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updates on Ventura and Sinclair

I love having comments here, because it gives instant feedback if I get something wrong or to overlook a point. A couple things that came up recently in the comments:

First, it's been pointed out that I don't know anything about Minnesota politics, and that Jesse Ventura is -- as was pointed out on the blog of Brown University Democrats -- about as popular in the state as Bill Buckner in Boston. I had assumed Ventura would still have some of his capacity to reach the younger, infrequent voters who were responsible for his 1998 victory, but apparently I was wrong.

And an interesting, very packed comment about Sinclair Broadcasting, from "fatbear":

Sinclair is desperate, on the cusp of destruction (self-caused). They have constructed a classic over-leveraged multi-station group, with a debt/equity ratio over 7:1, and interest rates tied to (now rising) LIBOR and a EBIDTA/debt ratio. They either are allowed to own more stations and operate/own more duopolies, or they collapse under the weight - that's why the stock has gone down ~70%, and that's why they MUST have a Repub FCC. Running the show is a chip to be cashed in in that case; they can't survive if the Dems win, so any Dem FCC threat is akin to "multiple life sentences to be served consecutively."

The basic finances reported here are accurate, although I don't know enough about the industry to know whether owning more stations would save the company or not. Assuming this is generally correct, this is a good example of the kind of company that the Bush administration tends to like: not brilliant entrepreneurs, but rent-seekers, people skilled at manipulating the regulations of highly-regulated or government-dependent industries. The real entrepreneurs of the New Economy, those who can make a business work whether the FCC is rigging the game in their favor or not, are neither the beneficiaries nor the prominent backers of the Bush-DeLay machine.

An interesting sidenote to this, which I learned only recently: the FCC is a weirdly constructed agency. Commissioners have terms that run out at the end of a congressional session, after which they continue to serve until the president replaces them, and the chair serves at the pleasure of the president, although his or her membership on the commission is subject to Senate confirmation. Anyway, what that means is that sometimes it takes a president a long time to get control of the FCC -- it took Clinton almost a year and a half to get a working majority -- but other times it can be done almost instantly. Apparently enough commissioners' terms have expired that Kerry, if he makes decisions quickly, could have his own chair and a working majority on the FCC in place very quickly. That's a very lucky turn of events. And I know that these are issues that Kerry knows pretty well, so those "multiple life sentences" for Sinclair could come pretty quickly -- not because of revenge for the Swift Boat show, but simply by forcing them to abide by the existing public-interest regulations on ownership and cross-ownership.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on October 15, 2004 | Permalink


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What are you going to believe, a blog post or the lying numbers?

Two years ago, you'll recall that Coleman beat Mondale for Senator in our fair state. The media narrative was that popular revulsion over a political speech at the Wellstone memorial torpedoed Fritz's chances, but as with the Buckner analogy, numbers do not bear this narrative out. Instead, Mondale's numbers went up in all tracking polls for the following few days, despite what nationally televised talking heads were telling Minnesotans to think. Instead, the poll numbers turned at the end of that week -- after Jesse Ventura, who actually was displeased by the memorial, chose to punish the DFL by not appointing a Democrat to the vacant Senate seat.

If Ventura had enough influence two years back to turn the Senate campaign with a symbolic move, I would suggest he retains enough popularity among segments of the local populace to sway their votes.

I am open to believing otherwise, but I would like actual evidence rather than mere analogy before I change my mind.

Posted by: wcw | Oct 15, 2004 12:21:18 PM


I'll admit that my personal disappointment with Jesse's tremendous missed opportunity may color my perception of his popularity. That said, Wellstone was in a tight election with Coleman, and I doubt very much that Jesse's decision not to appoint a Democrat to the vacant seat had any impact on the election. In other words, I don't think Coleman won because folks took Jesse's cue. Coleman won because the MN political landscape is changing, because Mondale wasn't particularly inspiring and yes, because many people were cheesed over the Wellstone tribute.

Posted by: Jon | Oct 15, 2004 1:02:29 PM

jesse ventura is not unpopular in minnesota even tho he was constantly attacked by the our two twin city newspapers. he left the state in much better fiscal condition that it is today. incidentally, his senate apppointment was on his staff and was not a dfler.

jim weaver

Posted by: jim weaver | Oct 15, 2004 1:16:18 PM

The FCC Commissioners' terms are five years, so they do not expire at the end of a congressional term. There are five commissioners, no more than three of which are from a single party. Clinton's early problem with the Commission was that James Quello, though a Democrat, generally voted with the Republicans. The Commission tends to be very sensitive to Congress too, more so in recent years as Congress has been increasingly willing to legislate where it didn't like the Commission's rulings.

Mike Powell, the current chair, is considered a lame duck who will leave the Commission in 2005 even if Bush is re-elected. He can be removed from the chairmanship, though not from the Commission, at any time by the President.

Mike Copps is expected to be the chair if Kerry is elected. Copps is a sitting Commissioner, and has taken a hardline position on media consolidation. Something of a crusade, really. A Copps chairmanship would be deeply unwelcome to Sinclair.

Two of the sitting Commissioners, Abernathy (Republican) and Adelstein (Democrat) have expired terms. So the next President will be able to assert control fairly quickly (subject to the usual logjam of agency appointments that a new President always faces).

Posted by: Dan Ryan | Oct 15, 2004 2:02:32 PM

Thanks for this post, Mark. It's very good.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Oct 15, 2004 7:19:51 PM

Hey, I love the firefox ad on the sidebar, you should probably add a tag before it as the layout looks kinda wonky at the moment.

Posted by: Andrew Cholakian | Oct 15, 2004 11:47:36 PM

The idea the SBG can somehow buy it's way out of financial trouble confuses me, but then I'm no business wiz.

It does remind me of a joke I will adapt to the current political season. George Bush and his brothers went into business one year, hauling garbage from Dallas to Houston. Jebbie crunched some numbers after their first quarter and found that they were losing $400 on each truckload they hauled.

George thought about it for a minute, and then said, triumphantly, "We need more trucks."

Posted by: Jon R. Koppenhoefer | Oct 16, 2004 4:02:24 AM

David Neiwert at Orcinus comments and links to Jay Rosen's definitive post at PressThink on the Sinclair enterprise. Rosen's post is fascinating right up to and including the addenda. There's even a link to Mark Hyman's "The Point" editorials, if you have the stomach for such rantings. Rosen's thesis is that Sinclair is interested in using its media power as a political machine a la Italian PM Berlusconi. The entire post truly is a must-read . . .

Posted by: cs | Oct 16, 2004 10:49:17 AM


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