3 Reasons Republicans Shouldn’t Worry About the Comcast Merger

It's not like the GOP has opposed media consolidation before.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Suddenly, Republicans are worried about media consolidation. And it’s hilarious.

The GOP, you see, is very nervous about Philly-based Comcast and its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. The Washington Free Beacon — a conservative publication — this week ran an article featuring conservative fears that the merger could be bad for democracy.

The argument goes like this:

  •  The merger would result in a single company that dominates the market for local TV advertising: Following the merger, Comcast would own majorities in cooperatives that sell local ad time to national, regional, and local advertisers.
  •  Comcast execs give most of their political donations to Democrats.
  •  Thus, Comcast might very well skew the advertising market to Democrats, raising ad rates for Republicans and giving their buddies the pick of the limited ad crop.

“Given that Comcast owns some control of each aspect — national, regional, and local — they could actually grant favors to particular political candidates,” an anonymous advertising executive told the publication.

Liberals have been railing against media consolidation — the ownership of fewer media outlets by ever-fewer owners, thus restricting the flow of voices heard by the public — for years. They might welcome some support from Republicans. But there are three reasons to think the GOP might not be sincere in its concerns about Comcast.

They’ve not been worried before: Back in the heyday of concerns about media consolidation — the mid-2000s — the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to let big media companies expand their control over local TV stations and newspapers, letting them own as many as three TV stations in one market.

And it’s not just a Bush-era position, either: Earlier this month, the Columbia Journalism Review reported that House Republicans were ready to pass legislation blocking the FCC from enforcing remaining rules that prohibit owning multiple stations in a single broadcast market.

• They’re not really worried about some voices being choked out so that a privileged few can dominate. These are the folks who hate campaign finance restrictions, because they’re an intolerable restraint on the First Amendment and golly gosh who could be for restricting speech! Big Business thus already has an inordinate degree of influence over our politics; it’s just that usually that influence works on behalf of Republicans.

Comcast isn’t that Democratic. As we noted the other day following the New York Times profile of Comcast vice president David Cohen, the company may have execs who lean Democratic — but on the whole, they’re more interested in courting power (whoever holds it) than in promoting ideology.

Sure, Comcast owns MSNBC, but that channel’s lefty outlook was a business decision — apparently liberals buy cereal, too — rather than the revelation of any bias. And Cohen, certainly, has been careful to spread the wealth around: He held a fundraiser for Gov. Tom Corbett, for Pete’s sake. “My priorities in political giving are Comcast priorities,” Cohen told the paper. “I don’t kid myself. My goals are to support the interests of the company.”

And the company is interested in … profit. It’s buying Time Warner to make more money, not to pursue some anti-Republican agenda. And it’s going to want and need some GOP support for this and future acquisitions. The worst fears of the GOP’s Comcast watchers, it seems, are likely well overblown.

But hey, it’s nice to see the GOP worried about such issues when it’s their ox that is potentially being gored. By complaining about media consolidation now, when their interests are conceivably threatened, they prove that liberal media critics like Bill Moyers were right all along to be concerned. The GOP doesn’t usually mind a tilted playing field — so long as it’s tilted in their favor.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.