendment is a disgrace. The genius of our Constitution is that -- I think you and I would both agree on this -- that it limits the government. Twenty- second Amendment limits the people. It's wrong. It prevents people from deciding who should be their president. If they want a third Reagan term in the '80s, they should have had it. If they want a third, fourth, fifth Clinton term in the '90s, in the 21st century, they should have it. People should be free to pick their president.

NOVAK: The people get used to a popular president. They would have elected a third Eisenhower term -- bad. They would have elected a third Reagan term -- bad. But what would have been horrible, your boy Clinton admitted it in Boston yesterday. He would have kept running and running and running and running.

BEGALA: And winning and winning and winning and winning.

NOVAK: What a bad idea.

BEGALA: We can debate this more. But the "Toronto Globe and Mail" has a stunning new report that a Hollywood Republican, guided by Bush political guru Karl Rove, is making a film about President Bush on 9/11 that departs significantly from reality.

In the film, a steely President Bush declares on 9/11 -- and I'm quoting from the character here, quote -- "If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me. I'll be at home waiting for the bastard."

The real Mr. Bush, of course, did not return immediately to the White House on 9/11, heeding a Secret Service request that he fly to a bunker in Nebraska.

And his actual thoughts on that day were, as Mr. Bush himself told an interviewer, quote, "I was trying to get out of harm's way." But why complicate a good myth with the truth.

NOVAK: You know, your Bush bashing goes on night after night. I'm sick of it. The American people are sick of it. But the truth is you can't demean the performance of President Bush that first week. He went against the advice of the Secret Service. He went back to the White House instead of flying around like "the flying Dutchman" all over the country. He didn't sleep in the bunker. He slept in his own bedroom. Shame on you, Paul, for playing politics with a heroic performance by the president.

BEGALA: The president, on that day, did not do what they're suggesting in the movie. The president on that day hopscotched around the country, coming back to Washington 12 hours after the attack. He should have been here on the front lines. Rudy Giuliani was in New York.

NOVAK: They've called the New York Yankees the Bronx Zoo, but now they ought to call "The New York Times" the Manhattan Menagerie. Pulitzer prize winning reporter Rick Bragg has resigned, citing what he calls a noxious atmosphere at the most self-important, perhaps the most liberal, newspaper in the world.

On top of the Jason Blair scandal, it now turns out that ace reporter Bragg didn't really report a lot of the stories that carried his byline and nobody else's. The "Times" reportedly is reexamining its policies. Can you imagine that this proud purveyor of liberalism is also a swamp of corruption?

BEGALA: Oh, look. There's nothing corrupt about using a stringer to do reporting for a story. That's what this guy is accused of. I don't think they should have run him off. I don't know Rick Bragg, but he's a gifted writer. I liked having his stuff in the newspaper that I paid for. It was worth a dollar to get a Rick Bragg story. And I think that the right wing is using this as an excuse to attack the best newspaper in America.

NOVAK: The left wing is trying to protect the most liberal paper in America. You've never been a newspaperman, and it shows. I spent most of my life as a reporter. I'm telling you when I was a reporter, we didn't rely on stringers. We did it ourselves. Rick Bragg is a fraud.

BEGALA: No. That's unfair.

NOVAK: The liberals are finally whining about something besides tax cuts. Next, in CROSSFIRE and "RapidFire," we'll ask what's wrong with letting some good old American free enterprise work its magic in the vast liberal wasteland of the news media.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

On Monday the Federal Communications commission will vote on a proposal to sweep away many limits on who can own the newspapers you read, the TV the watch and radio stations you listen to. Observers are predicting the pro-corporate proposal will pass, commission after all is dominated by Bush Republicans. Should you care, though, whether a few giant corporations control almost everything you see, hear and read?

In the CROSSFIRE to debate it, Fred Smith, the founder and president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, along with consumer advocate and author, Ralph Nader.

Gentleman thanks for coming.

NOVAK: Ralph Nader, let's weigh this out just the way it is. The reason this there is so much fuss being made about it, is that in the vast liberal morass of the news media there's one conservative voice, Rupert Murdoch. Small potatoes compared to everything else against him. But the fact that he has the "New York Post", the Fox News network and a few conservative organs makes him unacceptable. Isn't this unacceptable.


How about the head of Clear Channel, who says with his 1,200 radio stations says he's not in the business of communication, he's in the business of selling goods and services to his advertisers. And he just funded a pro-Bush rally in Atlanta.

NOVAK: This is not about Rupert Murdoch?

NADER: It is about Rupert Murdoch. It's about five giant media conglomerates controlling magazine, newspaper, TV. I mean, it's getting worse and worse. And by the way they're controlling our property. Even Fred will admit that he is a part owner of the public airways, as all Americans are.

NOVAK: You don't admit that, do you Fred?

FRED SMITH, PRES. COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISES INSTITUTE: I'm willing to sell my part off to get it in hands of responsible people, not politician.

NADER: Why should we give away control of our radio and TV public airways without even getting rent from these company.

NOVAK: What did they have to do with the "New York Post"?

NADER: Because this rule change will allow the takeover of radio, TV and newspapers stations, and newspapers by one company. BEGALA: Tell me why it's a good thing you know, take the world of cable and satellite and television. There are 900 channels. But there's five companies that own 75 percent of them.

Tell me why it's good five giant corporations, one of which owns this show and CNN, why is get for five conglomerates to control almost everything see?

SMITH: Markets are about getting good competitors out there. And large competitors can compete with each other better. Why do we have good teams in the NFL. Why do we have good teams in baseball leagues. We have them there because the 900 channels you talk about have given us so much diversity.

The war was on recently, you wanted to watch Fox, hey a little too conservative. You watch CNN, maybe a little too liberal. You watch Al-Jazeera, a little to Arab. You watch BBC, way too European. There were so many channels out there -- my brother -- I wore out the flipper on my brother's TV channel because, 900, how do you win. Proliferation of choices is what we're about. How those choices come about aren't our concern we don't care. The supermarkets are also concentrated, but there are more products on the supermarket shelves than there have ever. There are more products in the electronic media shelf than there have ever been. And it's brought about by strong competitors, not by governments picking winners and losers. And the government say who can have their faces in front of the media.

NADER: A dreary similarity, with 50 channels, 500 channels, the same local news, the same obsession with weather, the same chitchat that's contrived between the anchors. I mean, I don't blame Fred. He's so turned off on TV, he doesn't have a TV set.

SMITH: My brother does, though. My brother does.

BEGALA: Let me come back to this guy, Rupert Murdoch, who runs the Fox network, that Bob mentioned awhile moment ago. I don't know him, but apparently quite an active conservative, which is his right. But he's also very powerful media conglomerate. But in his network during the war broadcast a report that could have endangered our troops. So by my light he's not much of an American patriot. Here's what a liberal group called that is running an advertisement about what happen.


BEGALA: Let our audience at home take a look. From


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rupert Murdoch owns Fox Network, Fox News, Fox Sports, FX, a newspaper, all these TV stations, but he wants more. So on June 2, Republicans on the FCC plan to get red of an important regulation. This monopoly is no game.


BEGALA: Why should we reward a man so irresponsible as to broadcast troop movements during a war with more power over the media.

SMITH: Media is about allowing Americans to make their own choices. Whether you watch a Murdoch channel, whether a CNN channel, or whether you watch all the other choices out there. And remember we're not just talking television, cable television, not just the print. We now have the Internet. When these rules were put in place we had very few channels. The three big channels controlled everything. Their power has dissipated dramatically. And it happened because we have dispersed ownership, control over the media. And we're doing it more and more. And the Internet -- if you don't like the blandness of the television, and as you know I have a certain sympathy there. Let me tell you, go to the Internet and you get every flavor of tobacco sauce you want on that.

NADER: It's amazing. What he keeps ignoring, you can 1,000 channels and a 1,000 radio stations. But five major corporate conglomerates run by five men make those decisions. By the way, I'm amazed. Don't you believe that you are part owner of the public airways? This isn't a market situation.

SMITH: I think it's a market -- should be a market situation. Had the government not run in and seized the public property and kept it under political control since the 1920s. The airways should be owned by the American people.

NADER: Do you think they should be charged rent?

SMITH: I think they ought to belong to the American people and the American people should sell their part of the airways.

NADER: You didn't answer the question. The American people own the public air, they are the landlords, the radio stations and TVs are the tenants.

You think they should be charged rent?

SMITH: I think they should be sold. I don't think the government is a good landlord.

NADER: What if the American people don't agree with you?

SMITH: Let's have a debate on that.

NADER: You're for a national referendum.

NOVAK: Let me address your contention that there's no difference between the corporate entities. I feel constrained with pounding Fox. Fox is a competitor of -- and Mr. Murdoch is a competitor of this network. Paul and I are both paid by AOL-TIME Warner, which owns CNN, WB Network, HBO, Cinemax, TBS, TNT, 64 magazines, including "TIME- LIFE" and, "People Warner" books, "Little Brown," "TIME-LIFE" books. Now, why is there no attack being made on AOL-TIME Warner, is it because people of your ilk don't consider it conservative and they do consider Murdoch conservative?

NADER: No, we criticize all conglomerate rats. NOVAK: I don't see a commercial on AOL-Time Warner?

NADER: Wait, you can see the more control of more radio stations all over the country and TV stations, the fewer local reporters, the less local news on radio and more music being dictated by companies like Clear Channel.

NOVAK: You don't see a difference between AOL-TIME Warner and Fox?

You don't see a difference?

NADER: Tweedle Dumb, Tweedle Dee.

BEGALA: The CEO of our company was a Bush appointer to a commission on social security that called for dismantling social security. The CEO of G.E. tried to influence the election night reporting over at NBC. I mean, this is across the board these five corporate conglomerates do exercise a lot of political influence.


NOVAK: Lets take a break. Ralph Nader, Fred Smith.

Coming up after the headlines, "Rapidfire," where we impose our own limits on the length of questions and especially our guests' answers.


NOVAK: It's time for "RapidFire," the quickest question and answer session in politics.

We're debating media ownership and accuracy with consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

BEGALA: Fred, you said it's about diversity. Name me one liberal with his own political talk show on cable.


BEGALA: I share with Bob. Not like these blowhards at Fox. They give every rightwinger....


NOVAK: Ralph Nader -- Ralph Nader would you like to see government control over who owns these stations?

NADER: Well, obviously because you have to have regulations. Barry Diller pointed out on "Nightline" last night, because the public airways are a commonwealth. The people own it. Someone's got to allocate the spectrum. You can start with your money a newspaper and nobody can stop you, but you can't have your own radio station. So there's a scarcity factor no matter how many radio stations there are. BEGALA: Fred, the Center for Public Integrity says that big media corporations paid for 2,500 trips for FCC and staff. Doesn't that give the appearance of corruption?

SMITH: That's why I agree with Ralph. You ought to depoliticize this. Let the airways own by the American people, privatize the airwaves, get the government out of the censorship role. We don't trust politicians to write our newspapers. We shouldn't have government deciding own the airway, which is what it is now.

It allows NRA and the National Rifle Association and then -- and Ralph some special access to these television stations. Let's let the American people decide whether they want to hear them or not.

NOVAK: Ralph Nader, down deep, do you resent the popularity of Rush Limbaugh?

NADER: I don't think it's a popularity. He has a monopoly monologue. He doesn't...


NADER: No, he doesn't allow people to challenge him.

And, you know, look at -- any body who has a trumpet and there's no countering challenge is going to have a monopoly. I'd like to take him on. You could take him on. Even you could take him on.

BEGALA: I'd love to take him on. He's too big of a coward to let any body debate him.

NADER: What I want to see is if Fred agrees we ought to have an audience network for a couple hours a night with out producers, reporters. It's our property. What do you say, Fred?


SMITH: Hightower tried that and it didn't work.

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word.

Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, thank you very much. Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and author. Thank you both very much.

Coming back, we're going to ask our audience a very important question. They will get to decide. Here's the question: "Do too few companies control the media?" Gang in the studio audience, press one for yes, press two for no. We will have the results right after the break.

And in "Fireback," one of our viewers thinks he's caught my friend Bob Novak contradicting himself. Stay tuned and see for yourself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NOVAK: Time now for "Fireback," our audience question. "Do too few control the media?" Among Democrats, 90 percent say yes; 10 percent say no. Among Republicans, 67 percent say yes; 33 percent say no.

BEGALA: Well so, most Republicans are not troubled by that. That's interesting. All of the Democrats are pretty much are troubled. Republicans are pro-corporate.


BEGALA: Johnny in Austin, Texas, writes in our first e-mail: "Shouldn't Bob be outraged over the possible consolidation of media companies putting unprecedented power in the hands of the dreaded liberal media? Could it be the media ain't as liberal as ya'll claim?"

Well put, Johnny.

NOVAK: Johnny, you're an Austin liberal. It's a matter of freedom in the private enterprise system. That's what we're talking about.

Johnny Hardwick of Venice, California says, "Bob, if there is a liberal bias in the media, as you and your ilk repeatedly say, then why is the rightwing supporting the consolidation of the media by the FCC?"

We're not supporting the consolidation. We're supporting freedom of speech.

BEGALA: Actually, many principled conservative groups including the National Rifle Association, the Family Research Council are against this consolidation.

NOVAK: They're the special interest groups.

BEGALA: No, because it means less free speech for the right and left. Corporate media would take over every thing.

Dennis Avgerions -- I'm trying, Dennis -- in Ellicot City, Maryland writes: "Would you please explain how Republicans arrived at the decision to omit the child credit for low income bracket children? If this a representation of how the Republicans take care of low income families that need help the most, then I am glad I am a liberal Democrat."

Dennis, I am too. It was scandalous.

NOVAK: I'm sure you are -- I'm sure you are, Dennis.

You know, I've never understood how you give tax credits to people who don't pay taxes.

BEGALA: How does Bush make a promise that he breaks?

NOVAK: The next one is from Gavin from that great city of Rockford, Illinois:

"Why should a few rich white men own all of the businesses while the little guys struggle to make ends meet? Hey, why don't we little guys just overthrow these greedy, gluttonous executives and share the wealth with everyone. What a great idea Democrats! But I think the Communists beat you to it."

Way to go, Gavin!

BEGALA: Gavin misunderstands. It's democracy that we want.

NOVAK: Question from the audience.

BEGALA: Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Justin (ph) from Gainesville, Florida. I was wondering how media consolidation can affect the entertainment when they still have to provide entertainment to all the different demographics that are demanding the...

BEGALA: They don't. They don't. There's a whole lot of people in this country who don't feel like they're served, like liberals for one. When you flip through most of cable television, it's a vast right-wing wasteland. They don't have to serve everybody, because there's a monopoly.

NOVAK: Are the Gators going to be any better this year?


BEGALA: That's a good -- that's a good question.

No, but that's -- they don't -- I think a whole lot of people -- who here in this country -- in this audience thinks they're being well-served by the media right now?

Two, three people, Bob. That's it. Who thinks you're not being well served? Applause to that.

NOVAK: So there's too many liberals. Go ahead.

BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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