Because owners trump employees every time. Because journalists are just employees with mortgages to pay and careers to worry about. Because bureau chiefs can be fired (as at Sinclair); editorial decisions can be overturned (as at CPD); stories can and do get rewritten or squashed every day (as at Fox News).
Witness the latest media controversy brewing in one of the most populous and strategically important areas in the ultimate battleground state of Ohio:
"Discussions continue at the Cleveland Plain Dealer to resolve an impasse
between the paper's editorial board and its publisher about who to endorse for
The paper's editorial board, as E&P first revealed,
decided last week that it wanted to endorse Sen. John Kerry, but Publisher Alex
Machaskee, who has final say, prefers President George W. Bush. The paper backed
Bush in 2000. "
Whereas Sinclair's power grab was a boldfaced, almost comical embarrasment, this fight over the Cleveland Plain Dealer's delayed presidential endorsement exposes a more commonplace and insidious reason that media ownership matters. It illustrates that power (owners) will flex its muscle whenever it chooses, and can usually do so with much less fanfare and consequence than in this election. These maneuvers almost always take place behind the scenes, invisible to the public. And consolidation only multiplies the impact. There is no question. Media ownership is a democratic issue.