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Mega Media: For The Public, It's More Bad News

Many believe the most insidious aspect of big, consolidated media is the real threat to American democracy ("Mega media mergers: How dangerous?" Cover Story, Feb. 23). In addition to diminished program quality, less competition and higher prices, and marginalization of smaller programmers, control of our media in a few hands means that a tiny group of powerful people will control the public debate.

How many of those running for office this year are likely to take on the giant media? Few to none. Why? Because being on the wrong side of those media empires will throttle any voice trying to be heard. I have been teaching American history for more than 30 years, and in the last 10 I have been telling students that if they value their freedom to think and act independently on behalf of what's really good for this country, they should be aware that a handful of people are trying to do that for them.

Henry J. Sage

Lorton, Va.

Your "Mega Media" cover story was very good, but you missed a fundamental question. The mergers are based on market projections that may prove to be "blue sky," much as poor forecasting impeded AOL/Time Warner (AOL) and melted down the telecoms. Large media companies must release a huge volume of product to generate large revenues. Unfortunately, the amount of good new creative material is independent of the number of products needed to maintain the share price.

If you don't have an artistic vision, how will you get noticed? You can seek the "cutting edge." Inject plot devices such as sex, violence, outrageous behavior, and special effects that are more over the top than your competitors' shows. You do need to ensure that the edge and flash do not overshadow your artistic message, if you have one. Otherwise, anything goes. You can't build a large conglomerate on that scenario.

Alan W. Withers

Renton, Wash.

Your editorial "How to ensure media diversity" (Feb. 23) is concerned that the "concentration of media ownership threatens diversity in news." Before Fox News Network (FOX), I, and many more like me (according to viewer numbers), found no diversity among the three talking heads.

Terrence H. Scout

Chestertown, Md I understand and agree with your point about politicizing the information put out by the federal government in a way that sheds doubt on its credibility "Inventing the 'Clinton Recession"' (News: Analysis & Commentary, Feb. 23). However, your claim that the Council of Economic Advisers has attempted to alter history is equally political in nature and not quite accurate, either.

As a practical matter, the market and economic forces that caused this recent recession were clearly in place when George W. Bush took office. Whether Democrat or Republican, assigning blame for the complex events that created the recent recession is a fool's errand. Your article incites and fuels the problem of emotional political bias and makes such behavior an acceptable norm instead of an unwelcome exception.

Alex Owen

Medfield, Mass.

Michael J. Mandel wrote that setting the start of the [last] economic recession during the Clinton Presidency was somehow unfair to Clinton and the Democrats and tantamount to a pure fabrication by the Bush Administration and the Council of Economic Advisers. Mandel forgets his own comments, in "The New Economy: For better or worse" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Oct. 19, 1998) in which he noted the beginning of the job-market slowdown, due largely, as he put it, to the rapid growth of the "New Economy."

Mandel accurately predicted the coming recession during the Clinton/Gore era. Bush merely inherited the very recession Mandel predicted.

Eric Hockman

Woodbury, Minn.

The recession should not be called either the "Clinton recession" or the "Bush recession." The recession should be known for what it was, i.e., "the Y2K recession." In 1999, fears of Y2K disruptions caused much overbuying of electronic equipment plus extensive disruptive stockpiling of purchased inventories and other items. Those actions overexpanded and ballooned many 1999 trends, which were subsequently reversed in 2000 and 2001. The result was the Y2K recession.

John H. Hoagland

Professor Emeritus

Michigan State University

East Lansing, Mich.

Whether the recession started before or after President Bush's inauguration is moot. The decisions causing it were made in 1997 and 1998 by Alan Greenspan and Janet Reno. Janet Reno? Yes. The Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) lawsuit wreaked devastation in the tech markets and spread like fire through Wall Street and then on to Main Street. Bad policy leads to recessions, not inaugurations.

Phil Bickel

Columbus, Ohio Re "Security Check" (UpFront, Feb. 16): I find it interesting that so many coins end up in security coffers at airports when, in fact, most walk-through detectors sense only ferromagnetic objects, not a property of American coins. (The handheld wands, used when one has already triggered the detectors, can detect all coins.) A little-known and surprising fact is that our currency -- paper money -- is ferromagnetic and can be sensed, if desired. In this day of large budget deficits, do you suppose this chump change will be targeted as a new source of revenue?

Sheldon Breiner

Palo Alto, Calif.

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