I just got a peek at a new biography about the local Roberts family, of Comcast fame. It’s called COMCASTed: How Ralph and Brian Roberts Took Over America’s TV, One Deal at a Time. All I can say is this: Bow down before Brian Roberts, the Evil Emperor of the cable box! Bow down now and beat the rush. Avert your eyes, offer your fealty, and for God’s sake, don’t ever get in his way.
Written by Inquirer business reporter Joseph DiStefano, COMCASTed isn’t a gossipy tell-all. There are no secret memos or seething ex-employees. It’s an exegesis, a study of Comcast’s 40-year rise to the top and its shark-like search for monopoly control along the way. The theme is that past is always prelude with Comcast. From its actions, you can deduce the future, and it looks pretty nauseating.
Here’s one chilling little portent. Back when President Bush was preparing his 2003 State of the Union address, a small band of Princeton peaceniks set out to expose the Iraq invasion plan as the dark mix of fraud and fantasy we now know it was. With $5,000 in hand, they wanted to buy cable time down in D.C., and run some anti-war ads to throw a spitball or two at the Bush war machine.
But cable in D.C., owned by Comcast, refused to run the ads. A Comcast flack explained: “We must decline to run any spot that fails to substantiate certain claims or charges.” If such a statement were true, Comcast would collapse overnight. It’s more like: “As long as we control your cable, only sleazy infomercial-makers, predatory lenders and presidents get to say what they want.”
The sole virtue of greed is that it’s dependable. Media companies should run different opinions, because there’s money in it. Left-wing dollars are just as good as right-wing dollars.
But what if a media company’s profits rely on a Federal Communications Commission with a hands-off attitude toward monopolies? And what if the head of the FCC is Michael Powell, son of outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell? Maybe that company decides that the surest way to a brighter tomorrow is to plant a wet kiss today on the fat, pasty behind of the Republican Party.
This is why hardly anyone was allowed to see something called “The Michael Moore Pre-Election Special,” featuring Fahrenheit 9/11. This three-hour pay-per-view extravaganza would have earned big profits for Comcast and the two other cable companies that enjoy monopoly ownership of the inDemand service. Millions of liberals would have shelled out $9.95 for the black-hearted glee of seeing the Bush crowd get skewered on the eve of Election Day.
But in mid-October, inDemand backed out, citing “legitimate business and legal concerns.” Moore’s producers were left with no way to reach any cities in swing states like Pennsylvania. Instead, the special was buried on a small pay-per-view system in southern California that had none of those vague “business and legal concerns.”